January 2009

White Sox set at second?

Word from White Sox GM Ken Williams is that the Sox aren’t likely to dip into the remnants of the free-agent market. That means, barring a trade, they’ll leave the starting job at second base open to competition between Brent Lillibridge, Jayson Nix and the Detroit area’s own Chris Getz.

“We have learned some tough lessons … throwing as much talent against
the wall is not necessarily the answer,” Williams said, according to the AP. “Things have to
fit in place.”

Sound familiar?

Am I the only one who thinks it would be quite fitting if Getz is part of that second-base fix? After all, if one of the Tigers’ most identifiable young players (Curtis Granderson) is from the south side of Chicago, why not have an important White Sox part from the Detroit area?

Ilitch talks Tigers at Red Wings press conference

Apparently Mike Ilitch was at the Red Wings’ press conference to announce their new contract for Henrik Zetterberg, and a baseball press conference broke out. And by all accounts, Ilitch is happy with the way things went for the Tigers this offseason. From the Detroit Free Press story (sorry, I don’t get to go to hockey press conferences):

“I know that when you take chances every so often, you’re going to miss every once in a while,” the Tigers owner said. “And we missed on some. But that’s part of the game. We’ve just got to be a little more careful. But I’m not going to change.”

There was one other quote from the story that I thought stood out.

“Getting humbled a little bit, going from the top to the bottom, I think that’s a pretty big shock to myself, [president/general manager Dave Dombrowski] and our manager,” Ilitch said. “I think we’ll stabilize this year and then, next year, we’ll become very, very aggressive and, hopefully, we’ve got a steady ship and team chemistry.”

In other words, this winter could simply be a one-year slumber for the Tigers on the offseason market.

Reading this brought back a reminder of something Ilitch said during his season-ending remarks at Comerica Park back in September, when he was asked about the team payroll for 2009 and how that would effect offseason changes.

“I’m not sure what we would do on payroll,” he said then. “That would be the last thing that I’m going to look at. I mean, I’m not afraid to go out and spend money. It’s been very costly, but I’m not going to change my ways. But I don’t know if this year is the year to go after people. I’m more concerned about getting the team in shape and seeing who we’ve got and who are the real Detroit Tigers.”

In other words, the Tigers can still spend money, but this might not have been the best offseason in which to spend it. And those remarks came before the brunt of the economic slide.

On an unrelated note, a 12-year contract? For a hockey player? Wow.

Royals sign Greinke through 2012

I have the honor of filling in on the Royals beat this week for the great Dick Kaegel, which means I got the call this morning when Kansas City announced it had signed starter Zack Greinke to a four-year, $38 million contract through 2012. It took about three seconds to realize this was bad news for the Tigers.

Check out the splits: Eight of Greinke’s 34 career wins have come against the Tigers, and his 3.19 earned run average versus Detroit is more than a full run under his 4.28 ERA overall. Magglio Ordonez is just 4-for-27 lifetime off Greinke, while Curtis Granderson went 0-for-8 against him last year.

That said, the deal is great news when you consider where Greinke was three years ago, sitting at home, having left spring training, and not sure if he wanted to play baseball again. Once he got some help, he was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder. Before you brush that off, read what he said today at his press conference about where his mind was (boldface inserted by me for emphasis):

“When I left, I didn’t realize there was a cure for what I had, where I just hated being around people. I just love baseball, and I was going to get a job where I didn’t have to be around people all the time. Mainly mowing grass was my goal, to start up a good lawn-mowing business and just do that. But [then-manager] Buddy Bell and [former GM] Allard [Baird] really helped me out a lot in that time. They sent me to someone to just talk to me. The psychologist figured out that it was pretty simple how I could change what I was thinking and feeling in those situations.

“Every Major League team is always going to do what’s best for them, but it was awesome. They could’ve easily pushed me aside, or just helped me get back and then dump me off whenever they could get something for me. But they did everything they could and bent over backwards for me from the beginning. Even when we switched from Allard to Dayton [Moore], it might not have been his first priority, but to me, he made it seem like his first priority, to make sure that he knew how to handle my situation and what I was going through.”

Now you understand why this is a pretty good story, even if it isn’t good news at all for the Tigers. You can check out the video of the press conference at nbcactionnews.com.

By the way, if the contract terms sound familiar, they’re the exact same terms of the contract Jeremy Bonderman signed a couple years ago. Like Bonderman at that time, Greinke was a couple years away from free agency, and there were rumblings whether the Royals might consider trading Greinke if they couldn’t get a deal done this winter.

Notes from Brandon Lyon conference call

Just got off of a conference call with Brandon Lyon, his first remarks since signing with the Tigers. It’s clear the chance to close played a big role in his decision. He also said he heard good things about playing and living in Detroit from guys who had done it before, including former teammate Casey Fossum.

“After talking with him about all the places, it made me really really excited after I agreed to terms to come to Detroit,” he said. “It just reassured me it’s going to be a great place to go. I haven’t been to a different place in five years.”

An interesting remark was his view of what happened for him over the second half of last season. He said he had some trouble adjusting to the schedule of a closer, where he could work three straight days or could go a while without getting into a game.

“First half obviously went real well, starting out throwing real good, throwing quite a bit,” Lyon said. “I think the situation got to the point where I haven’t been in this role before. I just felt like I didn’t get enough work [at times] and I didn’t know how to prepare myself when I wasn’t working all the time. I think I’ve learned from that. There were times I wasn’t pitching for 7-8 days at all.”

His day-by-day breakdown backs him up on that. There were two stretches where he pitched three days in a row, and three of four others where he pitched three times in four days. But he also had some long stretches without work — a week between outings in early May, another in late May, another at the end of May and into June, two four-day stretches in June, then similar stretches in late July and August.

He also said that he got away from mixing in all his pitches later in the year and became too much of a two-pitch reliever with his fastball and curve, rather than adding his changeup and slider.

“I stuck to a conventional two-pitch pitcher,” he said. “When I started getting out of that and started using all my pitches is when I started being more successful at the end of the year.”

Tigers sign Timo Perez to minor league deal

The Tigers brought back another key part of their depth in the farm system, agreeing to terms with outfielder Timo Perez on a Minor League contract.

Perez will be part of the Major League camp in Spring Training, but is expected to open the season back in the outfield at Triple-A Toledo, where he has been one of the International League’s top hitters for the past two seasons. Perez, who turns 34 years old in April, hit .302 in 112 games with the Mud Hens last season with 30 doubles, 13 home runs, 63 RBIs and 19 stolen bases.

The emergence of Matt Joyce and Jeff Larish likely cost Perez any chance at a call up to Detroit. His path to the big leagues isn’t much clearer this season after the Tigers signed Alexis Gomez earlier this offseason. Still, his bat from the left side and his ability to hit for average gives the club some insurance.

Perez last appearance in the Majors with the Tigers in 2007, batting .389 (35-for-90) with nine doubles and 13 RBIs in 29 games. He’s a career .269 hitter in the big leagues with 91 doubles, 26 homers and 185 RBIs in 603 games.

Mailbag: Lyon, Zumaya, Bonderman, Inge, Cabrera

Still rummaging through the leftover mailbag questions, but also mixed in a few new ones that came in. If you have a question, or a tangent, or maybe even a rambling, click the link here to send an email.

With the signing of Brandon Lyon to a one-year contract, where does that leave Joel Zumaya? Is he still in line for the closers role?
- Gareth R., Okemos, Mich.

This will sound like a non-answer, but it’s really the Tigers’ approach: Zumaya isn’t in line for any particular role until he’s healthy and pitching again, which is the Tigers’ priority with him right now. After two years of injuries, that’s really how they have to proceed. Once he gets back on the mound in games and gets comfortable, then the Tigers will think about where he fits in this bullpen. Barring a desperate need, like injuries to Lyon and Rodney, he will not be the closer starting out.

I was at TigerFest this weekend and Jeremy Bonderman wasn’t there. I have been to TigerFest for the past six years and he has never missed one. Is he expected to be healthy this season, is he okay? I am predicting him to have a great season.
- Martina E., East Lansing

No worries, he’s fine. Bonderman is working out at the Tigers’ spring training complex in Lakeland. The Tigers had him stay down there and focus on his rehab rather than go to TigerFest, which is the same approach they took with Zumaya.

I have read that Brandon Inge has added “15 pounds of muscle”. Could this adversely affect his fielding agility?
- Janice N., Farmington Hills

Hard to tell until he actually gets out on the field this spring. There are a lot of players at 200 pounds and above who have been and are very good third basemen, though many of them are also taller than six feet. One of Inge’s strongest points defensively has always been his first step, a big part of his range, but as you said, the added weight is apparently muscle. If he can go from catching every day to playing third base again down the stretch last year and not miss a beat, I’m not particularly worried.

When the Tigers originally traded for Miguel Cabrera, one of the biggest concerns the Tigers had with him was his weight. During last offseason he worked hard and lost about 20 pounds, but after he moved to first base last season, I heard nothing about his weight. Is Miguel still working on cutting out some fat, or has the new position made the Tigers content with having him play at a high weight?
- Karlek J., Northville

Cabrera looked like someone in good shape when he was in town for the winter caravan this past week. More important, two people who have personally watched Cabrera work out this winter — Carlos Guillen worked out with him in many days, while strength and conditioning coach Javair Gillett visited them in Venezuela — say he went at it hard and is in very good shape.

The focus on Cabrera is not on losing a bunch more weight. He did that already. He’s never going to be as slender as other players because of his body frame, and you don’t want to sap his power. The focus is on his quickness and his strength at a good playing weight for first base.

I heard the Tigers might move Granderson down in the lineup. Do you see that as a possibility, and if so, who do you see leading off?
- John B., Allendale, Mich.

Maybe someday Granderson will hit more towards the middle of the order, which is what you might have heard. But barring a bunch of injuries further down the order, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. With the lineup as it is, Granderson is the one natural leadoff guy on the roster.

Whatever happened to Francisco Cruceta? He was built up as the answer and then was late reporting to camp because of visa problems. He then had a brief stint with the Tigers, who traded Jason Grilli to make room for him. Last I heard he went to Toledo and disappeared from the radar.
- Dave C., Chatham, Ontario

UPDATE @ 12am: Cruceta signed a contract with the Samsung Lions of the Korean Baseball Organization, where he will be teammates with former Royals pitcher Runelvys Hernandez. Cruceta was a Minor League free agent at the end of last season, since he wasn’t on the Tigers 40-man roster.

Could you help me understand why the Tigers don’t seem to be showing any interest in Manny Ramirez? He seems worth any deal they could negotiate.
- Eric S., Grosse Pointe

Considering Ramirez doesn’t appear anywhere close to signing with any club, a lot of teams would beg to differ. In the Tigers’ case, they don’t have the room to add him to the payroll, and even if they did, their approach to the offseason was that they have enough offense and needed to focus on defense and pitching.

Many view Ramirez as a designated hitter waiting to happen. My sense over the last couple years is that in the future, the Tigers might rather not have a full-time DH, and instead rotate some guys in and out of there — including Cabrera maybe — to ease some wear and tear on players.

Rogers retired? Part 2

rogers.jpgTalked by phone today with Rick Knapp, who clarified on his remarks on Kenny Rogers maybe retiring. He said he called Rogers in November, soon after being named Tigers pitching coach, and that Rogers said he was pretty certain at that time he was retiring. So, for that matter, was his wife. He hasn’t heard anything more since.

“I don’t know if it’s time,” Knapp said Sunday. “I think he’s still got
some fight in him. It’s just a matter of whether he wants to or not.”

With Rogers unsigned this late in the offseason, it seems like a no. I could very easily see Rogers quietly retiring without any formal announcement, let alone fanfare. He isn’t one to make a big deal.

A classy move on the part of Knapp, though, was that he’s welcome at spring training if he wants to stop by, even if it’s just to hit fungoes.

“But if you go,” Knapp said he told Rogers, “you have to promise not to take them.”

Report: Casey retires

Looks like there’s another former Tiger ready to hang it up. Rob Bradford at WEEI.com in Boston reports that Sean Casey is retiring to take a job with the new MLB television network. No word on whether he’ll be in studio or out on the field, or whether this means he can or can’t go watch his hometown Steelers in the Super Bowl next Sunday, but certainly best wishes are in order for him in this new chapter in his life.

For the record, Casey finishes his 12-year career as a lifetime .302 hitter, including .322 in 199 at-bats last year for the Sox, as well as a career .410 postseason hitter, and one of the best all-around good guys in baseball. His three-run shot for the Tigers against the Royals on Sept. 21, 2007 will go down as the last of his 130 home runs. His failure to beat out Pablo Ozuna’s throw from left field to first, Casey having not noticed the ball had fallen in, will go down one of baseball’s best bloopers and classiest reactions to an innocent mistake.

Kenny Rogers might have folded 'em

With three weeks before pitchers and catchers report to most Spring Training camps, Kenny Rogers is still a free agent. Moreover, there have been no signs of him signing with any team.

The 44-year-old Rogers has kept quiet this offseason, leaving emails from reporters unanswered. Even Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who received a voicemail from Rogers thanking him for his time in Detroit, doesn’t know Rogers’ plans. The one person in the organization who has had a discussion with him, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, isn’t disclosing the nature of their talk.

Still, when asked about Rogers’ status by a fan during a question-and-answer session at TigerFest on Saturday, Dombrowski hinted that Rogers probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“At this time, I don’t think he’s on the verge of signing with any club,” Dombrowski said. “I think he’s in a position where he’s content where he is right now. But it’s more up to him on what he decides to do with his life, and I don’t know if he’s made that decision 100 percent.”

If Rogers does pitch again, it probably won’t be in Detroit. Dombrowski said the Tigers are not looking for any more starting pitching, preferring to leave the fifth spot open to competition among Zach Miner, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis.

Tigers, Lyon agree to one-year deal

Brandon Lyon and the Tigers have reached an agreement on a one-year contract, according to an industry source. Lyon has taken and passed his physical. An announcement is expected at TigerFest Saturday morning, right around the time it opens to the public at 11am.

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