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Closer search down to Gordon, Hoffman
11/30/2005 7:02 PM ET
DETROIT -- How will the Tigers spell relief in 2006? A week before the Winter Meetings, it's anyone's guess.

When the Tigers pounced early last offseason and signed closer Troy Percival, critics wondered whether the team overpaid, but the addition gave Detroit what was supposed to be a formidable veteran presence in the late innings. Now, the Tigers are watching unbelievable deals unfold and wonder who will take the mound with a ninth-inning lead.

Spurned in their pursuit of B.J. Ryan and set to be disappointed in their quest to bring back former closer Kyle Farnsworth, the Tigers are shifting focus to the remaining closers on the market. As the list of available relievers shortens, it's possible that incumbent Fernando Rodney will hold onto the closer's role for next year.

While the Tigers were never more than secondary participants in the bidding for Billy Wagner, believed to be the top closer on the market, they had hopes of signing either Ryan or Farnsworth, two younger arms entering the prime of their careers.

Ryan came to town for a visit two weeks ago and was high on Detroit's list when he and the Blue Jays shocked baseball with a five-year, $47 million deal. Soon after that, former Indians setup man Bobby Howry spurned Detroit, signing a three-year contract to join the Cubs and passing up a reported three-year, $13.5 million offer from the Tigers.

Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski denied published reports that the Tigers made Ryan a five-year offer.

"We were willing to offer him a deal," Dombrowski said.

Talks never advanced to that point, and the Tigers weren't going to match what Toronto was offering in terms of years or money.

The Tigers and Farnsworth had mutual interest in a reunion. Dombrowski said all along that he hadn't shut the door on Farnsworth returning, and agent Barry Meister said Farnsworth would be interested in coming back to the team that gave him a shot at closing. Once Ryan signed, however, the interest level in Farnsworth picked up dramatically. One industry source cited a half-dozen clubs that had Ryan and Farnsworth ranked 1-2 on their wish list for free agent relievers, the Tigers among them.

As of Wednesday, Farnsworth was close to a three-year deal to join the Yankees as setup man to Mariano Rivera. Meanwhile, the Tigers have jumped into discussions with the agents for Tom Gordon and Trevor Hoffman, two relievers with whom they had not had contact until recently.

Unlike Ryan and Farnsworth, two hard throwers under 30 years old, both Hoffman and Gordon are in their late 30s. Though they have greater, deeper track records -- especially Hoffman -- their age makes a long-term deal more of a risk. By all accounts, the Tigers were more than willing to talk about at least a three-year contract with Ryan and Farnsworth. That becomes a trickier proposition with older closers such as Gordon and Hoffman after Percival lasted barely half a season as the Tigers' closer before injuries put his career in question.

Gordon reportedly wants a three-year offer from the Phillies, who are aggressively pursuing him along with the Tigers and four other teams. Hoffman's side reportedly asked for a three-year deal from the Padres in October before he hit the open market.

After Gordon and Hoffman, the market becomes much more of a question. The Tigers have not shown interest in Bob Wickman, who posted a career-best 45 saves for Cleveland this past season but who has topped 35 innings only once in the last four years. Nor is it believed they have interest in a lengthy deal with former Tiger Todd Jones, who saved 40 games for the Marlins last year after struggling as a setup man each of the previous three years.

At some point, the Tigers could turn their attention back to Rodney, who saved nine games in 13 opportunities after Detroit dealt Farnsworth to Atlanta. He's under contract for next year and just missed being eligible for arbitration, so it wouldn't take a financial leap. However, his fatigue and occasional control problems down the stretch were cause for concern, though part of that stemmed from the downtime following his Tommy John surgery in 2004.

The Tigers have been cautious in their assessment of Rodney. While Dombrowski stated their hope to add a veteran closer earlier this offseason, he added that they still believe he can close games.

"We like Fernando Rodney," Dombrowski said last month. "We think he can pitch at the end of the game. This year [was] probably a tough year, when you talk about coming back from Tommy John surgery. We've always felt he could close, but he can [also] pitch in the eighth inning and seventh inning."

The Tigers did add one reliever Wednesday, agreeing to a Minor League contract with left-hander Bobby Seay. The 27-year-old is best known for becoming a free agent on a technicality two months after being taken with the 12th pick in the 1996 First-Year Player Draft.

Seay posted an 8.49 ERA in 17 games for Colorado last season before being outrighted to Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he posted a 2.38 ERA over 22 2/3 innings.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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