While the Detroit Tigers and their fans are obviously feeling a bit blue Sunday night, they will soon come to realize that the 2012 season was a huge success. They won the AL Central, swept the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series and appeared in the World Series.
Of course, the club's weaknesses were exposed a bit in losing to the San Francisco Giants, but they are in a great position to improve their club this winter. Here are five ways I expect GM Dave Dombrowski to try to improve the club this winter.
1. So long, Delmon
Delmon Young was fantastic in the ALCS and was named MVP of the series, but as a DH/left fielder he's a below-average player, as evidenced by his .267/.296/.411 line this year. He is a free agent, and the club will gladly let him walk, as they will have Victor Martinez coming back from a knee injury that cost him the 2012 season. Martinez will be an upgrade at DH, so the team is getting better without doing anything.
2. Bye-bye, Valverde
Speaking of impending free agents, Jose Valverde will also be one, and the Tigers, who didn't trust him to pitch in any high-leverage spots in the World Series, won't bring him back. He made $9 million this year, so that will bring some salary relief. Detroit's bullpen was not a strength, and I could see them making a play for Rafael Soriano, who will almost certainly opt out of his deal with the Yankees, and would be an upgrade. Yes, he'd be pricey, but owner Mike Illitch has made it clear that he's willing to spend to try to win a World Series, and the club has roughly $90 committed for 2013 as of today. In other words, they have some money to spend.
I could also see the club trying to rebuild their pen by shopping Rick Porcello, who is still fairly well-regarded and will turn 24 in December. But as a ground ball pitcher on a team with a bad infield defense, he's a terrible fit. They should shop him to the National League or to clubs with good outfield defense in search of bullpen help. I could see San Diego, Minnesota and Pittsburgh as fits. Maybe Porcello for Joel Hanrahan, or possibly to Kansas City for someone such as Aaron Crow.
3. Retain Peralta and Sanchez
Jhonny Peralta has a $6 million option for 2013, and the club will certainly pick that up. Anibal Sanchez is set to be a free agent, and he will have suitors, and that's one guy the club will want to make a play for. He has shown this October that he's a solid mid-rotation starter, and if he's paired with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister the Tigers will have one of the best rotations in the league.
Further, Sanchez is a strikeout pitcher, which makes him a great fit for the Tigers, as he's less-reliant on his defense, which will always be a team weakness as long as they build their lineup around Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
4. Upgrade the outfield corners
Quintin Berry and Andy Dirks are decent role players, but they are not everyday guys. The Tigers have moved top prospect Nick Castellanos from third base to right field because of Miggy, and he could be up some time in the second half of next year. (And one day, don't be surprised if Castellanos is at third with Cabrera in left, a position he played when he came up with the Marlins.)
In the other outfield corner, I could see them making a play for Nick Swisher, as he has been one of baseball's most consistent performers over the past few seasons. The Tigers' lineup lacks depth -- something the Giants exposed -- and Swisher would provide that. Again, he won't come cheap, but the Tigers have money. A less pricey alternative would be Angel Pagan, who is also a free agent and could be a great No. 2 hitter while upgrading the outfield defense in left.
While they wait for Castellanos, I expect Avisail Garcia to man one corner with Berry and/or Dirks on the bench.
5. One more year of Leyland
Manager Jim Leyland's contract is up, and you have to think he wants to get a ring in Detroit. However, at 67 years old, who knows how much longer he will want to manage? I'd bring him back on a one-year deal and let him know that he can have the job as long as he wants it, but at this stage of his career I'd go year-to-year.
Even if they don't do much, the Tigers are probably AL Central favorites. And since Dombrowski will have some payroll flexibility, I could see him turning the Tigers into the dominant AL team next year.