MLB Team Report - Detroit Tigers - INSIDE PITCH


DETROIT -- After three postseasons sabotaged by bad bullpens it should be no secret what the Detroit Tigers make their top priority this offseason.

The Tigers are stuck with one more year of paying Joe Nathan $10 million, but whether he closes for them, for somebody else or becomes one of the highest-priced mid-game relievers in baseball history will unfold in good time.

Everything else is in play as Detroit remakes a bullpen that Baltimore raked in the first two games while sweeping the Tigers out of the postseason in three divisional playoff games.

The Tigers are likely to let setup man right-hander Joba Chamberlain walk after one off-and-on season. Left-hander Phil Coke's time in Detroit could be over also as he enters free agency.

Right-hander Al Alburquerque will return but isn't trusted to get big outs, as evidenced by the fact he did not pitch in any of the three postseason games.

Right-hander Joakim Soria could be back if Detroit picks up his $7 million option. The results don't warrant it, but failing to do so would mean Detroit gave Texas two premium pitching prospects for nothing.

Right-hander Bruce Rondon was sorely missed after requiring Tommy John surgery in the spring. How good he'll be won't be known until this spring.

The wanna-be-first pundits began proclaiming at mid-season that Detroit's window of contention time was closing, but that ignores the fact owner Mike Ilitch has the best thing to keep a window open -- a fat wallet.

Detroit has two gigantic free agent questions, whether it can or wants to retain the services of staff ace Max Scherzer and the quality switch-hitting bat of DH Victor Martinez.

The return of right-hander Justin Verlander, left-hander David Price, right-hander Rick Porcello and right-hander Anibal Sanchez assures Detroit a solid rotation. But if Scherzer leaves he will need to be replaced, possibly by rookie left-hander Kyle Lobstein, who performed well the last two months as the replacement for the injured Sanchez.

The Tigers could make the obligatory qualifying offer to Scherzer, bringing a first-round draft choice back when he signs elsewhere, then spread his money around on three quality late-game relievers. Ilitch could also decide to do both, too.

"They know," Martinez said of whether he wants to return to Detroit. "They know. So we'll see what happens."

If Victor Martinez leaves, that would leave Detroit right where it was the first two months of the season -- until left fielder J.D. Martinez emerged as a middle-of-the-lineup force. If Victor Martinez signs elsewhere, he'll have to be replaced.

A decision must be made whether to offer right fielder Torii Hunter a one-year deal to buy time until right fielder Steven Moya is ready. Hunter, soon to be 40, finished well and earned a strong endorsement from rookie manager Brad Ausmus.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias was pronounced healed from stress fractures in both shins, but Detroit will need a backup plan in case it's an ongoing problem. Rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez did well when brought up early in the season but seemed to hit a wall in September and lost his playing time to Andrew Romine.

Outfielder Andy Dirks missed all of the season following spring back surgery and will be one of a handful of players, including Tyler Collins, who will be looking for a spot in the outfield.

Acquiring a center fielder, or at least a backup at the position, will be a priority because there are none in the farm system ready to step up. Trading away center fielder Austin Jackson created a big hole in the outfield, and Rajai Davis didn't look comfortable in shifting over from left.

A big question surrounds catcher Alex Avila, who wants to keep going despite three concussions during this season and problems in that area the year before.