Still time for Tigers to pull off another January surprise

Anibal Sanchez is seeking a five or six-year contract, but the Detroit Tigers have reportedly only offered a four-year deal.

Baseball’s winter meetings came to a close last Thursday, December 6, without any blockbuster deal made by the Detroit Tigers. Although general manager Dave Dombrowski said the Tigers are “pretty well set … pretty well solidified,” anyone who is more than a mere casual fan knows several questions remain about the 2013 squad.

Last Monday, Anibal Sanchez turned down a reportedly $48 million four-year deal from the Tigers. Several unidentified teams have proposed five-year offers to Sanchez, who is seeking a six-year, $90 million contract. Sanchez pitched well in the postseason, but was 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts after joining the club late last season. His career record over seven years isn’t that gaudy: 48-51. Although it could be argued that six years with the Florida Marlins would be detrimental to any pitcher’s stats.

Don’t expect the Tigers to get into a bidding war with the likes of the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Boston Red Sox, all of whom have shown interest in the 28-year-old right-hander. It’s difficult to imagine Detroit offering Sanchez a six or seven-year deal worth more than $90 million with both Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer set to enter free agency in 2015.

Now that the Dodgers awarded Zack Greinke the largest contract ever for a right-hander and the highest per-annum salary for any pitcher with a six-year, a $147 million deal, look for Sanchez to sign elsewhere.

Should Sanchez depart for a larger paycheck, the Tigers have Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly to fill the back end of their starting rotation. It also leaves Detroit with some money in the piggybank to pursue a free-agent closer. Rafael Soriano might be a likely candidate, but he won’t come cheap.

With Phil Coke the only southpaw in the pen, Dombrowski said he’d prefer another left-handed reliever—“particularly in our division, where you have so many left-handed hitters. Cleveland and Minnesota are loaded with left-handed hitters.”

The Tigers recently acquired minor leaguer Kyle Lobstein, who will have the chance in spring training to become the second left-handed reliever.

On a side note, the Tigers offered a minor league contract to Jeremy Bonderman, who has yet to make a decision on whether he’ll sign. Bonderman came to Detroit on July 6, 2002, as part of a three-team deal. The Athletics had sent Carlos Peña, Bonderman, and Franklyn Germán to Detroit, while the New York Yankees sent Ted Lilly, John-Ford Griffin, and Jason Arnoldt o the Athletics, and the Tigers sent Jeff Weaver to the Yankees and cash to the Athletics. Although he showed promise, Bonderman had an unspectacular career with Detroit during the rebuilding years, was plagued by shoulder problems, and was granted free agency in 2010. Last April, Bonderman told MLB.com’s Jason Beck that he would attempt a comeback to the major leagues in the 2013.

Will Detroit sign a veteran right-hander to platoon in left field with Andy Dirks? It’s not likely, unless Dombrowski can sign a one-year deal as a stop-gap, until Nick Castellanos or Avisail Garcia prove themselves ready for the big leagues, perhaps as early as 2014. If they don’t find that someone, Garcia, at least, could share duties with Dirks.

If you were disappointed that the Tigers didn’t make any moves during the winter meetings, don’t be. Remember last year they didn’t sign Prince Fielder until January.

Stay tuned.

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About J. Conrad Guest

J. Conrad Guest is the author of The Cobb Legacy, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings, and other novels. He resides in Northville. Visit him at www.jconradguest.com.