DETROIT -- Joaquin Benoit was a mainstay in the eighth inning for the Tigers for 2 1/2 years before stepping into the closer role with stellar results last summer. Now that the Tigers have signed Joe Nathan as their closer, don't expect Benoit to return as a setup man.
In welcoming Nathan, team president/general manager Dombrowski knew he had essentially ruled out a reunion with Benoit, a free agent in a crowded market of late-inning relievers.
"I don't see Joaquin coming back as a setup guy, no," Dombrowski said. "I think somebody will sign him, from all indications, as a closer somewhere, so I don't see that being a fit for us."
Dombrowski didn't rule out another signing for depth in middle relief for setup, but gave every indication that Bruce Rondon -- who emerged as an eighth-inning force before elbow troubles limited him to one outing after Labor Day week -- will slot into that role.
"We think he's capable," Dombrowski said. "He's healthy. He's feeling good. We look at him being a potential eighth-inning guy, and the rest of the bullpen falling into place after that. And I'm not saying we may not do something at some time, because you may do something with a lot of other spots if you think it makes you better. But we feel comfortable with Joe being the closer and then Rondon pitching the eighth inning for us."
The Tigers went into last spring with Rondon as their leading candidate to close, having opted not to add a veteran closer last offseason. Rondon's struggles in the spring led to the re-signing of Jose Valverde, whose struggles led to Benoit's promotion and Rondon's emergence in the eighth.
Miggy moving back to first; Castellanos to man third
DETROIT -- Who's on first? Miguel Cabrera. Finally. It's official.
The long-expected shift in the Tigers' infield was set on Wednesday. Cabrera, who moved to third base two years ago when Prince Fielder signed, will move back to first base next season. Nick Castellanos, the Tigers' top prospect who moved from third base to the outfield in the middle of the 2012 season, will return to third.
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who had held off on finalizing the move for the past couple weeks since trading Fielder to Texas, confirmed it Wednesday.
"We're looking at Nick Castellanos to be our third baseman," Dombrowski said. "Miguel Cabrera's going to play first base for us. We've discussed that with him. I guess we can make that official.
"We talked to Miguel. He's happy to go to first. 'I'm a team player. I'll do whatever's necessary to help the ballclub.'"
The delay, Dombrowski said, was in communication. Cabrera was quoted in a Venezuelan paper saying he told the Tigers he was ready to move back to first base. Dombrowski confirmed that conversation took place just before Thanksgiving break, but added that manager Brad Ausmus wanted to talk to Castellanos as well, which waited until after the holiday.
"We finally reached [Cabrera]. It took us some time," Dombrowski said. "He was happy to do it. Then we went into Thanksgiving break. Brad wanted to talk to Castellanos about moving to third base, which he just did today, and Castellanos had been taking ground balls since the day the trade was made. We wanted to do all those things ourselves, properly."
Castellanos, a shortstop in high school, spent the first season and a half of his pro career at third. His time there drew a variety of evaluations from scouts. Dombrowski called him a "natural infielder" and said he'll improve the infield defense, but also tempered expectations.
"He's solid. He's average," Dombrowski said. "I think he's a guy that his hands are fine, his arm is fine, he's athletic, he'll move around at third base decently, but he's not a Gold Glove third baseman. I think he projects to be an average third baseman that can hit, and I'm willing to live with the defense that may not be Gold Glove for the expense of the bat."
Dombrowski: Tigers likely out on big-ticket free agents
DETROIT -- Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski spent the last few weeks listing closer as his top priority and avoiding talk about other needs until the club filled the role. Now that the Tigers have their closer in Joe Nathan, Dombrowski did not sound inclined for another big-ticket signing.
"I would think that we would not be involved in the big [names on the free-agent market]," he said.
It doesn't mean the Tigers aren't looking for help in left field, as has been rumored in recent days. But while Dombrowski wouldn't address potential free agents by name, he downplayed reports the Tigers were targeting top remaining outfield free agents Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran to bolster their offense.
"Again, we're on December 5," Dombrowski cautioned, "but I don't anticipate any of the major names that are being thrown out there with names attached. I don't anticipate those being our signing."
Dombrowski said the Tigers were not involved in the bidding on Jacoby Ellsbury, who reportedly agreed to terms on a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees. And in discussing what else they could do to bolster their offense, he seemed to strongly hint that the club did not want to get into another megacontract such as that of the Prince Fielder deal that they just took off their books with his trade to Texas.
"There's a difference between signing players for a year at some dollars and then signing guys for six or seven years, and where you think they may be in their careers," Dombrowski said. "We just were in a situation where we created some flexibility, and all of a sudden you have to be careful that you don't tie your hands in regards to flexibility, too."
With top prospect Nick Castellanos now at third, Andy Dirks would be the starting left fielder if the season started tomorrow. The Tigers' easiest fix, Dombrowski pointed out, would be Dirks returning to his 2012 form after knee problems hampered him for parts of this past season.
Nonetheless, Dombrowski said they'll look for help. It just might not be top-tier help.
"I'm sure we'll have to do something in some regards, because we don't have anybody else," Dombrowski said. "We're sort of limited in our outfielders at this time on our roster, because we've got Torii [Hunter] and Austin [Jackson] and Andy with Donnie Kelly being able to play out there, but we'll have to look at something to assist us in left field, and we'll see what that is."
Machado taken off roster to make room for Nathan
DETROIT -- The Tigers created room for Joe Nathan on their 40-man roster by designating infielder Dixon Machado for assignment, shedding some of their middle-infield depth.
The Tigers had placed Machado on their 40-man roster prior to this past season. He has come up through the organization with a stellar reputation, but a lagging offense, which continued at Class A Lakeland with a .215 average and .559 OPS over 37 games in an injury-shortened 2013 season.
With Jose Iglesias now set as Detroit's shortstop for the foreseeable future, the Tigers could risk losing Machado. If Machado passes through waivers without another team claiming him to put on their 40-man roster, Detroit can outright him. He'll still be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft at next week's Winter Meetings, but the risk of losing him there would be minimal.
"We knew that this potential existed," Dombrowski said, "and before we protected the seven guys that we did [on the 40-man roster last month], we said, 'OK, if we sign a guy or two, are they ahead of these guys?'
"We like Machado. He hasn't hit very well so far and we hope to keep him in the organization, but we're deeper at shortstop now with Iglesias and now we have [Steve] Lombardozzi, who can play there. Hernan Perez can play second or short. We have [Eugenio] Suarez, too, so we're a little bit deeper."