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Tigers keeping options open at Winter Meetings

DETROIT -- Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski tried his best a week ago to temper the expectations for what's ahead.

"We'll see where other things take us," Dombrowski said in the wake of the Torii Hunter signing. "But if we end up with this being our major move of the winter, I would be very happy."

Very few expect Hunter's arrival to be the lone major move of the Tigers' offseason. Fewer would be surprised if it isn't even the club's biggest move by the time the Winter Meetings conclude on Dec. 6. They need only point to the last time the four-day meetings were in Nashville, Tenn., for an example.

The Tigers' front office went to Music City in 2007 having already traded for Edgar Renteria and Jacque Jones while re-signing Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers. Their everyday lineup looked pretty well set.

"We'll talk to people. We'll explore. We see what makes sense," Dombrowski said at the time, "but I don't feel there's a pressing need at this time."

Then came the Miguel Cabrera trade. It didn't fill a pressing need. Instead, it gave owner Mike Ilitch the superstar he coveted, and gave the Tigers the intimidating hitter they hadn't had in years. In the end, it gave Detroit the best hitter in baseball.

The Tigers don't necessarily have a pressing need this time around, either. They could certainly use a closer, but Dombrowski insists he likes the relief arms they have in house. Detroit could stand to improve the infield defense, but it already has shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who finished third in the American League this past season in Ultimate Zone Rating, under contract for next season. They would like to add a right-handed hitter for a corner outfield option, yet they have five-tool prospect Avisail Garcia coming off a postseason to remember.

To hear the Tigers say it, they don't have to do anything. Yet it would be a surprise if they didn't do something. It wouldn't a surprise if they tried to do something big, though nothing on the scale of the Cabrera trade.

They'll head to Nashville having been linked in rumors to showing interest in top free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew and top free-agent closer Rafael Soriano. If the trade rumors percolate again for Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, the Tigers could well surface in those, too.

And usually, the Tigers pop up in at least one trade discussion that seemingly comes out of nowhere, such as last year's rumors for top lefty starter Gio Gonzalez.

The same core traits that led the Tigers to move big in Nashville in 2007 exist now. They're a team with a win-now mentality and financial flexibility, and they're not far off from winning. Whether the opportunity arises remains to be seen.

Detroit's first order of business will be the one free agent they've been trying to find a way to keep. Dombrowski hasn't tried to hide the club's interest in keeping starter Anibal Sanchez after his late-season run in Detroit, but it won't be cheap to do it. As the supply and demand for starting pitching on the market continues to drive up potential contract terms, the Tigers face a decision -- even with their abundant resources -- on how far they're willing to go to keep Sanchez.

That point could become clear during the Winter Meetings. Even if Sanchez doesn't sign then, a deal with another free-agent starter, such as Zack Greinke, could set the market. If the market is set too high, even the Tigers might move on.

Dombrowski has been consistent in his stance at shortstop: They're happy to have Peralta, and he's under contract for next season after the Tigers exercised his contract option. However, the Tigers have not said definitively that Peralta will be the shortstop next season. Other indications suggest the Tigers are at least looking at their options.

Drew leads a thin crop of free-agent shortstops. The Tigers watched him show off his range in the field for Oakland during the AL Division Series, but they also watched him get thrown out on the bases on an ill-advised attempt to stretch out a triple. They've reportedly expressed interest to Drew's agent, Scott Boras, but the degree of interest isn't clear.

If the reported interest in Drew turns into an actual deal, Detroit would surely try to trade Peralta. If Drew ends up somewhere else, the Tigers could still try to trade for another shortstop. The Marlins are among the teams with two Major League shortstops, having just traded for Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria, and are expected to move Escobar to third.

Then comes the closer question, and whether the Tigers stick to their plan of letting hard-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon compete for the job or fall to temptation for an established reliever. Dombrowski has made it clear he'd like to give Rondon a shot, but hasn't ruled out checking the market.

The Tigers' recent history is that when they bring in a closer, they do it later in the offseason. Detroit didn't sign Jose Valverde until January 2010, and closing candidate Brandon Lyon wasn't signed the previous winter until near the end of that January. In both cases, they were among the last relievers with closing experience still on the market, and the Tigers were able to sign them to contracts on their preferred terms.

In the past two offseasons, however, the Tigers have moved early on veteran relievers. They signed Octavio Dotel at last year's Winter Meetings, and added Joaquin Benoit in mid-November two offseasons ago.

Depending on the situations for Ryan Madson and Jonathan Broxton, rumored to be talking with the Angels and Reds respectively, the Tigers could already have an unwinding market by the time they get to Nashville. That could hasten a resolution, one way or the other.