LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While the Tigers appear to be making progress in their quest for left-field help, their market for relief help appears to be stagnant. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski acknowledged Monday as the Winter Meetings began that a veteran reliever would be a "plus," but offered little progress toward finding one.
"I think there's a lot more closers out there, and different degrees of closers," Dombrowski said. "But the next set of guys, I'm not so sure how many guys out there, really, at this time. So we'll see what happens."
Even with Joe Nathan and Brian Wilson off the market, the ranks of free-agent closers include former Tigers Joaquin Benoit, Jose Veras and Fernando Rodney, as well as Grant Balfour, Chris Perez and Kevin Gregg, plus injured Joel Hanrahan , Andrew Bailey and Rafael Betancourt Even John Axford, a setup man last year after 81 saves over the previous two seasons, is generating closer interest, but has not drawn interest from the Tigers at this point.
Not all of them are going to get closer jobs, meaning some of them will end up signing for setup work. If the Tigers are willing to play the waiting game, they could get the help, though Dombrowski characterized an addition more as support for Bruce Rondon in the setup role rather than someone to bump Rondon out of it.
"Now we're not involved in that market, since we signed our closer," Dombrowski said. "We don't have quite the same pulse of that, since I've sort of moved on to some other areas of focus. Could that happen? It probably could."
New manager Brad Ausmus' view of bullpen roles remains traditional.
Asked his views on Nathan's addition as closer, Ausmus hinted he'd prefer set roles for his relievers, and that he sees the ninth as a different inning for any reliever to tackle.
"Just from a team perspective, everyone is much more comfortable in the ninth inning when you have an established closer like Joe Nathan," Ausmus said, "than you would be with either a young closer in the making or with a closer by committee. And I think it also trickles down to the guys who are setting up for him. They know how they're slotting in front of him. There's a lot of stress removed from the other guys in the bullpen, as well as the manager.
"From a mental standpoint, there's a huge difference from pitching the eighth inning to pitching the ninth inning. You can pitch the eighth inning, give up the tying run or even the lead, and your team still has a chance to win the game. And when you're the closer -- and I think this is why it takes a special makeup -- you're the last line of defense."
Platoon in left an option for Tigers
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Monday was a busy day for the Tigers, as team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski described it, talking with several clubs and talking with representatives for quite a few free agents. However, Dombrowski continues to insist the club is not involved on the top free agents on the first day of the Winter Meetings.
"When I say free agents, I'm not talking about the big, big ones," Dombrowski said late Monday afternoon, "but we've talked about some other people."
The one prominent corner outfielder on the free-agent market, Shin-Soo Choo, ranks among the top free agents remaining at any position. Dombrowski has not mentioned Choo by name in his dismissals of top free-agent involvement, though he rarely mentions free agents from other teams before they've agreed to terms somewhere.
Add together the Tigers' desire to upgrade left field and lengthen the offensive production in their lineup with the payroll space they opened up by trading Prince Fielder and Doug Fister, and the scenario is certainly there. However, Dombrowski has also strongly hinted toward efforts to re-sign Max Scherzer, a year away from free agency, and Miguel Cabrera, who has two seasons left on his contract.
With that, the mystery of the Tigers' left-field discussions continued, at least for a little while longer. While Dombrowski left little doubt they're looking to upgrade their left-field situation, and seemed optimistic they'll find an answer, he's leaving little hints how he can do it.
"We'll just see what ends up happening," Dombrowski said. "Sometimes you have to be careful that everybody doesn't always think there's going to be an All-Star at every position. I mean, there are some clubs doing pretty darn well with some platoons at different spots, too. So they do work at times. Just because it's not per se an All-Star somewhere doesn't mean that you can't get the production that you're looking to have out of certain spots. Sometimes they're more productive for you."
Whether a platoon would be productive in Detroit depends mostly on Andy Dirks, the part of a potential platoon that's currently on the roster. Dombrowski cited a lingering knee injury -- not a major one, Dombrowski cautioned, but bad enough to linger after crashing into the outfield fence in Spring Training -- as a reason behind Dirks' down year, including a .256 average that sat 66 points below his 2012 level and a .686 OPS that represented a 171-point drop.
If Dirks platoons, the Tigers would transition from seeking a left-handed hitter balancing out a righty-heavy lineup, to seeking a right-handed hitter to balance with Dirks. This year, it's a completely different market. Among the right-handed-hitting outfield free agents are power-hitting Michael Morse and Corey Hart, and speedy Rajai Davis.
"We do look for Andy Dirks to come back and be better than he was last year," Dombrowski said. "Now, what do we do? We'll still see. I'm not sure what direction we're going in at this time."
Prospect Crosby to compete for bullpen spot
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Casey Crosby worked his way back from Tommy John surgery four years ago, Tigers officials faced questions about whether his best fit was as a starter or reliever. After four seasons starting, the conversion appears to be on.
If Crosby, No. 10 on the club's Top 20 Prospects, according to MLB.com, is going to make the Tigers roster, it's going to be as a reliever. With insurance starters in place, his future lies in the bullpen.
"When he comes in to Spring Training, our first look will be at him in the bullpen," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We can always switch him back if we think it's best, but we think right now he's in a spot where he's developed some. A lot of our people think he's cut out for a bullpen role, and so that's how we'll bring him in."
Crosby, a fifth-round pick in the same 2007 Draft as fellow high schooler Rick Porcello, has had back-to-back seasons at Triple-A Toledo, the most recent one limited to 13 starts and 57 2/3 innings by injury. He made three spot starts in 2012, but gave way to Minor League free agent Jose Alvarez as the top insurance starter.
The 25-year-old is a hard-throwing lefty with deception when he commands his fastball. If he makes the roster, he'd give the Tigers the potential for three lefty relievers in a seven-man bullpen.
Dombrowski said Crosby has always been open to whatever role the Tigers have for him.
Magglio wins mayoral election in Venezuela
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Magglio Ordonez won a batting title in 2007 playing alongside Sean Casey, who was nicknamed "The Mayor." Six years later, Ordonez is now a mayor himself.
A year and a half after announcing his retirement from baseball, the 39-year-old Ordonez was elected mayor of Sotillo, a city in the eastern part of Ordonez's home country of Venezuela. The mayoral race was one of 335 elections that took place across Venezuela on Sunday.
It's a quick transition for a former All-Star and batting champion who just hung up his spikes in the summer of 2012 after struggling to come back from a second broken ankle. Ordonez has long had business interests in his home country, but had never run for office.
However, Ordonez has long held an interest in politics and social matters, and has been connected with the ruling socialist government for several years. He was a longtime supporter of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and appeared in commercials for his last campaign, support that put him at odds with Venezuelan-Americans during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Ordonez ran for mayor under the support of new president Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Chavez before winning his election in April. The ruling party reportedly promoted several celebrity candidates in mayoral elections.