Tigers pitcher Joaquin Benoit, who was pressed into the closer's role this season, could return. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — The first order of business down, with the hiring of new manager Brad Ausmus on Sunday, the Tigers now turn their attention to the offseason.
And what an offseason it figures to be.
The Tigers have obvious holes in the bullpen and left field, plus a host of marquee free agents — including closer Joaquin Benoit, second baseman Omar Infante, shortstop Jhonny Peralta and veteran reliever Jose Veras — whose futures in Detroit will be analyzed and discussed at length during four days of organizational meetings this week.
Following Ausmus’ introductory press conference, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski addressed each one and his responses boiled down to this: It appears unlikely Peralta or Veras will return, they plan to add a proven closer and Benoit could be that guy, and Infante’s status is too early to handicap.
Dombrowski talked most about Benoit, who had 22 saves in 24 opportunities plus a 2.01 ERA and .197 opponents’ batting average in 2013 after seizing command of the closer’s role in late June. But he’s also 36, and it’s unclear how long of a contract the Tigers would be comfortable given the reliever who’s spent the past three years in Detroit.
Dombrowski made it clear the Tigers plan to put a proven closer in place — whether it’s Benoit or a free agent.
“We’ll know a lot more coming out of these meetings,” Dombrowski said. “But in early research by myself, that’s one area that’s pretty deep, is closer.”
The free-agent pool, he means, is deep — with the likes of Joe Nathan, who last week declined his club option with the Texas Rangers, and Grant Balfour, who dominated for the Oakland A’s.
“It could be Joaquin,” Dombrowski said. “But it could be somebody outside, too.”
The free-agent pool isn’t nearly as deep at second base, and that could equate to a big opportunity for Infante to cash in, after hitting .318 with 10 homers and 51 RBIs this season.
He made $4 million in both 2012 and 2013, and that base salary figures to go up significantly — especially given he’s young enough (31) to not scare off teams from committing multiple years along with the big dollars. The Tigers are prepared to go with young, slick-fielding Hernan Perez if it comes to that.
“We think he’s perhaps ready,” Dombrowski said of Perez.
The Tigers, in turn, are not ready to completely close the door on Peralta and Veras returning, but all signs indicate that’s the likely scenario.
Peralta, 31, had an All-Star season and a phenomenal postseason, but he also lost his shortstop job to Jose Iglesias, who was acquired from the Boston Red Sox in July as Peralta was serving a 50-game suspension. The Tigers have said from Day 1 that Iglesias is the shortstop of the future, and nothing Peralta did in the playoffs changed that.
Dombrowski, likewise, doesn’t see Peralta as the Tigers’ left fielder or the shortstop, even though he filled in capably in that role during the playoffs.
“I still think of him being a shortstop,” Dombrowski said of Peralta, who is believed to feel the same way.
Veras, meanwhile, recently was told his club option for 2014 was being declined. That doesn’t mean the Tigers definitely are closing the door on a possible return; it just means they weren’t ready to commit the money his option called for — $4 million, because of escalators, not the previously reported $3.25 million.
Veras, 33, was picked up in July from the Houston Astros and had a 3.20 ERA in 25 appearances out of the Tigers bullpen. His season, though, will be most remembered for one hanging breaking ball, which Boston’s Shane Victorino belted for a grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS that, essentially, ended the Tigers season.
“Will I rule it out? No,” Dombrowski said of re-signing Veras. “But I’m also not in a position to pay him those dollars.”
No surprise, Dombrowski confirmed the Tigers will make no qualifying offers to any of their free agents. The qualifying offer amount this year is $14.1 million, and none of the Tigers free agents stand to make anywhere close to that on the open market.
So, while the Tigers would love the prime draft pick that comes as compensation when a free agent turns down a qualifying offer, it’s highly unlikely any of the Tigers free agents — even Benoit and Peralta — would even consider declining.
Dombrowski also confirmed that backup catcher Brayan Pena won’t be back, after hitting .297 but struggled defensively. The Tigers feel Bryan Holaday, who hits right-handed to complement the left-handed-hitting Alex Avila, is ready, and that prospect James McCann has progressed enough to be ready for a callup should injuries dictate that.