When Dave Dombrowski took over the Tigers, not only was the cupboard bare -- there wasn't any cupboard.
Things have improved to the point where Detroit has used minor league prospects to fill needs in the last two offseasons, and yet the organization still could lose prospects in the Rule 5 draft.
The Tigers set their 40-man roster Nov. 20, and there wasn't enough room for Randor Bierd, a promising 23-year-old who bounced back sharply at the Class A and Class AA levels after missing 2006 because of arm surgery.
Re-signing free agent left-hander Kenny Rogers would mean trimming another player -- unless Detroit does something sneaky like agreeing to terms with Rogers, who fired agent Scott Boras, and delaying the signing until after the winter meetings.
At any rate, a full winter roster means the Tigers probably won't be participating in the Rule 5 draft's major league phase for the first time in several winters and might lose several players in the draft.
The Tigers were able to trade a serviceable utility infielder, Omar Infante, to Chicago to get a regular left fielder (Jacque Jones) from the Cubs because they had bench players deemed ready to make the jump in shortstop Ramon Santiago and utilityman Ryan Raburn.
Dombrowski traded three pitchers to the New York Yankees for DH Gary Sheffield two winters ago and earlier this offseason shipped a promising young pitcher and a precocious center fielder to Atlanta for shortstop Edgar Renteria.
"We are in a situation now where, to compete for a championship, year in and year out, you've got to keep your major league club going," assistant GM Al Avila said the day after right-hander Jair Jurrjens and center fielder Gorkys Hernandez were traded to the Braves. "At the same time, the only way you can continue this for the long term is to continue feeding good, young players into the organization. That's the only way to do it. We have to stay balanced in order to stay competitive."
Dombrowski cited young pitching and two center fielders ahead of Hernandez (Curtis Granderson and Cameron Maybin) as reasons he felt able to make the deal without stripping the farm system.
Drafting hard-throwing young pitchers is a focus of Detroit's restocking. The Tigers have also been aggressive (within financial limits) in signing Latin American talent.
"We don't say, 'Let's go after a catcher in the first round because we need a catcher,' " Avila said. "The top talent will always have top value. If you take the best player, he can better your organization by playing for you in the big leagues, or you can trade him to help where you have a deficiency."
Sheffield, although he got hurt, was seen as a productive acquisition. Renteria, the Tigers believe, will keep the club strong at shortstop while letting Carlos Guillen strengthen the first base spot on offense and defense.
--LHP Kenny Rogers dumped his agent, Scott Boras, Nov. 16 in a move widely seen as a precursor to the free agent re-signing with the Tigers. Rogers sent e-mails to Detroit newspapers acknowledging he was talking with the club about a 2008 contract. The 43-year-old said at the end of last season he wanted to think about retirement and that if he came back it would only be with Detroit. Then Boras stunned the Tigers at the general managers' meetings by saying he wanted to establish a market for Rogers. Detroit had put out two one-year contract offers believed to be in the neighborhood of the $8 million it paid him last year, when he was limited to 11 starts because of shoulder surgery and a sore elbow. One of the contracts might have been for less money with generous incentive bonuses based on games and innings. Rogers, possibly feeling himself squeezed out in a limited market, notified the Major League Baseball Players Association he was dismissing Boras and representing himself. Clubs were informed of the change in a league-wide e-mail. Rogers, in his e-mail to Detroit newspapers, said people should be patient.
--LHP Danny Christensen was outrighted to Class AAA Toledo on Nov. 20 after he was designated for assignment and cleared waivers. Christensen was acquired from Kansas City in October as compensation for RHP Roman Colon, traded to the Royals last summer. Christensen struck out 99 in 140 2/3 innings at Class AA Wichita in 2007. He was drafted in the fourth round by Kansas City in 2002 and has put up a 4.80 ERA with 473 strikeouts over 566 2/3 minor league innings covering 116 games in six seasons.
--C Dane Sardinha was re-signed to a minor league contract that likely contains an invitation to major league spring training. Sardinha, 28, batted .202 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs in 117 games this season for Class AAA Toledo. He was called up by the Tigers in September to be a bullpen catcher even though he was not put on the major league roster.
--RF Magglio Ordonez finished second to 3B Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees in balloting for the American League Most Valuable Player, announced Nov. 19 by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Ordonez got the only two first-place votes that did not go to Rodriguez, and both came from Detroit writers, who both cited the Tigers' right fielder's league-high overall batting average (.363) and average with runners in scoring position (.429) as major reasons for their decisions. Rodriguez had 382 points to 258 for runner-up Ordonez. Ordonez will receive a $200,000 bonus for his finish in the voting. "That's why they signed him to that long-term contract," C Ivan Rodriguez said. "They know he can hit. That's the Magglio we're going to see for years. I'm just very happy for him. He's our MVP, after what he did. He was everything for us." Ordonez was Detroit's first batting champion since Norm Cash in 1961 and had the highest batting average by a Tiger since Charlie Gehringer hit .371 in 1937. His hits and doubles totals were the most by a Tiger since George Kell in 1950. His second-place finish was the highest by a Tiger since Cecil Fielder finished a close second in both 1990 and 1991 to Rickey Henderson and Cal Ripken, respectively. LHP Willie Hernandez was the last Detroit player to be MVP and also was named the Cy Young winner in 1984.
--Former Detroit 3B Tom Brookens was bumped up to manage Class AA Erie after former C Matt Walbeck was plucked from the Tigers' organization to be third base coach for the Texas Rangers. Brookens, 54, has finished with a winning record in all three of his seasons as a manager in Detroit's minor league system. He led the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps to a Midwest League title in 2007. Brookens has already managed some of the organization's top prospects, at West Michigan and short-season Oneonta, where he spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons. He makes his year-round home in Pennsylvania, a couple of hours from Erie.
--Detroit made no changes in the 40-man roster it filed Nov. 20 with Major League Baseball. "We felt comfortable with our roster, as it is now," GM Dave Dombrowski said. The Tigers will have to drop a player if they re-sign free agent LHP Kenny Rogers. Several minor league players left unprotected could be taken in the Rule 5 draft next month at the winter meetings.
BY THE NUMBERS: .429 -- RF Magglio Ordonez's batting average with runners in scoring position this year, when he hit a league-best .363 overall. The RISP average was by far the best in the league and a key reason he finished second in the AL MVP balloting.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I spoke with Dave (Dombrowski, Tigers president and general manager) Monday to let him know I needed some time to get up to speed on my new job. I hope to speak with him again soon." -- Free agent LHP Kenny Rogers, expected to re-sign with Detroit after firing his agent, Scott Boras, and negotiating on his own behalf.
Adding a starter is the final chief component of the Tigers' offseason restructuring plans. The re-signing of RHP Todd Jones to return as the closer eliminated a chief need that arose when RHP Joel Zumaya hurt his shoulder. The acquisition of LF Jacque Jones added a decent left-handed outfield bat to the lineup. The club solved its shortstop problem with the acquisition of Edgar Renteria to facilitate the shift of Carlos Guillen to first base next season. Detroit needs two rotation members but will fill one in-house. The Tigers would like LHP Kenny Rogers to come back and take the other slot.
ARRIVALS: SS Edgar Renteria (trade with Braves), OF Jacque Jones (trade with Cubs).
DEPARTURES: RHP Jair Jurrjens (traded to Braves), INF Omar Infante (traded to Cubs).
BIGGEST NEEDS: Two starting pitchers -- but only one coming from outside the organization. LHP Kenny Rogers is the first choice. The return of RHP Todd Jones to close, filling a need created by the loss of RHP Joel Zumaya for at least a half-season, means the addition of a seventh- or eighth-inning pitcher can wait, possibly until spring training.
FREE AGENTS: LHP Kenny Rogers, RHP Todd Jones, 1B Sean Casey, IF Neifi Perez.
Rogers has decided he'll pitch again next season at the age of 43 and fired his agent, Scott Boras, and represented himself in negotiations expected to lead to his return to Detroit. Jones signed a one-year deal to return to Detroit the day before he could negotiate with other clubs as a free agent. Casey has been told he won't be offered a 2008 contract, and Perez won't be back, either.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LHP Tim Byrdak, LHP Bobby Seay, LHP Nate Robertson, RHP Chad Durbin, OF Marcus Thames, OF Timo Perez.
GM Dave Dombrowski likes to avoid arbitration and eliminated SS Ramon Santiago from the list by signing him to a split contract. The acquisition of LF Jacque Jones means Perez is probably not going to be offered arbitration.
IN LIMBO: OF Timo Perez had a hot September and might have limited market value, but the presence of LF Jacque Jones means he probably will be squeezed off the roster. RHP Chad Durbin is one of a handful of bullpen members who are out of options (RHP Jose Capellan, RHP Jason Grilli plus others), and that could make them trade material. 3B/1B Mike Hessman showed power and Detroit signed him to a split contract, but he still could be dealt.
RHP Joel Zumaya (right shoulder AC joint surgery in October 2007) will be out until at least midseason.
DH Gary Sheffield (right shoulder surgery in October 2007) should be able to hit by the start of spring training, but he might need more time before he starts throwing.
C Vance Wilson (Tommy John surgery in June 2007) hopes to be able to throw well sometime in the spring.
RHP Jeremy Bonderman (right elbow strain) was shut down in late September; rest is his prescription.
LHP Kenny Rogers (sore left elbow) ended the season pitching with an elbow that wasn't 100 percent, but rest is the cure.
RF Magglio Ordonez (sore left heel) just needs to keep off his foot to be ready to go in the spring.
C Vance Wilson (Tommy John surgery in June 2007) feels he'll be able to throw by the time spring training starts.