By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT - With the start of spring training only two weeks away, Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski took questions on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" about the upcoming season.
The recent buzz in baseball has revolved around Yoan Moncada, a 19-year-old Cuban infielder who has elicited interest from all over the major leagues. Along with a number of other contenders, the Tigers have conducted a private workout with Moncada, according to reports. As a free agent, Moncada could command as much as $50 million, but teams that go over their international spending allotment will taxed 100 percent on that amount, making Moncada a pricey investment.
"There's no question that the way that the rules are set up now, with a guy like Moncada it definitely favors large-market clubs because not only are you talking about the contract aspect of it, but also being in the position where you're going to pay a large penalty sometime probably around July 15 of this year," Dombrowski said. "You need to have the cash available to do that, and all organizations are not in the same position in that regard. So there's some challenges. He's definitely a quality player, and there's a lot of quality players coming from there, and I wouldn't be surprised if Major League Baseball, as they move on, that's an area they look to address."
The Tigers have already acquired one Cuban player this offseason, albeit one who started his career with the Oakland A's in 2012 and spent two and a half seasons there before Oakland traded him to the Boston Red Sox. The Tigers seriously pursued Cespedes as an international free agent, but when Victor Martinez suffered a season-ending injury in spring training before the 2012 season, Detroit dropped the idea of bringing in Cespedes and instead signed slugger Prince Fielder to replace Martinez in the lineup. Several years later, the Tigers got Cespedes after all, trading away starter Rick Porcello this offseason to do so.
"For us, he's a guy that we've always liked," Dombrowski said. "We liked him when he was coming out of Cuba and really had looked very strongly at signing him there. He jumped to the big leagues and produced more right off the bat than what we were necessarily expecting at that time. We've faced him plenty. We always feel like he's a threat when he comes to the plate.
"With our lineup, he's a guy that doesn't need to carry the ball club, but I think he's a threat any time he comes to the plate to not only drive the ball out of the ball park but he's a good all-around player," Dombrowski continued. "And when you look at the middle of our lineup, again, assuming health, and you put Miguel, and you put Victor, and then J.D. Martinez, who we like a great deal, and Cespedes, you've got four guys who are premium guys that can hit the ball out of the ball park, drive in runs. We think he adds a lot to our ball club in that regard."
Dombrowski said he feels good about the club as long as players stay healthy. The odds of everyone performing at normal capacity throughout the season seem lower than what one would like, however, considering the number of Tigers returning from injuries.
Designated hitter Victor Martinez suffered a medial meniscus tear earlier this week during offseason works and could miss a week or so at the beginning of the season. So could first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who had offseason surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle and repair a stress fracture in his foot.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias and reliever Bruce Rondon both missed all of 2014 with injury, and starter Justin Verlander missed a start because of shoulder soreness as he struggled to return to form after undergoing core muscle repair surgery before the 2014 season. Injury limited fellow starter Anibal Sanchez to 21 starts, and reliever Joakim Soria appeared in only 13 games because of injury.
While Dombrowski did not express any trepidation about how those players will bounce back, the general manager did emphasize that throughout spring training he will be watching the team's minor league pitchers closely in case health does become a problem.
"You're looking at who might be our sixth starter at that point - if something happens, who can step up?" Dombrowski said. "It is [Kyle] Lobstein, is it [Drew] VerHagen, is it [Buck] Farmer, is it [Kyle] Ryan, is it somebody else that we're not even thinking about at this time? I think you're evaluating all of that because you're not only projecting your club on opening day. You're also looking to see, well what happens if we have an injury - how may we fill that internally with the players that we have in camp?"
Arguably Detroit's best starter, David Price, becomes a free agent after the 2015 season, and he has expressed a willingness to consider committing to the Tigers instead of hitting the open market. Dombrowski said the Tigers like Price, but the general manager was noncommittal about whether the organization will try to sign him to an extension before the start of the season.
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