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Tigers, Dotel close to finalizing one-year deal

The Tigers found the man they wanted to shore up the middle of their bullpen, and Octavio Dotel found another new home. They found a match Wednesday evening, and the two sides spent Wednesday evening putting together a one-year contract.

The deal was not finalized as of late Wednesday evening, but a baseball source characterized it as close. It’s expected to include an option for the 2013 season, a compromise between the multi-year contract Dotel was seeking and the one-year deal the Tigers preferred.

The Tigers have a policy of not confirming contracts until a physical has been completed. That likely won’t happen until after the Winter Meetings have concluded at the Hilton Anatole hotel.

The 38-year-old Dotel will be playing for his 13th Major League team, and his third in the American League Central, but he has been a Tigers target on several occasions over the last five years. He’ll finally get his shot in a seventh-inning role to bridge the gap between Detroit’s starting rotation and the late-inning duo of setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde.

Dotel’s pursuit was down to two teams by Wednesday evening, pitting the Tigers against the Cardinals. Dotel won a World Series this fall in St. Louis, and by all accounts felt a strong pull to go back. However, the chance to win in Detroit and the strong Latin presence on the team helped draw Dotel to the Tigers after they began courting him a couple weeks ago.

– Jason Beck

Tigers closing in on reliever, looking like Dotel

The Tigers are closing in on filling their need for a reliever to handle the seventh inning, and it’s looking more like Octavio Dotel is the answer.

Without naming names, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski indicated they’re zeroing in on their guy.

“We’re making some strides,” said Dombrowski, who had talks ongoing late Wednesday afternoon just before his regularly scheduled daily meeting with reporters.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, the Tigers were one of two teams primarily involved in negotiations on Dotel, according to a source. Detroit has other options, including Luis Ayala, but Dombrowski indicated they’re zeroing in on a somebody, and that adding that arm has become a priority.

“If there’s one area, after we signed [Gerald] Laird, after we signed [Ramon] Santiago back, if there’s one area that probably received a little more focus than us than others, it’s been trying to tweak that bullpen,” Dombrowski said. “We’ve been looking at a lot of different [bullpen] options, but we do have priority/priorities at this point.”

Ken Rosenthal of Foxsports.com tweeted that the Tigers are the front-runners for Dotel, with a National League club also involved. The Cardinals, where Dotel won a World Series ring a couple months ago, and Brewers have also been linked to Dotel in recent days.

Dotel is believed to be seeking a two-year contract. Dombrowski said Wednesday he would “prefer not to” offer a multi-year deal to a reliever at this point.

“The preference would be short-term,” Dombrowski said, though he said that sentiment isn’t as strong as it would be for any starting pitcher they might sign for the fifth spot.

– Jason Beck

Tigers inquire on Gio Gonzalez

The Tigers are among the teams interested in A’s left-hander Gio Gonzalez should Oakland GM Billy Beane decide to deal him, but any chance of a big push appears to be dim at this point.

The Tigers inquired on Gonzalez here at the Winter Meetings as an idea to see if they could do something bigger than expected for a good price. The asking price in return, however, apparently cooled that interest. While top pitching prospect Jacob Turner could be expendable in a package for Gonzalez, who has four years left before free agency, other potential pieces in a package beyond that appear to be a problem.

The Tigers are open to improving, but they’re not going to do it while taking away from the core of the team that won the AL Central and made it to within two games of the World Series. Unless the asking price comes down, it doesn’t appear to be a good fit, and with so many additional teams reported to be interested, a discount doesn’t look likely.

– Jason Beck

Tigers could make run at Gio Gonzalez

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski noted a little progress on gaining some regard from other teams in Detroit’s position prospects, but he also noted that the primary interest from teams in trade talks has been the team’s highly-touted pitching prospects, as usual. If the Tigers are going to make a serious attempt at acquiring Gio Gonzalez from the A’s, as the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser suggested late Tuesday evening, there’s little reason to think they could do it without giving up highly-regarded pitching prospects, starting with Jacob Turner.

Slusser reports the Tigers have strong interest in joining the Gonzalez sweepstakes, which so far has reportedly centered around more pitching-starved clubs like the Yankees, and would probably be willing to include Turner as part of their offer. Essentially, then, Gonzalez would slot into the open rotation spot rather than replace one of the other four, and Turner would be a man without a role in Detroit.

A’s general manager Billy Beane told reporters earlier Tuesday that nothing was imminent. Dombrowski said Tuesday afternoon that talks on various fronts had reached “a lull period.”

– Jason Beck

Nothing moving so far with Tigers, Ramirez

With Jose Reyes now off the market, the next free agent position player who could logically be a fit for the Tigers is third baseman Aramis Ramirez. So far, however, there’s nothing going on between the two.

Look for the Tigers and Ramirez’s representatives to touch base here at the Winter Meetings, but they haven’t had any contact since their earlier talks last month. That indicates the Tigers are not one of the four or five teams who are seriously involved with him.

Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com tweeted late Sunday that there was “nothing serious” going on with the Tigers and Ramirez. It looks now like there’s not much at all, though things change quickly sometimes during the Winter Meetings.

– Jason Beck

Zumaya to throw for teams in mid-December

Former Tigers reliever turned free agent Joel Zumaya, who has battled injuries ever since his standout rookie season in 2006, will throw for teams in mid-December in a public workout as he tries to prove he’s ready to compete for a job in Spring Training.

Zumaya will throw a 30-pitch mound session on or around Dec. 14 in Houston, home base of his agents, Alan and Randy Hendricks. At least 10 teams have shown interest in taking a look, Zumaya told MLB.com in a phone interview Wednesday night. That supposedly includes the Red Sox, who expressed interest soon after Zumaya became a free agent at season’s end.

Zumaya has a standing offer from the Tigers for a minor-league contract with a non-roster invite to Spring Training. He could get the same from other teams, which would leave him trying to measure the best oppportunity, or he could get an incentive-laden Major League deal from a team willing to take a shot. Zumaya could be an intriguing option for teams looking for a low-risk, high-reward signing for a non-closing reliever.

When Zumaya is healthy, he’s an effective pitcher with a upper-90s to 100 mph fastball. However, he hasn’t pitched more than 31 games in a season since his standout rookie season in 2006. His last Major League pitch came at the end of June 2010, when he fractured his elbow throwing a pitch in a game at Minnesota. He missed all of 2011 after doctors had to repeat a procedure to insert a screw in his elbow to stabilize the joint.

– Jason Beck

Cespedes to work out for Tigers

The Tigers have been among the many teams scouting Cuban five-tool outfielder and recent YouTube sensation Yoenis Cespedes, and they haven’t made a secret that they’ve watched him. Now, even team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is apparently going to get a first-hand look at the man who appears set to surpass Aroldis Chapman as the most hotly-pursued Cuban talent.

An industry source confirmed Dombrowski will watch Cespedes work out in the Dominican Republic, which has been Cespedes’ home since defecting from Cuba earlier this year. Credit Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com with the first report on Dombrowski, who was out of pocket on Wednesday when the Tigers announced their two-year contract to bring back free agent infielder Ramon Santiago.

Tigers interest in a Cuban prospect is not unusual. They scouted Chapman a couple years ago and were interested before the bidding escalated. But Dombrowski’s trip to watch him is rare. Usually, international operations director Tom Moore handles those duties, with vice president Al Avila and special assistant Dick Egan making scouting trips to Latin America. Avila told the Detroit Free Press two weeks ago that they’ve scouted Cespedes several times. Special assistant David Chadd watched a Cespedes workout earlier this month, according to the Detroit News.

That level of observation suggests the Tigers are serious in their interest. With the level of bidding expected, it makes sense for the man in charge to want a look. Cespedes has been working out for teams since the start of November.

– Jason Beck

Tigers re-sign Ramon Santiago to two-year deal

Ramon Santiago tested the market for a long-term deal and a potential starting role, but in the end, he always had an interest in returning to Detroit. So did the Tigers have interest in bringing him back, though not quite in the everyday role he might have wanted. There was enough in common for a deal, and that got done on Wednesday with a new two-year contract.

This doesn’t end the Tigers’ search for infield help. Both manager Jim Leyland and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski conditioned their statements with the possibility of more moves to come. Right now, though, it looks like Santiago would get at least a timeshare at second base, as well as starts backing up Jhonny Peralta at shortstop.

“Santiago and Ryan Raburn will be playing second base as the club stands today,” Leyland said. “He will probably [also] get time at short.”

Dombrowski’s answer was much the same.

“We are set to open with Santiago and Raburn,” Dombrowski said. “However, we will see what happens.”

Tigers inquire about Aramis Ramirez

The Tigers have been in contact with the agent for free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, a source confirmed to MLB.com Sunday night. At this point, though, there are no negotiations going on to bring the former Cubs slugger to Detroit.

SI.com senior writer Jon Heyman first reported the Tigers’ inquiry, which took place earlier this month. The two sides supposedly haven’t talked since, but that isn’t unusual given the Thanksgiving holiday. Whether talks progress into serious discussions remains to be seen. Free-agent negotiations and trade talks traditionally pick up in the days leading into baseball’s Winter Meetings, and that’s expected to be the case here, too, at least to see if there’s a fit.

For the Tigers, who have been looking for at least one more piece to their offense, it’s an interesting fit. The Tigers’ biggest need has supposedly been for a hitter to place near the top of the order, in front of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Delmon Young. Ramirez is a classic middle-of-the-order power hitter, with six 100-RBI seasons to his credit. After two injury-shortened seasons, he rebounded for 93 RBIs to go with a .306 average and 26 home runs in 149 games this year.

The Tigers return Brandon Inge for 2012, the back half of the two-year contract he signed last fall, and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has mentioned Inge in a possible platoon with superutilityman Don Kelly. All the while, though, the Tigers have remained open to an offensive upgrade.

– Jason Beck

Tigers reportedly close to re-signing Laird

The Tigers’ search for a catcher to back up All-Star Alex Avila is apparently leading them back to the catcher who mentored Avila when he first reached the big leagues.

When Gerald Laird and the Tigers parted ways a year ago, Laird was looking for playing time. He ended up as a little-used backup to Yadier Molina in St. Louis this year, but now appears headed back to Detroit. Foxsports.com reports that Laird is close to a deal that would reunite him with the Tigers.

Laird fits the profile of what the Tigers are looking for in a backup. He’s a right-handed hitter with a good amount of experience, good defense and calls a good game. He brings the added bonus of experience working with Tigers pitchers, including Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello for two years.

Laird was the Tigers’ primary catcher in 2009, having been acquired from Texas in a trade for prospects that included Guillermo Moscoso. He batted .225 with four homers and 33 RBIs in 135 games that year for a team that came within a tiebreaker of the AL Central title and had Avila as a late-season call-up. Laird and Avila split time catching in 2010, but Avila got the bulk of the starts down the stretch.

A reunion at this point makes sense. The Tigers went through last year with Victor Martinez backing up Avila, but now don’t want the wear and tear on their designated hitter as he approaches his 33rd birthday next month. Laird hit the market looking for playing time last year, but is now at the stage of his career where he’ll find better opportunities as a No. 2.

– Jason Beck

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