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Unlike past years, Tigers may keep top Draft pick

DETROIT -- David Chadd couldn't erase all hint of enthusiasm, even if it was subtle in his voice after a Monday morning workout. After all, this is usually the time he has to deal with less work to do.

His approach as scouting director and now as a special assistant has always been the same. When the Tigers gave up their first-round pick to sign Jose Valverde three years ago, Chadd said he'd gladly trade a chance at an unproven talent for a proven closer. He said much the same for Victor Martinez two offseasons ago, and then Prince Fielder last January. After three straight seasons, it sounded routine.

He looks at the Tigers' track record of trading prospects with pride, noting almost two dozen players they drafted, developed and later dealt to help put together this contending club.

Two months after the Tigers' top brass gathered to discuss free agents and potential trades, Chadd spent Monday at his Kansas home preparing to gather with scouting director Scott Pleis and their top evaluators in Kansas City. Together, they'll map out their plan for criss-crossing the country looking at high school and college players.

Unless something changes shortly, for the first time in four years, they'll be looking through the eyes of a team with a first-round pick. And if the Tigers keep it, Chadd can't help but look forward to it.

"It's exciting," Chadd said. "I'd be lying to you if I said it wasn't."

It's also a little ironic. For the last few years, the Tigers' Major League moves in the winter dictated what Chadd would be doing in the spring. For at least this offseason, one can make the case that the relationship has flipped, certainly across the game.

The three prominent free agents left on the market as of Tuesday afternoon -- outfielder Michael Bourn, starter Kyle Lohse and reliever Rafael Soriano -- all require Draft pick compensation for most teams to sign, having turned down qualifying offers from their previous clubs. At this point, the market for all of them seems frozen like a winter landscape.

The Tigers have an opening at closer, having parted ways with Valverde, but have given no signs that they would want to add Soriano. Hard-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon is a big reason for that, coupled with Soriano's reported desire for a lucrative long-term contract fitting of the top closer on the market.

Past all that, though, there's an appeal for the Tigers to hold onto their first-round pick. Even if they change course and look to add a proven closer, it's entirely possible they look for other ways to do it, from free agents that wouldn't require compensation like Brian Wilson to trade possibilities. Even if it isn't the driving force, the system gives them reason for pause.

Detroit's top pick sits at 21st overall, but it's still higher than the club has chosen since drafting Jacob Turner in 2009. It's not just about the pick, but the available money that goes with it towards the spending cap for the entire Draft.

For his part, Chadd doesn't try to explain how big of a factor the pick plays in the Tigers' bigger dealings. That role goes above his pay grade. He does, however, see the thought process in the industry.

Detroit didn't pick last year until 91st overall, and team officials learned what a difference that makes, not just up top, but later on. Their past success plucking first-round talent that fell out of concern for signing bonuses is far tougher to pull off under the new rules.

No matter where the Tigers pick in a Draft, Chadd likes to say there's always talent to find. That's his job. In this case, that's not the challenge.

"It's not any harder to find [good players]. It's harder to sign them," Chadd said. "I'm not complaining about the system. I happen to like the system. When you're picking at 91 like we did last year, it makes it a little tougher."

The Tigers had a spending pool of just over $2 million in last year's Draft, and largely avoided scouting the elite prospects. The Braves, who picked 21st, had about twice that. Add in a competitive balance pick acquired from Miami in the Anibal Sanchez trade, and Detroit should top that pool total.

"We're all excited about where we're picking," Chadd said. "We're already talking about scenarios, strategies, where's the best place to start. That seems like that's been going on since the World Series."

It won't get them any immediate help, but it would help restock a farm system that has helped them add the pieces that have formed the core of a World Series contender. Without Turner, the Tigers couldn't have pulled off the deal for Sanchez and Omar Infante. Two other first-round picks under Chadd, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, were the key pieces to acquire reigning American League MVP Miguel Cabrera five years ago.

Maybe Detroit gets more pieces to pull off more deals. Maybe, like in 2010, the club gets potential cogs for the next group of Tigers. Or maybe the Tigers eventually dip into free agency once more. Chadd is prepared either way. Whatever happens, though, it's a different landscape these days.

Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez