Last off-season, Detroit made a big splash in landing Prince Fielder as part of owner MIke Ilitch's "World Series or bust" mandate. The Tigers reached the World Series but fell just short. Having been to the brink of the promise land, Ilitch is hungrier for a title than ever (especially since his Red Wings won't be able to go after a Stanley Cup this year) and could be ready to back another free agent spending spree.
The AL pennant winners should be in good shape for 2013 because so much of their roster returns intact. That doesn't mean that they don't have some work to do though.
Their most immediate concern has to be their bullpen, which we all learned during the World Series is frightfully thin. They've already decided to let Jose Valverde go, so that will put the Tigers in the market for a closer and possibly high quality middle relief as well since Joaquin Benoit wasn't exactly rock solid down the stretch either. As much fun as it was to see Phil Coke closing games for the Tigers, that certainly isn't a strategy they can count on for the course of an entire season.
Next up would be addressing the vacancy in the rotation created by Anibal Sanchez hitting the open market. With Verlander, Scherzer and Fister already in place, Detroit doesn't need to break the bank here but they are believed to want to bring Sanchez back. However, they could just as easily save their cash and hand the job to a younster like Drew Smyly or Casey Crosby. It is also possible that Detroit might have two rotation spots to fill if they decide to non-tender Rick Porcello.
What might actually be a bigger concern than the rotation spot is the lousy production the Tigers got from their corner outfielders. They've got plenty of options in Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch and Avisail Garcia, but none of the four is a guaranteed producer. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see Detroit let those four battle for time in one spot and filling the other from outside the organization.
This free agent market has no shortage of "proven" closers available and the Tigers will probably be associated with every one of them at some point. Be it a marquee target like Rafael Soriano or a more budget-friendly option like Matt Capps, some intrepid rumor monger will try and tie them to the Tigers at some point. Expect the Tigers to head more towards the higher end of that range though as owner Mike Ilitch has declared he is willing to spend whatever it takes to win a World Series, so it would be pretty shocking if they cheaped out on addressing their biggest area of need.
When it comes to the corner outfield spot, the front office realizes they need help, but GM Dave Dombrowski has suggested he won't spend big money in that area. What he also did not indicate is whether he would look to add a more potent bat, perhaps someone like Ryan Ludwick, or instead focus on upgrading Detroit's poor defense with a player like Reed Johnson. Perhaps the best of both worlds would be veteran Torii Hunter, assuming he slips into Detroit's price range.
If the Tigers elect to replace Anibal Sanchez with another free agent starting pitcher, they'll have to choose carefully. The Tigers have one of the worst infield defenses in the league, so a groundball pitcher would be a risky proposition for them. They might also show a little extra interest in southpaw pitchers to balance out their all right-handed rotation. That could put them in the market for someone like Shaun Marcum, Joe Saunders or Francisco Liriano.
Detroit may have money to spend, but they don't have much in the way of trade assets. Bruce Rondon is a top relief prospect who they could peddle, but they might prefer keeping him as a potential closing option in 2013 instead. Nick Castellanos is probably their best trade chip and he is somewhat blocked by Miguel Cabrera at third base (although Miggy could move to DH eventually), so it wouldn't be a surprise if Detroit tried to cash in on Castellanos now. All that said, Detroit figures to be far more likely to explore free agency before turning to the trade market.
If there is one thing this trade market has, it is closing options. Detroit may not even have to look outside their division as it is widely believed that Chris Perez is available to the highest bidder, whether the Indians would accept a bid from a division foe remains to be seen though. They could also make a run at Joel Hanrahan, Casey Janssen or Tyler Clippard.