November 20, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Lynn Henning

With infield defense top priority, Tigers likely to weigh offers for Jhonny Peralta

Jhonny Peralta made seven errors in 595 total chances in 2012. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Dave Dombrowski sounded festive as Thanksgiving wishes were traded during a Monday phone conversation spent mostly discussing math-related baseball matters.

Miguel Cabrera had spurred the arithmetic dialogue — WAR and all those sabermetric acronyms that went viral last week during the Most Valuable Player Award crossfire.

But there was at least some offseason business to discuss. And there will be more to talk about in the days to come as Dombrowski, the Tigers' front-office chief, tries to add a right-handed hitting corner outfielder and, very possibly, quietly ponders trading Jhonny Peralta and installing a more mobile fielder at shortstop ahead of Opening Day.

As for other matters:

Anibal Sanchez never loomed as a serious Tigers option while the meter runs and his ultimate free-agent contract soars by dollars and years. Winning lottery tickets aren't as bountiful as a free-agent pitcher who is young and skilled, and Sanchez is both, which means the Tigers aren't biting, and were never seriously in line, to re-sign Sanchez to a deal that will probably reach five or six years and approach $70 million or more.

Feel free to expand that Christmas-shopping budget, Anibal.

But what I wanted to know Monday, after being out of town during Friday's press conference announcing Torii Hunter's signing, was why the Tigers weren't moving Hunter to left field rather than stationing him in right field.

Outfield outlook

The state of Michigan is divided into three giant land masses: The Upper Peninsula, the Lower Peninsula, and Comerica Park. And much of Comerica's square mileage is occupied by left field, which means you want a kind of second center-fielder patrolling its prairies.

Dombrowski's response was anticipated. Hunter is a long-time center fielder who has been playing right field the past two seasons for the Angels.

"He played it well last year," Dombrowski said of Hunter's 2012 shift in right field, "and we've got a big right-center field (at Comerica), too. And other parks are bigger in right field in some cases."

I can say what Dombrowski can't: Hunter's name never would have been etched on that $26-million contract had the Tigers said: "Torii, my good man, we think so much of your defensive acumen that we want to award you the privilege of policing 82 square miles of Comerica Park's left-field savannah in 2013. Sounds great, huh?"

At which point Hunter would be preparing for a sun-baked 2013 season with the Texas Rangers.

Dombrowski doubtless sees his 2013 outfield shaping up this way: Austin Jackson in center, Hunter in right, with Andy Dirks the probable Opening Day left fielder. Nick Castellanos will be in left field as the 2014 season kicks off, and Avisail Garcia will be Hunter's eventual successor in right.

Garcia, in fact, will be the first man summoned when one of the three outfielders inevitably gets hurt or sick or whatever leads to a stretch on the disabled list. But the Tigers want Garcia to play every day as he rounds into big-league shape, and the only way to guarantee Garcia his necessary incubation is to stick him next April at Triple-A Toledo for full-time work.

Dombrowski still needs another outfielder, which isn't Quintin Berry. He needs a right-handed stick. And it would be no surprise if that particular species of outfielder isn't available until some time during spring camp.

It leaves the general manager to mull other roster tweaks. And that begins with shortstop.

Dombrowski was never asked Monday about shortstop because the answer was as precisely predictable as Monday night's sunset.

"We have Jhonny Peralta under contract as our shortstop," Dombrowski would have said, in exactly those words, "and we're very happy to have Jhonny. He's a veteran, he gets his share of big hits, he's durable, and, no, he doesn't get to all the ground balls some shortstops might get, but he's sure-handed and very reliable."

Again, the scribe needs to play the role of general manager and say what Dombrowski couldn't express:

In terms of range, Peralta as a shortstop is a great third baseman. But this is good for the Tigers, given there are at least a half-dozen teams in line hoping to sign — gasp — Kevin Youkilis.

In other words, there's a manic market out there for anything that biologically can be classified as a third baseman.

Worth's worth

The Tigers will have a trade option for Peralta. In fact, they could have shipped Peralta to the Diamondbacks last summer when the Diamondbacks wanted Peralta to play third base and offered the Tigers shortstop Stephen Drew as ransom. Attractive option, except the Tigers were chock-full of left-handed hitters and couldn't justify sticking another lefty bat in manager Jim Leyland's lineup.

Now, though, Peralta is sitting there, at age 30, a historical alien to the disabled list, and begging some team that comes to its senses about Youkilis to make Peralta its target.

One little hang-up: What do the Tigers do about shortstop?

And I have an answer: Danny Worth — with reinforcements should Worth hit as miserably as some fans are convinced he will.

Worth has the range and arm to chop down at least 60 of those ground balls that eluded Peralta in 2012. For those whose eyes and personal metrics say it was closer to 80 ground balls, no argument here.

But the Tigers cannot — cannot — be an improved team in 2013 nor a team that gets past those early-round playoffs the way the Tigers have uncannily done since 2006 if they don't become more mobile and more locked-down at shortstop.

For those certain Worth will be some kind of Mendoza-line vagrant who barely hits .200, I'll see your lousy hitter and raise you these numbers: .230-.240, 10 home runs, 25 doubles.

Not bad, especially when you're making one more play every other game. And those ground balls add up, especially when you consider all the 2-1, 3-2 games the Tigers donated in 2012, often because they weren't picking up that single ground ball.

Dombrowski is right when he says the Tigers' heavy lifting has already been accomplished with the Hunter signing. And it has. Toss Hunter into a lineup about to re-acquire Victor Martinez and some of those one-run, low-horsepower defeats in 2012 should spin Detroit's way in 2013.

But what remains is what Dombrowski can't yet talk about: upgrading his infield defense. As a Tigers priority it's right there with Hunter's signing. And it wouldn't be surprising if the Tigers make a little noise on the Peralta-shortstop front in two weeks when the Winter Meetings roll at Nashville, Tenn.

lynn.henning@detnews.com

Twitter.com@Lynn_Henning