NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tigers have been looking at options for a potential defensive upgrade at shortstop. If they moved on one, they would almost surely trade Jhonny Peralta, who would be left without a position.
The Miami Marlins had two shortstops, both strong defensively, but no natural third baseman to start at the hot corner. They were entertaining offers for one of those shortstops, Yunel Escobar.
It sounds like a natural fit, but as headlines showed this past season, it's more complicated than that with Escobar. In any case, there was not a fit for the Tigers, who weren't among the teams talking with the Marlins on Escobar. According to multiple sources, the Tigers weren't interested.
On the field, Escobar has a strong case in what is considered a weak market for shortstops. The 30-year-old Cuban native has had a higher Wins Above Replacement total than top free agent Stephen Drew in five of his six Major League seasons, including each of the last two. His lowest game total in a season over the last five years is 133 in 2011.
Escobar is coming off his weakest offensive season in 2012, batting just .253 for the Blue Jays with nine home runs, 51 RBIs and a career-low .644 OPS. In general, though, he has been relatively consistent offensively with limited expectations.
He's under contract for $5 million next year, and he has a pair of $5 million club options after that.
It's off the field where Escobar's situation becomes complicated. He was suspended by the Blue Jays late this past season for a homophobic slur written onto his eye black, a move that has put a significant blemish on his reputation.
Toronto dealt Escobar to Miami in last month's megadeal that sent Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and others to the Jays. Almost immediately upon arrival as a Marlin, speculation arose as to where Miami could send him.
They found a partner in the Rays late Tuesday night, sending Escobar to their in-state rivals in exchange for Minor League infielder Derek Dietrich.The Tigers, coincidentally, just parted ways with a player whose off-field issues made headlines in Delmon Young.
Plan for Santiago, Worth not yet defined
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Other than Justin Verlander, no current Tiger has been in the organization as long as utility infielder Ramon Santiago. Given his contract paying him $2.1 million for next season, he seems poised to add another year to that.
With Danny Worth potentially on the brink of breaking into the big leagues for good, though, it isn't nearly as safe of an assumption as it seemed coming into this week's Winter Meetings, where Santiago's name has generated some discussion from opposing teams.
Whether the Tigers would actually move him, and at what cost, isn't clear. But as team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski explained Detroit's situation with potentially two utility infielders, the decision process didn't sound altogether clear at this point.
To hear Dombrowski describe the situation Tuesday, Worth is ready for a big league job, but there might not be a job for him with the roster as it is. The Tigers carried both Worth and Santiago at times last season, but not consistently, which led to Worth going back and forth between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo five times.
"I don't know if we're going to carry two extra infielders or not. We don't know that at this point," Dombrowski said. "I think Danny Worth is ready to play at the big league level. I don't know how much he's going to hit, but he's a very good defensive player at short and second, and he can go over and play third. He's got a little athleticism where he can run some. He's hit enough, but you don't look at carrying him from his offensive perspective.
"Santiago is a veteran who did not have a very good season last year. He had a very good year the year before. He does a lot of nice things for the ballclub when he plays well. He's a switch-hitter who can play short and second well defensively."
The Tigers believe the 33-year-old Santiago, who finished with a negative number in Wins Above Replacement for the first time since he rejoined the Tigers, is in for a better season. He's playing winter ball again at the Tigers' request, batting .324 (11-for-34) in eight games for Escogido in the Dominican Republic.
Other talent evaluators appear to believe winter ball will help him, too. However, Detroit might decide it's better off with its depth.
"A lot of times when guys are really close [in evaluations], we talk about [how] you have to remember it's a 162-game season," Dombrowski said. "It's six months. You're going to need that depth at Triple-A. So that comes into play in that regard."
Tigers open to bringing in veteran backup catcher
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tigers catcher Alex Avila has recently started his offseason workouts after a trying 2012 season that saw him miss time with various injuries, including aches and pains in his knees. Whether those aches and pains affect the way the Tigers address their catching depth remains to be seen.
The Tigers feel Bryan Holaday is ready to handle a backup job in the big leagues, but that doesn't mean he'll get that shot this coming season.
"We think he is ready to do that job," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday, "but we're also in a spot where we're open-minded, too."
Avila spent November recuperating after the long season, which included brief bouts with tendinitis. One way the Tigers eased the wear and tear on him over the season's second half was to play veteran Gerald Laird slightly more often than a traditional backup. If they want to keep with that plan, they'll have to decide whether Holaday is a fit for that type of role.
Dombrowski hasn't eliminated the possibility of bringing in a veteran to provide some insurance as the backup catcher. Moreover, the Tigers have left a catching spot open at Triple-A Toledo alongside Brad Davis to stash an insurance catcher.
It might be someone more in the mold of past Tigers catchers like Omir Santos or Dane Sardinha. It most likely will not be a major signing.
It also will not be former All-Star catcher Victor Martinez, who is working his way back after missing all of last season recovering from knee surgery. The only field position Martinez might play, Dombrowski said, is first base on the rare day Prince Fielder isn't there. Team officials don't even plan on having Martinez put on catching gear early in Spring Training to catch side sessions.
Oliver, Crosby among lefties in the mix for 'pen
NASHVILLE -- The Tigers' cast of characters for their second lefty relief spot, as team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski put it this week, includes two of their left-handed starting prospects. They'll just be approaching it from different directions.
Though Andy Oliver has been a starting pitcher for the vast majority of his Tigers tenure, he finished out last season in the bullpen at Triple-A Toledo. Dombrowski said the Tigers will most likely have him work out of the bullpen in Spring Training.
By contrast, Detroit plans on having fellow southpaw prospect Casey Crosby work as a starter in camp as long as they have the innings to stretch him out. Between Crosby's stuff and his history of injuries, he has been projected in the past as a relief candidate, but the Tigers aren't committing to that just yet.
The lone lefty assured of a bullpen spot is Phil Coke, who served as closer during the American League Championship Series and World Series. Darin Downs and Duane Below are among the candidates for the second lefty role, if the Tigers decide to carry one.