November 13, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Lynn Henning

Tigers altering their business model

Curtis Granderson is at relatively peak value with an absorbable contract. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

All those who believe payroll is driving the Tigers' steadily hotter trade talks are bang-on with their logic.

But it's more complicated, and more interesting, than a matter of money.

It's about crafting a contender deep into the next decade. And the Tigers, rightly it seems, are banking that melding new talent from trades of Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson, etc., with their own fresh crop of farm prospects will craft a new, long-term contender, at a far more sensible price.

All the commotion will shake out between now and during what could be a rough 2010 transition season. In the meantime, the Tigers won't mind trimming a salary or two ahead of the Godzilla-sized contract obligations they will jettison after the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has almost certainly not told his front-office boss, Dave Dombrowski, to slash payroll. That's because Ilitch never has ordered any fire sales with the Red Wings or with the Tigers. And even with business tough and various Tigers contracts even tougher, he will not order Dombrowski to make bad deals to save money.

But what he will abide is what the Tigers are now apparently prepared to embrace: smart trades that will make this team more affordable in the near and long-term, and more competitive into the next decade.

It's why some of us thought all along Granderson would need to at least be discussed as trade bait this offseason. He was at relatively peak value with an absorbable contract. The Tigers have multiple needs that could become more multiple as a trio of free agents -- Placido Polanco, Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon -- move closer to perhaps playing elsewhere.

Trading Granderson figured to be a difficult, but necessary, way to add net value.

The Tigers also are closing in on promoting new pitchers and position players from their farm system. Casey Crosby probably will be in the starting rotation in 2011, maybe sooner. Another left-handed starter, Andy Oliver, will be at the doorstep, as well.

Casper Wells could emerge next spring as their new center fielder. Ryan Strieby and Brennan Boesch could be the new corner outfielders by 2011.

The Tigers by then likely will need a new shortstop and third baseman to assist their newly anointed second baseman, Scott Sizemore. Guess what flavor of position players will be involved in any major deals by the Tigers? Figure on a shortstop, for sure.

Tough decisions

As anticipated, the Tigers have plenty of clubs interested in Granderson and Jackson. And it's hardly a surprise the Yankees and Cubs probably lead the list.

At age 26 and with a Howitzer for an arm, Jackson will be looked at as a top-of-the-rotation heavyweight. Any contender will consider him money in the bank, which is nice, given that they'll probably need to fork over a fair slice of that bank account when Jackson and agent Scott Boras hit free agency in two years.

The Tigers need a right-handed starter of Jackson's caliber as badly as a team like the Yankees. But not when the Tigers need primarily to take care of Justin Verlander, whom they have a reasonably good chance of signing to a long extension in 2010.

Jackson becomes problematic for the Tigers because, unlike most agents, Boras doesn't go for extensions before free agency. It would conceivably leave the Tigers a lame-duck pitcher heading into 2011 whose trade value would steadily decrease as he moves closer to the free market.

Dombrowski can't gamble there.

Learning from mistakes

What Dombrowski can do is to get busy manufacturing a new team, with Verlander and Rick Porcello as its pitching pillars.

A general manager learned his lesson about bad contracts, as did Ilitch. You can build a contender for less money by acquiring young talent and letting it coalesce as it approaches its prime.

That's the thinking behind the seemingly imminent trades of Granderson, Jackson and maybe a handful of other Tigers. Anyone who thought this offseason was going to be quiet on the Comerica Park front should remember that fireworks aren't only for July.

lynn.henning@detnews.com">lynn.henning@detnews.com (313) 222-2472