October 21, 2013 at 11:28 am

Kurt Mensching

Tigers' roster in need of tweaking only, not overhauling

Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit filled in admirably as the team's closer this season, collecting 24 saves in his third season in Detroit. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

The Tigers failed to bring a World Series trophy back to Detroit. That was undoubtedly the goal here. It wasnít enough to compete. It wasnít enough make the postseason.

They had to win it all, and they didnít.

So now comes the finger-pointing portion of the year, the laying of blame. Why did the team fail and what should be done different to fix those problems next year?

It wasnít a perfectly constructed roster, but few teams have a perfectly constructed roster. The Tigers were given the tools to get the job done, and they didnít.

So in fixing the roster, itís important to remember this advice: First, do no harm.

That isnít to say Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski should do nothing. But it is to suggest big changes shouldnít be necessary.

Large multiyear contracts that risk hamstringing the franchise shouldnít be handed out ó lest the Prince Fielder problems be doubled.

Big, franchise-changing trades shouldnít be made. Moving Max Scherzer just because heís a year away from free agency would be ill-advised.

Donít try to make the team something itís not. You canít force it to become a strong defensive team or one that is a constant threat on the bases.

Try to keep Omar Infante, stop dreaming about Robinson Cano.

Just tweak the roster. Fix the obvious issues.

Bolster the bullpen

Though the Tigers fell short, they were oh-so-close to being able to advance to the World Series. In fact, but for a pitch or two along the way, they could have swept the Red Sox right out of the American League Championship Series.

If the bullpen didnít implode in the eighth inning of Game 2, if Justin Verlander didnít make one mistake that results in a home run in Game 3, if Miguel Cabrera had been healthy, weíre having a totally different conversation today.

Truly, sweeping changes are not necessary for a power-hitting, power-pitching baseball team that was hardly challenged for its division title.

What needs to be done is obvious, of course. The Tigersí bullpen was simply not good enough. Bostonís bullpen all but shut down the Tigers for the series. Detroitís relief corps handed back the lead twice in four games.

With a World Series window open for at least another year and a playoff window that should be open for several, Dombrowski should not be afraid to pursue shorter-term free agents with a vigor nor to keep the pitchers he has.

Joaquin Benoit is eligible to be a free agent, but has stated a desire to remain with the Tigers. Keep him. Jose Veras has a club option, keep him.

Al Alburquerque will remain in the organization, and if Bruce Rondon regains his health a great starting group is already in place.

Donít be afraid to pursue Joe Nathan if he becomes available.

Donít let a little staredown stand in the way of pursuing Grant Balfour.

Maybe you canít get either of them to Detroit, but aim high and see what happens.

The bullpen was undoubtedly a weakness in 2013, but a few moves and it could be a strength a year from now. Thatís how bullpens work.

Other tweaks

As for the rest, the Tigers need to keep an eye open for a better fourth outfielder than theyíve got right now. Maybe one with a little speed, though thatís more of a late-inning pinch-runner possibility than a game-to-game threat.

And donít write off Nick Castellanos after he had a hiccup or two in September. He wouldnít be the first prospect to struggle in his initial weeks in the big leagues only to deliver on his promise during his first full season.

The Tigers were good in 2013 ó just not good enough. Keep calm, spend wisely on bullpen help and try again next year.

Itís easy to picture the Tigers back in the playoffs in 2014 with a chance to make amends for this disappointing end.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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