Five Tigers eligible for arbitration
Robertson, Thames among those seeking new deals
DETROIT -- Now that the Tigers have filled their more pressing offseason needs, they're expected to start turning their attention to a handful of remaining arbitration cases while still looking at the potential free-agent moves.
In the case of arbitration, Omar Infante's trade to the Cubs and Friday's move to designate Timo Perez for assignment leaves the Tigers with five arbitration-eligible players. Starting pitcher Nate Robertson, outfielder Marcus Thames and relievers Tim Byrdak, Chad Durbin and Bobby Seay all are expected to have roles on next year's team, but getting them under contract isn't necessarily that simple.
In most cases, the Tigers are just starting the process of negotiations, which is their usual timetable. Detroit agreed to a one-year deal with arbitration-eligible infielder Ramon Santiago a few weeks ago, but that was in part to help pave the way for trading Infante.
"We're always prepared to talk," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said earlier this week. "It's something prepared way in advance. Normally you go through a process where the free agents take a priority."
The Tigers have never gone to an arbitration hearing with a player under Dombrowski's six-year leadership in the front office. They reached contracts with four players just ahead of last January's deadline to keep that streak intact.
Teams must tender a contract to arbitration-eligible players by Dec. 12. Saturday is the deadline for clubs to offer arbitration to their free-agent players, but the Tigers will not offer it to their remaining free agents -- first baseman Sean Casey or utility infielder Neifi Perez. Neither has a role on next year's team.
Unlike past seasons, when the Tigers have had to deal with cases for some of their younger players who came up through the system, this year's arbitration-eligible players are largely veterans in other roles. The notable exception is starting pitcher Nate Robertson, who is eligible for the second time after being part of Detroit's rotation for the last four years.
Detroit signed Robertson to a one-year, $3.26 million contract last offseason rather than a multi-year deal. They could go for another one-year contract this time around, though Robertson -- who makes his offseason home in the area and whose wife is expecting their first child in February -- would certainly be attracted to a longer-term deal.
"I'm happy here," Robertson said Friday. "I would love to be a part of Detroit for years to come. It's the situation you're in and we'll see what happens."
The 30-year-old Robertson would be eligible for free agency after the 2009 season. He went 9-13 with a 4.76 ERA this year and owns a 42-55 record and 4.60 ERA for his career, but he has averaged 195 innings a year over his four full seasons in the big leagues, including a career-best 208 2/3 innings in 2006. He was one of three pitchers written into the 2008 rotation at the end of this past season, along with Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander.
How Detroit's pitching picture will look in two years is difficult to project. First-round Draft pick Rick Porcello is expected to spend the next two seasons in the Minors before competing for a big league spot in 2010 at the earliest. Jair Jurrjens' trade to Atlanta in October took one notable prospect out of the farm system, but Dallas Trahern, Eulogio De La Cruz and Burke Badenhop remain.
Seay and Byrdak both emerged from Minor League contracts to become left-handed components in Detroit's bullpen this year, helping the Tigers make up for the loss of Jamie Walker to free agency and giving manager Jim Leyland some flexibility. It's believed the Tigers have had preliminary discussions on their front.
Durbin, too, is expected back on Detroit's pitching staff after playing a swing role this year, starting the year in the rotation as Kenny Rogers' stand-in before shifting to relief over the second half.
Thames established himself as a power option in the lineup in some cases and off the bench in others in 2006. He posted 18 home runs, 54 RBIs and a .242 average in 86 games last season, and is expected to compete for platoon time in left field alongside Jacque Jones. The Perez move all but seals his spot for 2008, barring another signing.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.