1. Will the Tigers bring back Delmon Young?
After a rough four months, the Minnesota Twins elected to move Young to the Tigers at a relatively modest price tag, determining that given the amount he would command in arbitration and his 2011 struggles, they were unlikely to tender him a contract for the 2012 year.
However, Young performed well for the Tigers, hitting .274 with eight home runs and 34 runs driven in over the final quarter of the season, and also shined in the playoffs, with five home runs between the ALDS and ALCS, that despite an oblique injury that initially left him off the ALCS roster.
Young however made $5.38 million through arbitration and given his excellent 2010 season which would weigh into his value, he’s likely due another sizable raise. With Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen’s contracts coming off the books, the money is there, but the Tigers will have to be very optimistic about Delmon’s ability to look more like his 2010 self to be worth the sort of contract he will get.
2. Is Jacob Turner ready to start in the big leagues?
This question is likely the biggest on the pitching side of things, as the Tigers need to figure out what they’re going to do with the final spot in the rotation. It’s pretty reasonable to expect that Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello will make up the first four slots. However, besides Turner, there are not any candidates that are close to being ready as of yet. Drew Smyly is probably the closest, but only has eight starts above A-Ball under his belt.
The flip side is that the Tigers don’t want to invest significant money into a position where they have their answer sooner or later, and especially not if he’s ready now.
The most likely scenario has the Tigers pursuing a lower-level free agent for a one-year deal, somewhat similar to what they did last year with Brad Penny. That someone in theory should be a fifth starter if Turner proves not to be ready, or a long reliever if he is. A pitcher like Erik Bedard or Chris Capuano might fit that mold for the club.
3. Are the Tigers going to look to make a big splash at an infield spot?
While Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are the prized players in this free agent crop, the Tigers don’t have a need (or a spot for either of them). However, shortstop Jose Reyes and third baseman Aramis Ramirez will both be free agents and command a monster contract, and second baseman Brandon Phillips could be a free agent as well.
The infield crop has thinned itself quite a bit since last offseason due to extensions being signed for players like J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks, so the depth options aren’t there like the Tigers were likely hoping they would be.
But if the Tigers are looking to add a big bat for their lineup, it will likely have to come from one of the three aforementioned players. Reyes of course will command the highest salary and most years, so he could end up being someone the Tigers shy away from, but Ramirez might be a good fit for a club that would like to fill a hole from last season with a plus-player as opposed to someone that would give below average production. Ramirez’s past decade of excellent, consistent production is another reason he might be a Tigers target.
If they don’t pursue someone, resigning free agent Ramon Santiago will be likely (and he could be brought back anyway), and the Tigers could look to upgrade their defense and give a bigger role to Danny Worth. If Young returns, the Tigers may be likely to try and have Ryan Raburn focus more on the infield as well.
4. What will the Tigers do with Brandon Inge?
It seems a virtual lock that the Tigers will not go into 2012 with Inge as their everyday third baseman, but he’s under contract for $5.5 million, which the Tigers are on the hook for one way or the other.
One potentially interesting theory being floated is reverting Inge into the role of a dual-spot sub, backing up at third base, as well as catcher. Given Victor Martinez’s age, it’s just not realistic to rely on him for 30-40 games behind the plate, and as we saw in the playoffs, catching so many games clearly wore on Alex Avila, as he was a hobbled player with little left in the tank by the time the postseason came around.
The Tigers don’t want to use a roster spot on someone to be a backup catcher in addition to someone being a full-time DH, so using Inge in a couple of different backup roles might be the best solution for a player that has been loyal to the organization for over a decade and is under contract, but is clearly past his prime.
5. What will the Tigers do about their middle relief?
Middle relief is quite possibly the most perplexing roster area this offseason. The Tigers have invested heavily there in recent years in the draft, but thus far have little to show for it (other than trades). Ryan Perry has not taken the step forward that everyone expected him to, and Al Alburquerque was not the same pitcher after the concussion that he suffered. Daniel Schlereth seemed serviceable, but also looks to be a ripe opportunity to upgrade.
There are quite a few options on the free agent market should the Tigers look to pursue someone, but would they really invest $5 million (or more) into a bullpen that will already pay Jose Valverde $9 million and Joaquin Benoit almost $6 million? On the other hand, can the team afford to move forward with the same group in 2012 that proved so unreliable down the stretch and into the playoffs in 2011?