Now come the tough decisions for Tigers

Two minutes, eh?

The Tigers spun Jim Leyland’s return for another season as their skipper as a simple formality. General manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday that it took just a couple of minutes to get the deal done that brings Leyland — and his entire coaching staff — back for the 2013 season.

Yeah, right.

It wasn’t that clean and easy. Leyland got his full staff back as he demanded, but he agreed to some reassigning of responsibilities. Or as Leyland put it Tuesday, they’re “going to rearrange the furniture a little bit.”

Relative to the other serious issues facing the Tigers this winter, realizing that Leyland was the best managerial option for the completion of their unfinished October business might be the easiest decision Dombrowski will face in the subsequent months.

The pressure’s on Dombrowski now. His team has progressed from pennant contender to championship finalist in two years. The Tigers must win the World Series next year.

They overachieved this season considering the performance miscalculations — Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila — that blew up in their face. But dramatically overhauling this roster would be a foolish overreaction.

Dombrowski sees the roster holes as clearly as anybody — corner outfield, No. 2 spot in the batting order, back end of the bullpen and a lack of team speed and defense.

The strategy should be “go big.”

It’ll be an extremely successful off-season for Dombrowski if by the time spring training opens in late February he has acquired Arizona rightfielder Justin Upton through one of his customary blockbuster deals and re-signed free-agent pitcher Anibal Sanchez as the No. 4 starter, even if that comes at an inflated price of four years for $60 million.

“I think we’ll be better for a couple reasons,” Dombrowski said during his end-of-season review Tuesday. “First of all, this year, there were some areas that we were below average that we can address. And I think the players, although I’m not going to predict another Triple Crown for (Miguel Cabrera), but I think that we have other players in the prime of their careers that will continue to produce at the results they’ve given us.”

Dombrowski’s talk of employing a closer-by-committee arrangement next season or counting on rookie flamethrower Bruce Rondon suggested that the Tigers might have no choice but to cut costs there to compensate for paying more for Sanchez, giving big raises to arbitration-eligible players such as Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson, and spending for an All-Star upgrade in rightfield.

Upton single-handedly can add many of the missing elements from this Tigers team — speed at the top of the batting order, power, average, excellent defensive range and a strong arm.

Upton has a fitting contract for a team like the Tigers that is committed — for now — to having one of the top-10 payrolls in the game. He has three years remaining on a six-year, $51.26-million contract extension signed before the 2010 season. He’ll make $9.75 million next season and almost $29 million combined over the final two.

Upton hasn’t coped well with the responsibilities of being the franchise face in Arizona. He regressed statistically this season, reportedly falling out of favor with manager Kirk Gibson. When that happens, concerns rise that perhaps the player isn’t just toting emotional baggage, but rather a full set of luggage.

Is he a troublemaker, or is he a potential clubhouse cancer?

But Upton wouldn’t have the pressure of being “the man” in Detroit, not with a team that has Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander.

Victor Martinez might not replicate his 100 RBIs and .330 average from 2011, but he’ll bring back a more vocal, energetic presence in the clubhouse and could keep Upton in tow if any problems arose.

Like bringing Leyland back, it would be a no-brainer.


Posted by Tribune News Services

Leave a Reply