As the winter meetings concluded, many Detroit Tigers fans were left to wonder why team officials even showed up. The reality is that Detroit’s roster is pretty well set in stone at this point. Yes, a change at shortstop could happen, and another right-handed bat might be added to the outfield mix, but by and large, the Tigers have all hands on deck.
The Tigers did make a few moves. At one-time thought to be a can’t miss prospect, lefty Andy Oliver was shipped off to Pittsburgh for minor league catcher Ramon Cabrera. Cabrera, 23, is just 5’8’’ and weighs 195 pounds. He has put up decent batting averages (.292 avg over 5 minor league seasons) but hasn’t shown any pop. He is a switch-hitter, which increases his potential value but will not threaten the major league roster out of spring training.
Aside from the Oliver deal, the Tigers acquired two players via the Rule 5 draft. Detroit shipped utility minor leaguer Justin Henry to Boston for another utility-man in return, speedster Jeff Kobernus. GM Dave Dombrowski also sent some of Mike Ilitch’s cash to the Mets in exchange for lefty pitcher Kyle Lobstein.
As rule 5 pickups, both players are expected to be on the 25-man roster. If they don’t make the cut then they get sent back to their former employer.
Kobernus and Lobstein are both former 2nd round draft picks who possess some immediate upside. Kobernus, 24, led the Eastern League (AA) with 42 steals in 2012, a year after nabbing 53 bags. He is a .279 career minor league hitter with a low .316 on-base %. He offers almost no extra-base pop (51 doubles, 6 triples, and 9 homers in 4 seasons) but could grab a spot on the major league roster formerly occupied by Don Kelly or Ryan Raburn.
Kobernus’ addition, in theory, might make Ramon Santiago expendable and his speed might equal doom for Quintin Berry’s big league run with the Tigers. Time, and Kobernus’ spring training performance, will dictate how the Tigers play out that portion of their roster.
Lobstein, 23, and a lefty starter by trade, put up good strikeout totals for AA Montgomery in ’12. He fanned 129 hitters in 144 innings of work. He has a 3.85 minor league ERA over 4 seasons with a 1.31 WHIP. He gives up a lot of hits, but has decent command. Detroit views him as spring training competition for Drew Smyly’s projected spot in the starting rotation. If Smyly wins out, which he will, Lobstein will add a 2nd lefty arm to Phil Coke’s in the Tigers’ pen.
In the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, the Tigers added another speedster in 24-year old Eliezer Mesa. He will add some much needed depth to the Tigers’ minor league outfield look.
So in the end, no Stephen Drew, no big and unexpected splash on the trade market, Rick Porcello and Brennan Boesch remain Tigers, just a few odds and ends that Detroit feels will make them a more complete ballclub.
Drew appears to be leaning toward a 1-year deal with Oakland in an effort to rehabilitate his value and get paid out next offseason. With that in mind, how does the Tigers’ potential 25-man roster look come April?
Starters (5): Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly
Bullpen (7): Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal, Phil Coke, Kyle Lobstein, Bruce Rondon
Catcher (2): Alex Avila and Bryan Holaday
Infield (4): Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Cabrera
Outfield (3): Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter
DH: Victor Martinez
Bench (3): Ramon Santiago, Danny Worth, Brennan Boesch
Potential odd men out: Jeff Kobernus, Quintin Berry, Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos, Darin Downs, Duane Below
None of these projections are final of course, and the bench represents the biggest area of debate. Also, some insiders at the winter meeting claimed, despite Dombrowski insisting that he isn’t, that Detroit was indeed on the prowl for a closer to round out the bullpen.
Santiago, who is making a shockingly high $2.1M in 2013 would be a great piece for the Tigers to send packing in a low-level trade, potentially freeing up space for Kobernus or Berry.
Big decisions will also have to be made on how ready Garcia and Castellanos are, and whether splitting at-bats with Dirks is a healthy way for them to develop, or if regular minor league time would be more effective.
The meat of the product is in place, the Tigers just need to figure out where to trim some fat and make this team as lean and efficient as possible.
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