DETROIT — So just what did the Tigers do at baseball’s winter meetings, which concluded Thursday in Nashville?
General manager Dave Dombrowski, for the third consecutive year, did nothing of major significance.
Perhaps the groundwork was laid for a trade or free-agent signing later this winter. But the signing of free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew and the trading of shortstop Jhonny Peralta never came close to happening at the Opryland Resort.
Agent Scott Boras tried baiting Dombrowski into signing his free-agent closer client, Rafael Soriano, by saying going with a rookie closer such as Bruce Rondon, whom the Tigers are considering, poses a “philosophical cliff” and is seldom successful.
Dombrowski responded: “Well, he’s entitled to his opinion.”
There was plenty of posturing and little big news anywhere across the baseball landscape. Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke remain unsigned, along with pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who finished the 2012 season with the Tigers.
What the Tigers did do was pick up a minor league catcher for their one-time southpaw jewel, Andy Oliver; obtain via trades a pair of Rule 5 picks; and offer some funny comments courtesy of manager Jim Leyland (more on that later).
Rule 5 selections must remain on 25-man rosters for the entire season or be returned to their prior club.
Second baseman Jeff Kobernus, who hit .282 and stole 42 bases in 2012, appears to have a better chance of sticking with the Tigers than left-handed starter Kyle Lobstein. Both were 2009 second-round picks who played Double-A ball last season.
“We’re drafting him to be a utility guy,” Dombrowski told reporters of Kobernus. “We think he has the athleticism to be that.”
Kobernus works because he is a right-handed batter on a lefty-laden club, and Dombrowski noted that Kobernus can play outfield.
“We only have two more spots,” Dombrowski said, adding that a right-handed hitting outfielder is one definite need, alhough it would be hard to imagine Kobernus platooning in left with Andy Dirks. The Tigers are interested in Kobernus because of his speed and versatility, but Double-A to the majors is a big jump.
They likely would have to trade utility infielder Ramon Santiago, which reportedly was discussed at these meetings, to keep Kobernus.
The “two spots” Dombrowski mentioned, by the way, are some combination of extra infielders or outfielders.
Kobernus was obtained from the Red Sox, who drafted him away from the Nationals, for minor league infielder/outfielder Justin Henry.
Lobstein came from the Mets for cash considerations after they drafted him from the Rays organization. He was 8-7 with a 4.66 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 144 innings at Double-A.
“He might be able to come in as a starter and compete,” Dombrowski said.
And what, beat out Drew Smyly for a rotation spot?
Detroit’s last Rule 5 pick, left-handed pitcher Kyle Bloom, was drafted from and returned to the Pirates during spring training in 2009 — his last year in pro baseball.
But there are some great Rule 5 success stories, such as Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. The Tigers took John Wetteland from the Dodgers in the 1987 Rule 5 draft. He made an impression in spring training, but Detroit manager Sparky Anderson opted to keep utility infielder Jim Walewander and returned Wetteland, who would record 330 saves.
Ramon Cabrera, the switch-hitting catcher picked up from the Pirates for Oliver, will play at either Double-A or Triple-A – depending on whether Bryan Holaday is kept as the Tigers’ backup catcher.
Oliver competed for a rotation spot in Detroit as recently as last spring, but was just 5-9 with a 4.88 ERA for Toledo and eventually demoted to its bullpen. He was selected for the 2010 Futures Game but didn’t participate because the Tigers called him up.
Oliver allowed two runs in six innings in his big league debut June 25, 2010, at Atlanta, and Hall of Fame pitcher and announcer Don Sutton told me at the time how impressed he was with Oliver.
Impressive or not that day, Oliver was 0-5 with a 7.11 ERA in seven starts for the Tigers, and his problems with walks in those games continued in Toledo. He had 6.7 walks per nine innings for the Mud Hens.
If Oliver ever finds his control and command, watch out. The Tigers will rue the day they made this trade. If he doesn’t improve in those areas, he fades out of memory.
The highlight of the meetings for me wasn’t the roster tinkering by the Tiger, but Leyland’s answer to a news-conference question about how girls who didn’t “pay attention” to him at Perrysburg (Ohio) High during their recent 50-year class reunion.
“I don’t see quite as good as I used to, but they look pretty good to me” he said. “Margaret Bayer looked fantastic. Her husband’s a great guy. She looked really good.
“I kind of wondered, when I drove back to Pittsburgh, I was thinking to myself, ‘I wonder how the girls thought old Jimbo looked.’ I’m sure they thought he’s a little bald, a little skinny.
“I don’t know what they thought. It was really good. It was a fun time. It was a great time.”
Asked if he would be Prom King in a class re-vote, Leyland said, “I was never the Prom King, but I was the most-popular boy. I could bring out my yearbook for you if you don’t believe me, but I didn’t bring it with me.”