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Tigers anticipate keeping busy at Winter Meetings

Prince, Fister trades free up budget to address needs in outfield, bullpen

DETROIT -- The Tigers pulled off the first shocker of the offseason by sending Prince Fielder and the bulk of his contract to Texas on Nov. 20. They pulled their second big trade by sending Doug Fister to Washington on Monday night, then addressed their biggest offseason priority on Tuesday with the impending addition of closer Joe Nathan. What are they going to do next?

They're going to Disney World. But they don't figure to be mere sightseers while they're there.

While trading Fielder brought Detroit an answer to its second-base question in Ian Kinsler, the biggest return was financial flexibility, not only to work toward contract extensions with current players but to plug some other holes. Trading arbitration-eligible Fister added to it. Adding Nathan won't take up all of it. That will be the focus during next week's Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort.

"Doug Fister's a good big league pitcher," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, "but we just felt it was a deal that made sense and also gives us flexibility for some other things we want to do."

Adding a closer was the first step, and Dombrowski wouldn't commit to anything else until accomplishing that first. Now that he has a deal in place, he can move down his list. A left-handed-hitting outfielder is expected to be his next priority.

If he can use the remaining payroll space to aim for the top of the market, he could have his biggest move of the winter and complete a major offensive makeover.

Fielder's trade to Texas took a left-handed bat out of a lineup that already leaned right-handed. It also took a proven hitter out of the middle of the order. Though Dombrowski was noncommittal on how to fill that void, not even confirming what position they'd be seeking, they're expected to take a good look at what's left on the market.

"You're in a spot where you're missing a left-handed bat that's very important," Dombrowski said. "I think the difficulty you keep running into is you can't have it every single way that you want it. You can't always have your cake and eat it too."

In other words, Dombrowski said, the defensive upgrade in the infield won't come with the same offense they had before.

"As I said at the time, we're going to miss Prince's bat at times during the season," he said. "It's a situation where we're down a left-handed bat now, and you just have to wait and see what happens. ...

"There's just some other things we're working on internally."

One of those things is expected to be at least a look at multi-tooled Shin-Soo Choo. A report in the New York Daily News cited Choo as Detroit's top remaining target. With Jacoby Ellsbury now off the market, however, several squads are expected to be in play for the former Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds outfielder.

It's the classic market for agent Scott Boras, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if he used the meetings to drive up demand. The Tigers have been in enough of these Boras negotiations to know how to handle them.

The Tigers have also been linked with interest in switch-hitting free-agent outfielder and postseason hero Carlos Beltran, who at age 36 will draw a shorter contract. If Detroit falls short on both of them, the next tier of free-agent outfielders still has left-handed hitters to offer, including Michigan native Nate McLouth.

This year's meetings figure to provide no shortage of opportunities for that. Dombrowski stopped just short of saying he expected the four-day gathering to be busy, but pretty much set the backdrop for it to happen by looking at the later start on the calendar.

"It just depends on how you see it," Dombrowski said. "I think one thing you have to remember [is] it was a late Thanksgiving. This is a time when things are normally starting. That's why I wouldn't be surprised if the Winter Meetings are real busy.

"By the time the Winter Meetings are over, you're only two weeks away from Christmas. It'll be busy."

The Tigers have bullpen needs beyond closer, too. Though they have a healthy Bruce Rondon for next year, they could still use a veteran setup man for the eighth inning, a luxury they had for 2 1/2 years with Joaquin Benoit before he moved to closer. That market might not move until teams needing closers find their matches.

Their lefty relief mix is in flux with Ian Krol arriving from the Nationals and Drew Smyly jumping to the rotation. It was much the same relief mix that had a strong regular season and rough postseason, loading the bases for those crippling grand slams off Benoit and Jose Veras during the American League Championship Series a little more than a month ago.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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