December 6, 2012 at 1:10 am

Lynn Henning: At the Winter Meetings

More talk than deals getting done at annual gathering

Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has been expansive in conversations about what the team needs in order to bring a world championship to Detroit. (John T. Greilick/Detroit News)

Nashville, Tenn. -- As these words are etched, we're three days into baseball's Winter Meetings — and you're free to wonder when a gathering supposedly designed to trade and sign players might actually begin.

It's been slow, particularly in the Tigers suite at The Opryland Hotel, where business has been mostly non-existent but conversation has been robust.

Among the best of The Tigers Disclosures:

Established players, please

Dave Dombrowski was asked about potential trade partners and their preferences. Were teams chasing Tigers roster players or prospects?

"Roster players," said Dombrowski, working his 12th Winter Meetings as Tigers boss.

Next summer, as the July trade deadline approaches and teams have different needs, it will be Tigers prospects that the fire-sale teams will be chasing.

For now, we pretty much know the cast being asked about and the guys Detroit will consider moving:

Jhonny Peralta, for sure, if the Tigers can sign Stephen Drew, the free-agent shortstop who is being shopped by agent Scott Boras at a price the Tigers and other teams find indigestible.

Rick Porcello? He would be dealt only if Anibal Sanchez or another quality starting pitcher were brought aboard. That appears unlikely.

Brennan Boesch? Not a great market for a hitter who for opposing teams represents more of a hunch and a gamble. The Tigers today have little room for Boesch, and probably even less confidence he'll be on the roster when spring camp begins in nine weeks. Rough time for a guy who a year ago looked like gold.

2013 critical for Avila

Alex Avila was an All-Star in 2011. He was a lukewarm hitter in 2012, and it's obvious the Tigers — manager Jim Leyland, in particular — believe a couple things hurt a catcher who next month turns 26.

He was either playing with pain in 2012, or, as Leyland said in revealing words: "When you never play with discomfort and you have discomfort, you need to learn to play with discomfort."

Leyland, again: "I think there were times, with the injuries, he didn't play with as much energy as I'd like."

Leyland, emphasizing Avila is "gonna be fine," and that he's "really a good player," said the catcher's picky ways at the plate might also need to be altered ahead of 2013.

"He's got a good eye — sometimes too good of an eye. In my opinion, he takes some borderline pitches that he should knock the (stuffing) out of."

Avila's a smart kid whose father, Al, is Dombrowski's assistant GM. Don't be surprised if a few subtle changes are made and Avila in 2013, assuming reasonable health, looks more like 2011's version.

Keep an eye also on the Tigers catchers and how the organizational lineup — six-deep after Thursday's trade for switch-hitting prospect Ramon Cabrera — shakes out in 2013.

Bryan Holaday is tentatively Avila's backup, although Dombrowski made clear this week the Tigers could add a more seasoned catcher ahead of spring camp.

James McCann needs to hit in 2013 if he cares to validate that second-round draft status (2011).

Cabrera, who arrived via the Pirates in Wednesday's deal involving Andy Oliver, could rise at least a rung or two, depending upon how Holaday and McCann fare in 2013.

Curt Casali, drafted out of Vanderbilt in 2011, is now knocking at the door after an impressive 2012.

And the guy who could be the most interesting of all Tigers catching prospects in 2013: Adolfo Reina, 22, a 6-foot, 210-pound right-handed batter who hit .296 with four home runs in 39 games at Single A Lakeland.

Santiago learns lesson

Ramon Santiago, under contract through 2013, had a miserable year in 2012. He swung a bat that looked more like a billiard cue for all the pop he generated: .206 average, .283 on-base percentage, .272 slugging percentage, for an emaciated OPS of .555.

Leyland made clear last summer that Santiago was showing the obvious effects of not having played winter ball last offseason. He mentioned this in a voice that could be characterized as disapproving.

Santiago is currently playing winter ball in the Dominican League, Dombrowski announced this week. It would be regarded by the Tigers as a wise decision, given that Santiago, who is now 33, might have been looking at a spring release had he not gotten back into hitting rhythm this offseason.

lynn.henning@detnews.com

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