DALLAS -- The Tigers want to buy time for their top pitching prospects. They're not looking to run out the clock.They are indeed looking for a starting pitcher as the Winter Meetings heat up at the Hilton Anatole hotel. But as team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski cautioned, they're looking for a fifth starter, not another front to their rotation. They'd like to keep their options open on their rotation beyond 2012. Moreover, Dombrowski is leaving the opportunity open for Jacob Turner or another young arm to win the job. That does not equate into an all-out pursuit of C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle, though it could create a chance for a strong arm with little time left on his contract. It means a rotation tweak, rather than a rotation shift.
"You're open to being in a position where you listen to anything," Dombrowski cautioned, "but we think if we have our four starters that are established, that we would go in with a young guy as our fifth starter. We've said that all along, really. We've said we're open-minded to things, but no, we're very happy to go in with one. We think we might have more than one that might be able to step up. ..."Now, when I say that, you're looking for them to be your fifth starter. You're not looking for him to be your first starter. But we feel comfortable to do that. Now, what we have talked about is potentially signing a veteran-type guy that could protect us, that could also slide into the bullpen." That would not fit the stature of Buehrle, the longtime Tigers tormentor who hit free agency this fall after 12 seasons with the White Sox. It would also not fit Wilson, who went from Rangers closer to ace over the last two years before becoming the most prominent free-agent starter on this year's market. When asked about the possibility of a long-term deal, Dombrowski said, "Well, I'd say that most likely we would not be heading in that direction. ... That's really not the focus we have." FOXSports.com reported Monday that the Tigers are not involved in talks on Buehrle, who reportedly has 14 teams interested in his services. Other teams have noted the Tigers looking for starting pitching on the trade market. Turner made three spot starts for the Tigers this past season, allowing 12 runs on 17 hits over 12 2/3 innings. Much of that damage came in two September outings, after the Tigers had taken him out of a regular starting routine to save the wear and tear on his arm. Though the 20-year-old right-hander went 4-5 with a 3.44 ERA between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, he made the MLB All-Star Futures Game in July and ranked near the top of many prospect lists at season's end. He's the most logical candidate for the Tigers, but he isn't the only one Dombrowski mentioned. "We feel between Turner, [Drew] Smyly, [Andy] Oliver, [Adam] Wilk [and Duane] Below, we think one of those guys will step up and do a solid job for us as a fifth starter. And there's probably somebody else that may not be a household name. Or maybe there's a small guy that we do acquire in a smaller fashion. But we feel that we have enough candidates that somebody can step up and do that for us."
Tigers among clubs interested in Cespedes
DALLAS -- Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed he traveled to the Dominican Republic to scout Cuban-born outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. But Dombrowski isn't saying much beyond that.
His evaluation on the record was more of a one-liner.
"He's in better shape than anybody in this room," Dombrowski told the gathering of reporters Monday afternoon in his hotel suite at the Hilton Anatole, site of this week's Winter Meetings. "And I don't think I'll say much more."
His reticence seemingly indicated plenty about the level of the Tigers' interest.
"I'm not going to tip my hat one iota on what I think about him," Dombrowski said. "I don't think that's a prudent thing to do, because I think it's much more emphasized when I say that from a national perspective. Other than he has a tremendous body and he does a lot of things well, I don't really want to say much about him. ... No offense. I don't see other GMs out there talking about him, either. I just don't think it's a smart thing to do."
The Tigers are believed to be among the more intrigued teams about Cespedes, whom Dombrowski believes could be posted for free agency soon, possibly within the week. He was a star in his native Cuba before defecting earlier this year and taking up residency in the Dominican Republic, where he has been working out for teams for the past month.
At least four top Tigers officials, including Dombrowski, are believed to have watched Cespedes at some point over that stretch.
Dotel an option to bolster bullpen
DALLAS -- While the Tigers are looking at possibilities for fifth starter, they're also looking for security in the seventh inning. They could be making more progress on the latter.
According to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez, the Tigers met with representatives for free-agent reliever Octavio Dotel on Monday, continuing discussions that began before these Winter Meetings. The Cardinals, Brewers and Mets also are reportedly interested in Dotel, who won a World Series in St. Louis back in October.
At age 38, Dotel isn't likely to require a long-term deal. If the Tigers can sell the veteran right-hander on a seventh-inning role behind setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde, he could be the piece that solidifies the bridge between Tigers starters and their late-inning duo.
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has a policy of not commenting on specific free agents. However, he said that middle relief is something they could bolster. Moreover, he said it could be a way to lessen the burden on a fifth starter, whether it's one of their pitching prospects or someone they acquire.
"If you can strengthen your bullpen a little bit, well maybe you're more apt to field one of those young guys," Dombrowski said. "I think we have people, but we can also strengthen ourselves.
"If you knew that [Al] Alburquerque was going to be healthy and pitching and available all the time -- he just started pitching winter ball, so he's feeling good -- [it would help]. You know you have [Phil] Coke as your No. 1 left-hander, and we hope that [Ryan] Perry steps up and [Daniel] Schlereth gets a little bit better. We know we have a lot of good young arms coming, but I don't think it would hurt us to get a guy that would be one more deep there. So I'd say that's an area that we're looking at."
Dombrowski indicated the field is still pretty large.
"I think there's a lot of candidates out there for that job," he continued, "and we have our priorities in who we like. There's a lot of guys that pitch in that type of role."
The Tigers have been linked with interest in Dotel in the past. Similar relievers in whom the Tigers have been linked in past rumors include Chad Qualls, also a free agent this offseason, and Dan Wheeler.
Tigers letting top-dollar pieces fall into place
DALLAS -- The topic of free-agent speedster Jose Reyes came up quite a bit among those looking at the Tigers' offseason needs. Whenever team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski was asked about Reyes or other top free agents, however, he downplayed the possibility.
Now that Reyes is on the verge of a six-year contract with the Florida Marlins, Dombrowski indicated they never got far with the idea of adding Reyes.
"We didn't have any [discussions]," Dombrowski said Monday from the Winter Meetings.
Whether that possibility applies to similar top-dollar free agents remains to be seen. The Tigers have not had any follow-up discussions regarding free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, though they could touch base with his agent later this week.
Even if the Tigers don't get involved on Ramirez, his situation could impact what the Tigers do at third base. The Phillies are reportedly interested in Ramirez, who could be an option if they don't re-sign shortstop Jimmy Rollins. If they reached a deal, speculation centered on Philadelphia possibly making former Tiger Placido Polanco available.
The Tigers let Polanco go as a free agent two years ago. The decision had more to do with Polanco's expected salary than the Tigers' view of him.