Cespedes rounding the bases in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. Courtesy Getty Images
However, the injury to Victor Martinez could change the intensity of the Dave Dombrowski's pursuit of the Cuban defector. That said, let's go worst case scenario and imagine the Tigers are unable to sign the apparent primary free agent target. Where will they go from there?
One direction they could go is to sign another big, slow, homer-hitting RBI machine. That sounds OK, but in my opinion it's a direction the Motor City Kitties should shy away from. Even without Martinez, this team has got five players who are legitimate threats to hit 20 home runs and push 75 or more runs across the plate.
Those players, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch, Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young all share one deficiency: speed. They're double plays waiting to happen, to one degree or another. Additionally, even if some of these players are unable to put up the big power numbers they're capable of (mercurial Young seems like a great candidate), there are other guys who can step up and exceed expectations.
Brandon Inge has hit 27 homers twice, and has routinely provided 65+ RBI, and Ryan Raburn, the second half All-Star, is all but guaranteed to hit between 15-20 balls out of the park. But none of these guys is suddenly going to turn into a bag stealing machine, or even a first-to-third type runner.
No, in a season with no V-Mart and no Cespedes, the Tigers should look for wheels. They're not going to find a substitute for Martinez's clutch hitting, but they may be able to find a guy to bat in front of Miggy who will get on base and put pressure on defenses.
Who should the Tigers pursue if they don't land Cespedes?
One of those guys might be Juan Pierre. It wouldn't be a flashy move, or a big one, and it would likely elicit a collective groan from the fan base. Let's look at it seriously, though. Pierre, while never a big on-base percentage guy, has intriguing speed. Between his age, 34, a big drop in his number of steals from 2010 to 2011 (68 to 29), there are some big, reasonable concerns.
But he played on a terrible team, he'd still be faster than any Tiger except Austin Jackson, and he doesn't strike out much, making him a good two hitter. Again, not exciting, but at least worth a look.
Secondly, there's an old friend in one Johnny Damon. Again, this isn't going to electrify the fan base. He's 38. He's not a great fielder any more, so you'd still have a liability in left field. Plus, been there done that. But he still offers more speed than anyone else on the team, and more than many of those left on the free agent market.
He's commonly regarded as a great clubhouse presence, so he'd fill at least one of the qualities Martinez supplied. And again, he doesn't strike out much, so he'd help to plug the hole at the two-spot.
Finally, one more option that I regard as the longest shot, at least until the summer. The New York Mets have got an expensive player under contract, who can help a team win now, and could bring back at least one good prospect. David Wright is a slugging third baseman coming off a down year who is going to make a ton of money in 2012. That's not a huge concern, since Detroit has some insurance money coming back to them as a result of V-Mart's injury.
Additionally, he could reduce the number of the platoons the Tigers have by one. Finally, while he's coming off a down year, there's still belief that Wright has value. Again, he doesn't improve the outfield, but he could still be a good fit hitting in front of Cabrera with Young or Boesch hitting behind.
What had been a quiet offseason has suddenly become nerve racking for Detroit's fan base, not to mention its front office. With any luck (and a lot of money) they'll have a Cuban running around in left field in 2012. Barring that though, the Tigers still have some options to improve themselves.