December 16, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Kurt Mensching

Tigers' moves will create step back in 2014 but healthier long-term future

The Tigers' offseason moves might help them retain the services of Max Scherzer. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

The Tigers needed only a few small tweaks to again compete for the World Series in 2014. I think we can all agree thatís about the furthest thing from what Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski actually did in the months after Detroitís ALCS defeat.

Hereís another thing we likely agree on: The Tigers look like theyíll be a worse team next season, and thatís a bit concerning to a number of fans out there.

Dombrowski all but proclaimed after the winter meetings the Tigers would be through shopping. Knowing what we do about the way he operates, that doesnít necessarily mean much. Just for the sake of argument, however, letís pretend that this is a pretty close roster to the one that will be introduced on Opening Day.

The bullpen, 2013ís biggest problem, is arguably worse. The lineup will almost certainly get on base less, hit for less power and score fewer runs. The rotation will be at best equal and more than likely worse.

Itís hard to look at this yearís offseason as anything other than a head scratcher when you think in terms of the teamís immediate future. Thatís a pretty good sign the front office itself is taking a lengthier gaze.

Thereís a good reason for that, too. The window for the particular roster was beginning to close due to aging players and the costly price of keeping them in Detroit. At issue, too, was the limited number of replacements coming through the minor-league ranks, due to trades and poor drafts.

Look at the contracts agreed to this month by Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante, the former starting middle infielders. The pair will make about $83 million during the next four years.

Meanwhile youíve got Prince Fielder, now with Texas, earning $24 million annually, Justin Verlander earning $28 million beginning in 2015 and Anibal Sanchez taking in $16 million annually 2015-17. That would mean five players in 2015 and beyond combined to earn nearly $90 million.

Thatís not even counting what it would cost to keep a name-brand closer in town, lest anyone want to hand the reins to Bruce Rondon again and hope for the best. Thatís also not counting the $22 million owed Miguel Cabrera in 2015, or any possible contract extensions for Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister or others.

At the least, we should be able to agree the middle- and long-term health of the organization was not in a good place.

So, the Tigers had to change their strategy, and appear to have made a concerted effort toward adding speed to the lineup, giving first-year manager Brad Ausmus more options than predecessor Jim Leyland had, while also adding defense around the field, making one of the worst-fielding teams appear to be at worst average and likely above-average in 2014. All those who complained about the teamís poor fundamentals should at least be happier now.

This they did while somewhat curtailing long-term contracts, making claims this was driven by cost considerations seem completely accurate. The Tigers will save $76 million during the next eight years just by sending Fielder and cash to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler.

So the Tigers took a short-term step backward, still fielding a roster good enough to make the playoffs, which remain a crapshoot, in order to extend their playoff window by a few years.

Whether they do that will hinge at least in part on whether left-handed pitcher Robbie Ray, not exactly a jewel prospect but not a bad one either, turns into the starter Dombrowski envisions.

If Ray does, the Tigers will be able to throw a pretty strong rotation for years to come while having the option whether to extend Scherzerís stay in Detroit. That would definitely be a good thing.

If Ray doesnít pan out, the Fister trade will certainly look like one of Dombrowskiís worst moves and really put a damper over this offseasonís moves.

Changing strategy to maintain the long-term health of the organization appears to be the right move, lest anyone want to be locked into years of not competing for a division title all over again.

This was not the offseason many wanted, but it might just be the one the team needed.

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