11/12/2013 8:18 P.M. ET
Closer, bench help top Tigers' wish list
Detroit also might need second baseman if Infante departs
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski might be in the single best position of any American League general manager. He has a club with very few holes that reached Game 6 of the AL Championship Series in 2013, as he prepares to turn things over to new manager Brad Ausmus in the wake of Jim Leyland's retirement.
Dombrowski would like to add a closer and maybe some bench help. If second baseman Omar Infante departs via free agency, he'll need to address that position in some form. Mostly, though, Dombrowski would like to get his complete team back on the team and find out how good the Tigers are.
Dombrowski will not alibi for losing the ALCS to the Red Sox, but he wonders how it might have played out if third baseman Miguel Cabrera had been healthy and if young reliever Bruce Rondon hadn't gotten hurt the final week of the regular season.
"We think we have a club good enough to win," Dombrowski said. "We need to come up with a closer, and I think we will. But we like our club. We think we have a chance to win. Look how close we came this year."
Cabrera hit a pedestrian .262 in the postseason while suffering from an assortment of injuries. He declined to use the injuries as an excuse, or even to discuss them, but he was a shadow of the player expected to win a second straight AL Most Valuable Player Award.
Rondon was an overlooked loss late in the season. He was penciled in as Detroit's closer in Spring Training, but had trouble throwing strikes. Rondon spent part of the season in the Minor Leagues, but by the end, he'd harnessed his 98-mph heater and had become what Dombrowski originally thought he'd be.
In his final 15 appearances, Rondon had a 1.23 ERA with six walks and 18 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings. And then he went down with a sore elbow.
"I think the reality is ... And this is not an excuse, because you can always be better," Dombrowski said. "That's the thing about it. But for us, losing Rondon was huge. People don't talk about that. We lost him at a time in which we couldn't replace him because he got hurt in September.
"He was throwing great. I remember when we played Boston, and [David] Ortiz told our guys when he struck him out in a clutch situation, 'That was as good a stuff as I've seen all year.'
"So we didn't have him. Getting him back, which we believe we will, and you have a closer, all of a sudden, it changes your situation a great deal. We think our bullpen would have been fine if we'd had him back. Same thing if you'd had Cabrera at 100 percent. You can always get better, but we like where we are."
If Dombrowski adds a closer via free agency, he could trade one of his six starting pitchers for help in other areas. As to reports he might trade Max Scherzer, a free agent after next season, Dombrowski offered little.
"We have six starters when you include [Drew] Smyly," he said. "We're not looking to trade them per se. We're always open minded to see what works for us."
One interesting area for the Tigers is left field. Leyland started six different left fielders last season, and spring will begin with top prospect Nick Castellanos getting a crack at the job.
"Well, right now we're giving him an opportunity to make our club," Dombrowski said. "Left field was one spot this year where we really didn't have that regular guy. [Castellanos] got a cup of coffee in September just to get him exposed to the big leagues. We're thinking he has a chance to earn that spot or a lot of playing time out there. We have a complement of guys like [Andy] Dirks and [Don] Kelly to go along with him. We like him. We think he's ready to play."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.