December 5th, 2013

On Shin-Soo Choo, payroll and trail mix

Let’s agree on this: No matter what limitations the Tigers may or may not face, they’ll be busy at the Winter Meetings. In an era when teams can rival the Winter Meetings a week early with phone calls, emails and texts, Dave Dombrowski thrives at old-school, in-person gatherings.

They’ll be talking, Dombrowski and his front-office team. It’s just a question of what kind of market they’ll be talking about.

“It’s never boring,” Dombrowski said. “It may not be as active as it’s been the last couple weeks, just how things have happened. It’s been a very active time period. …

“What I have always found at the winter meetings is anytime you put 30 clubs together and you start talking, your scouts start talking and I’m looking at my board every single day and coming up with ideas, you try to get better. Again, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It won’t be like it has been the last couple weeks, but I know I won’t be bored.”

Those talks may or may not involve Shin-Soo Choo. Dombrowski’s statements about not being involved at the top end of the market, and the fact that so much of the market reportedly has interest in Choo, would suggest the Tigers won’t be involved there. Having just traded away a massive contract, they’re not inclined to add one back. They were not involved in the bidding on Jacoby Ellsbury, Dombrowski said.

“We’re on December 5,” Dombrowski cautioned, “but I don’t anticipate any of the major names that are being thrown out there with names attached. I don’t anticipate those being our signing.”

But they still need a left fielder. They’re looking for help, even if it isn’t necessarily top-end help.

“I’m sure we’ll have to do something in some regards, because we don’t have anybody else,” Dombrowski said. “We’re sort of limited in our outfielders at this time on our roster, because we’ve got Torii [Hunter] and Austin [Jackson] and Andy [Dirks] with Donnie Kelly being able to play out there, but we’ll have to look at something to assist us in left field, and we’ll see what that is.”

There’s a huge difference in an assistance in left field and a left fielder. If the Tigers are looking for somebody to assist Dirks, the assistance is going to be a right-handed hitter. If the Tigers look for a full-time left fielder, the preference would almost surely be a left-handed hitter to balance out of the lineup. While the Tigers starting lineup itself is heavy on right-handed hitters, the outfield options are predominantly lefty. Nick Castellanos would’ve been the right-handed hitting option in left field, but he’s now in line to be the third baseman.

Between the desire against a massive contract and the batting needs, you can make the case that the better free-agent fit for the Tigers is Carlos Beltran and not Choo. He’s a switch-hitter, and with his 37th birthday coming up next April, he’s not going to command a five- or six-year contract. At this point, the stretch will be to get him three years. But with the Royals, his original team, and the Yankees reportedly heavily involved, wooing him might not be doable.

If the Tigers can’t go into that market, the middle market of outfielders has its options too, with Michigan native Nate McLouth among them. But he’s a left-handed hitter with a history of struggles against left-handed pitching, and again, the Tigers don’t have a right-handed hitting option to mix with him. You can see where the goals might drastically change depending on what the Tigers are looking for.

I’ve developed a tradition the last few years of bringing trail mix to the Winter Meetings. It’s an easy, cheap way to keep going during long days without having to sit down and eat overpriced resort food. At first read, the Joe Nathan signing and Dombrowski’s quotes about staying out of the top end of the market would’ve suggested there shouldn’t be long days. The more you think about it, though, the more of a mystery the market becomes.

Long story short, I bought a second bag of trail mix for this year’s meetings. Probably going to need it.