Posted: Wednesday December 1, 2010 12:02PM ; Updated: Wednesday December 1, 2010 12:02PM
Jon Heyman

Bold moves for big names make Tigers early winners this offseason

Story Highlights

Detroit has signed Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit and might not be done

The Cubs and Orioles have interest in free-agent slugger Adam Dunn

The Kansas City Royals should probably trade ace pitcher Zack Greinke now

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Victor Martinez
Switch-hitter Victor Martinez may not be the only new bat in the middle of the Tigers' lineup in 2011.
Chuck Solomon/SI

The Tigers are the earliest winners of this offseason. In a players' market, they already added two exceptionally talented guys -- Victor Martinez, an excellent hitter, and Joaquin Benoit, a dominant reliever. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, who engineered the deals, said, "We've been happy so far.''

Without reading too much into that phrasing, the Tigers are still seen as a threat for more, perhaps much more. An awe-inspiring $50 million came off their books from the 2010 payroll, even if one doesn't count Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta, who were quickly re-signed before the market really got going. Among the others removed from the payroll are Magglio Ordoņez (who remains a candidate to return at a lesser rate than the whopping $18 million he made last year), underperforming pitchers Dontrelle Willis (who already is on to his second new team since the Tigers dispatched him), Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson.

With a majority of the newfound payroll money still unspent, folks around the game speculate that the Tigers could be in the market for even more spending. "I wouldn't get that into that publicly,'' said Dombrowski about that question, though he also said. "We did clear an exceptional amount of payroll. We wanted to be proactive.'' And they are exactly that. It also doesn't hurt to have one of baseball's most proactive owners, Mike Ilitch, who despite operating in downtrodden Detroit, has done his part for years to invest in players and try to bring a winner to the city. "We're trying to win a world championship,'' Dombrowski said. "We're making moves to try to do that.''

The moves so far are nothing short of excellent and add to a team that starts with a bona fie ace (Justin Verlander) and an everyday superstar (Miguel Cabrera). Martinez, who signed for $50 million over four years, is a career .300 hitter with power and joins the middle of an order that is anchored by Cabrera, who finished second in the AL MVP voting last season and may be at his peak. Benoit, who signed for $16.5 million over three years, brings a superb righthanded arm to a bullpen that is already stacked with them (Jose Valverde, Joel Zumaya and Ryan Perry are hard-throwing holdovers). Benoit dominated in the set-up role for Tampa Bay last year after the Rays rehabbed and resurrected him, positing a 0.68 WHIP and pitching as dominantly as their star closer Rafael Soriano, only in a slightly less intense role. In a market strong on talented relievers, Benoit is a standout.

Before locking up V-Mart, the Tigers considered Adam Dunn, who is believed to be seeking slightly more (about $60 million) than V-Mart got, but Dombrowski said, "We needed a bat that was not just a DH.'' And with Cabrera set at first base, Dunn would have just been a DH for them. "Victor gives us more versatility,'' Dombrowski said. "Dunn's as good a power hitter as there is in the game. Victor hits for a higher average. Both are very good.''

There's been speculation that might even look to add another huge bat, perhaps even Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth, with their excess riches. And once again, Dombrowski responded, "I wouldn't get into that'' to the question of whether yet another major offensive player has been targeted. (The two major marks of Dombrowski's mostly successful tenure in Detroit are 1) bold moves, and 2) tight lips.)

They've been in contact with Ordoņez, whose ankle injury that ended this past season is not thought serious. But the rumors persist that they may have their eye on someone even bigger than Ordoņez. The Angels are favored for Crawford and probably the Red Sox are for Werth, but the Tigers "shouldn't be counted out'' one admiring competing executive said.

There are lots of ways they can go from here. They could try to get into the mix to trade for available star pitcher Zack Greinke of the Royals. Thanks to some very aggressive drafting and a willingness to spend on the picks that rivals the Yankees and Red Sox, they have the young pitchers in Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver who could interest Kansas City.

After beating out the incumbent Red Sox and Orioles for Martinez, the Tigers' plan is to catch him two to three times a week, with Alex Avila, the son of Tigers assistant GM Al Avila, being used as the main catcher, Dombrowski said. The signing of V-Mart has been generally praised, as it's known that the Orioles and Red Sox weren't that far behind in the bidding. But some folks have wondered about the three years for Benoit, who's had some shoulder concerns in the past. But Dombrowski said he knew there was at least one more team at $15 million for three years (he declined to say who), and said, "We looked at him as the No 1 set-up guy in the league, and felt very good about his medicals. Ideally, we would have signed him for two years. But if we offered two years we wouldn't have (gotten) him.

As it stands they got two players who greatly enhanced the Tigers, and perhaps whet the appetite of Tigers' fans, who are wondering if there's even more to come.
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