January 2009

Friday's caravan notes: Dombrowski, Knapp, Everett

There wasn’t really much media time for the Tigers on the second and final day of their winter caravan, certainly on their local bus. However, there were a few tidbits that came out of some of the events, including the stop at the Henry Ford.

  • Dave Dombrowski acknowledged the idea that the Tigers haven’t been in the conversation among the AL Central contenders. He kind of likes that. “I think that’s good if people look past us. I think it’s a mistake. And in some ways, I hope they do, because you can sneak up on people.”
  • Dombrowski on the makeup of last year’s lineup compared to what they have now: “We almost had an All-Star at every position. … And it’s apparent it didn’t work. Sometimes you have to change the mix.”
  • The longer the caravan rolls on, the stronger pitching coach Rick Knapp’s comments seemingly become about pounding the strike zone. He gave the pitching staff a vote of confidence Friday, but he also emphasized the point that a repeat of last year’s control woes can’t happen. “There’s no reason for us to lead the league in walks. There’s absolutely no reason for that. We want to come out and set a precedent. But with the stuff our pitchers have, there’s absolutely no reason to lead the league in walks.”
  • If there’s a question and answer session at a Tigers stop, it’s a safe bet the question will come up of who made the biggest impact on a player’s career growing up. Most players say their parents. Adam Everett gives a nod to Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter, who happens to be a family friend. He was also a mentor and instructor for Everett growing up.
  • Given the news on Freddy Garcia’s deal with the Mets, it’s worth noting that the Tigers had minimal contact with Garcia’s agent on a deal as the offseason wore on. The club seemed to decide early on that it would at least pursue different options.
  • Former Tigers minor league reliever Ian Ostlund will be part of spring training with the Cardinals. He signed a minor league contract with St. Louis early in the offseason.
  • I booked my flight for spring training today. That’s neither here nor there — well, it’s out of the weather here and down to some warm sunshine there. But given the winter we’ve had in Michigan, it felt good to do. Hopefully some of you get the chance to make the trip down to Lakeland.

Hope to see some of you at TigerFest on Saturday. It’ll be cold, colder than today, but at least no snow.

Winter caravan notes: Lyon, Rogers, Larish

By now, you probably already know that the Tigers are close to a deal with Brandon Lyon. I would anticipate an agreement to come out at some point on Friday. By now, I think the closer topic has been discussed pretty thoroughly, so you can discuss as you please. As for other notes from the caravan …

  • Still wondering what Kenny Rogers is going to do? So is manager Jim Leyland. He said at the media luncheon Thursday that he received a very nice voicemail from Kenny recently, thanking him and saying how much he enjoyed his time here. However, the message left no answer as to whether he plans to continue playing. “It was a great [message],” Leyland said. “I don’t know what he’s doing.”
  • If you’re wondering whether the Tigers will allow one of their relief prospects from last year’s draft to make the jump to the big leagues out of camp, the answer is yes. Leyland said he has received assurances from Dave Dombrowski that he could if he wants. “If you run into another Verlander or Zumaya, he’s on the team,” Leyland said.
  • I mentioned this is one of the stories tonight about Leyland not wanting to tinker, but Leyland said that Jeff Larish will be battling for the last spot on the roster. That would seemingly suggest that the Tigers will decide whether to keep a corner infielder/left-handed bat or a fifth outfielder.
  • For someone who barely spends any time in the winter weather, Carlos Guillen keeps a very stylish, very expensive winter coat.

Good news on Hollimon

hollimon.jpgForgot to mention this last night, but talking with Michael Hollimon at the caravan stop in Toledo, there’s good reason to think that he should be ready for the start of the season. He estimates his left shoulder is at 90-95 strength following surgery to repair a labrum tear last September, and he’s doing all baseball activities in his workouts in Dallas. He’s planning on reporting to Lakeland a couple weeks early and picking up his program under the watch of the Tigers athletic training staff.

There was an initial fear after the surgery that Hollimon could miss half of the 2009 season.

Between Hollimon’s progress and the Tigers’ optimism that Clete Thomas could be back sooner than expected, those are two big pieces of depth at Triple-A Toledo should Detroit face any early-season injuries in the lineup. It also translates into a full season of development for Hollimon, which can only help him and the Tigers depending on how the middle infield pictures looks at season’s end.

Bullpen move + Zumaya = upbeat Leyland

Jim Leyland wasn’t saying a whole lot about his bullpen plans when he talked with reporters Thursday at a charity dinner in suburban Toledo, but he did sound optimistic that he was going to get more help in the form of a move or two coming up, plus hopefully a healthy Joel Zumaya.

“We’re still working hard,” Leyland said. “We’re not done yet. We’re still trying to put our team together. Hopefully that could involve maybe a couple more people, but we don’t know. We have nothing done, but we think there’s some encouraging signs.”

“Up to this point, we’ve done as much as we could. I think Dave has been pretty creative so far, which he said he was going to have to be this year. And I don’t think we’re done yet. Will we get something done? I don’t know. But is it possible? I definitely think it is.”

“We had a lot of money to play with, but we already played with it. And I think everybody knows it. So we weren’t going to be in the hunt for a lot of the big names that were out there and everything. And there’s still some guys that we might have some interest in at hopefully a little better of a bargain.”

Leyland sounded particularly upbeat about Zumaya, enough so that he said the Tigers’ bullpen plans will depend in large part on how he fares this spring in his comeback from the stress fracture in his shoulder.

“That will change the whole bullpen, probably,” Leyland said. “Zumaya’s health will be a significant factor in the bullpen. You might almost need two guys to replace Zumaya. He could be that good for us. He was that good in 2006. If we can get in that scenario again, we’ll be pretty good.”

Asked how Zumaya’s progress is going, Leyland said:

“Typical Zumaya, he was throwing bullets from 90 feet the other day already in Lakeland. It’s a process, but it’s way too early to know what he’s going to look like when he has to get a hitter out, max effort and stuff like that. Right now, he looks good. We’re thinking that he made a lot of progress. But it’s still a wait and see.”

Other quotes from Leyland …

On Bonderman’s rehab: “Tremendous. He looks stronger and better than ever.”

On Dontrelle Willis: “Very good. Outstanding. Better than they saw him at any point last year. But once again, he’s not facing hitters. I’m just going to lay low on that. I don’t want to put expectations or be talking about that kind of stuff every day, because I just think it makes it worse.”

On the competition for the final spot in the rotation: “We obviously need a fifth starter, and I’m going to let that play itself out. I’m not going to comment on it every day. I’m not going to get excited if somebody looks good for three innings one day and somebody looks bad for three. I’m going to sit back. I’m going to play it calm. I’m going to see how things develop. And at the end of Spring Training, we’ll come out there with the best possible team we can.”

Brandon Lyon update

The Tigers and Lyon’s agent, Barry Meister, are talking. But Meister is still talking with other teams at this point, so nothing is close to being done. There was some belief that Lyon would be matching up with a team around mid-week, but that timetable appears to be out. Just figured I’d pass that along to temper some expectations out there.

I’ll be heading down to Maumee, Ohio tonight for the start of the Tigers winter caravan at the Monsignor Schmit Youth Foundation Dinner. Jim Leyland is scheduled to be the keynote speaker. Players slated to attend include Marcus Thames, Mike Hessman, Ryan Raburn, Jeff Larish, Clete Thomas, Eddie Bonine, Brent Clevlen, Michael Hollimon, Chris Lambert and Clay Rapada, along with broadcaster Mario Impemba. Tickets are still available at $50 a person or a table of 10 for $500. More information is available at mudhens.com or by calling the Catholic Youth Organization at 419-244-6711, ext. 609.

Arbitration — four down, one to go

seay.jpgAnother busy day for Tigers legal counsel John Westhoff, who was able to settle on one-year deals with all but one of the remaining arbitration cases. Gerald Laird gets a reported $2.8 million, Edwin Jackson a reported $2.2 million, Bobby Seay $1.3 million and Joel Zumaya $735,000.

That leaves Justin Verlander, whose agent exchanged figures with the team today and have a significant gap to cross before they can settle. Verlander asked for $4.15 million, while the Tigers submitted a figure of $3.2 million. In case you haven’t heard this already, the Tigers have not had an arbitration case to go to a hearing under Dave Dombrowski.

13 Tigers on World Baseball Classic rosters

Before you read the list, keep in mind two things: These are 45-man provisional rosters, not the final 28-man rosters that will be announced next month, so a few of these guys might not make the cut. Plus, some of these players weren’t going to spring training with the big league club, so they won’t cut into the camp population. With that in mind, here’s the list, sorted by country:

Curtis Granderson, OF, USA
Justin Verlander, P, USA
Miguel Cabrera, IF, Venezuela
Armando Galarraga, P, Venezuela
Carlos Guillen, OF, Venezuela
Magglio Ordonez, OF, Venezuela
Placido Polanco, 2B, Dominican Rep.
Fernando Rodney, P, Dominican Rep.
Fu-Te Ni, P, Chinese Taipei
Cale Iorg, IF, Canada
Max St. Pierre, C, Canada
Andrew Graham, C, Australia
Brendan Wise, P, Australia

Mailbag: Tigers on MLB Network, Clevlen, Jackson, Thomas, Gomez

clevlen06.jpgSome of you might know this already, but we’ve moved away from the mailbag as a published article on the site every week. Quite a few of you seem to like the format, though, so I’m going to try to move it over to the blog in a smaller format and crank out some answers every so often, hopefully once a week. I think it makes more sense on the blog, anyway. It’s more conducive for feedback, and since it’s not actually an article, hopefully there will be less hassle on why I selected certain questions or didn’t answer others.

Anyway …

As a Tiger fan outside of Michigan, I am excited about the MLB Network. Should I be? Are the Tigers going to be featured on it ever or will it be the same Red Sox/Yankees/Cubs/Dodgers games that have been on Fox and ESPN?
– Jeremy H., Hartford, Wisc.

Actually, you’re in luck. The network will be re-airing some 2006 postseason games this weekend, starting with Game 4 of the ALCS Saturday at noon ET and continuing with the first two games of the World Series that night at 6 and 9 p.m. ET. They’ll show Games 3-5 on Sunday starting at 1 p.m. ET, if you wanted to relieve those games, too. Another neat item will be highlights of the 1945 World Series between the Tigers and Cubs on Wednesday, Jan. 28 at 11:30 p.m. ET.

You can go here for the TV listings.

Okay, say Brent Clevlen does clear waivers and the Tigers outright him to Toledo. What happens with his “options” then, or does he have to clear waivers every time he gets sent down?
– Nick R., Mayville, NY

Clevlen would have to be outrighted and clear waivers each time. Once the options are done, they’re done.

I was sad to see Matt Joyce go, but if Tampa had Andy Sonnastine open for trade talks why not go after him instead of getting Edwin Jackson? He had a better record.
– Ryan C., Greenville

First, Jackson is eligible for arbitration, while Sonnanstine is not. The Rays had more motivation for dealing Jackson and clearing up payroll to add another outfielder. Second, Jackson is arguably more of a stuff pitcher than Sonnanstine. He throws harder and has more in his repertoire. That doesn’t make him more successful, of course, but he fits the profile of the pitcher the Tigers like. And while plenty of people have said this about Jackson over the years, you can still make the case that he has a ton of upside if/when he puts everything together. Pitching coach Rick Knapp’s resume of building strike-throwers fits Jackson very well.

With the signing of minor league free agent Alexis Gomez, do you think that he has a shot of making the team since Matt Joyce is gone?
– Gareth R., Okemos

Probably not at the start of the season, unless the roster picture changes with injuries or other moves. I think moving Joyce means Jeff Larish is the Tigers’ best option for a left-handed bat off the bench, if he wasn’t already, and even he could be in a roster squeeze. Gomez gives the Tigers some depth if they need help during the season, but I think that depends on Clete Thomas (another left-handed hitting outfielder) and how quickly he returns.

Clete Thomas was a nice surprise for the organization last year. He proved that he could hit consistently, and field very well at the Major League level. What do you think will become of Clete this year? Will he earn a roster spot?
– Alan F., Grosse Pointe Woods

If he’s healthy after Tommy John surgery last fall — and keep in mind that position players return from that procedure quicker than pitchers — Thomas is in a very good spot in the organization. He can play all three outfield spots, bats left-handed, has some speed and plays solid defense. Does that mean he can make the team out of Spring Training? It would be tough. Marcus Thames and Ryan Raburn would seemingly have the edge on the reserve outfield spots, especially since Raburn can fill in on the infield as well.

Braden Looper is still unsigned as a free agent picther. Looper had some good years in Florida as a closer and might be a great option for Detroit’s closer. What are the chances of that happening?
– Frank A., Livonia

Not much, by all accounts. Enough teams are looking at Looper as a starter that he’ll probably sign as such. It’s his better route financially, and he has enjoyed starting for the last two years.

Want to submit a question? Let’s make it easy. Click on the link here and ask away. Just try to include your name — first name and last initial is fine — and hometown.

Fossum joins Mets on Minor League deal

fossum.jpgCasey Fossum, who ended up becoming the second lefty in the Tigers bullpen last summer, has agreed to a Minor League contract with the Mets, according to the Buffalo News. The 31-year-old was cut out of Spring Training with the Pirates last year before signing with Detroit soon after the Tigers released Tim Byrdak. Fossum went 3-1 with a 5.66 ERA in 31 appearances, allowing a .243 batting average to left-handed hitters but giving up a .310 average and .920 OPS against right-handed batters.

Why the scoop out of Buffalo? Fossum would presumably join the Triple-A Bisons, the new Mets affiliate after years with Cleveland, unless he makes the Mets roster out of camp.

Closing the deal … eventually

By this time next week, the Tigers should hopefully, finally have a fairly good idea who their closer(s) is/are going to be, whether it’s Fernando Rodney, Jason Isringhausen, Brandon Lyon, another free agent, Guillermo Hernandez (not really), Franklyn German (definitely not), or some sort of combination.

If they don’t, then there’s a good chance this is going to be real interesting in spring training.

True, I don’t think anybody expected the Tigers’ closer search to go this long to begin with. Think about it: It has been over a month since talks for J.J. Putz fell through, and since Dave Dombrowski first said there’s a lot of time before April 6, when the Tigers open the season.

On the flip side, I don’t think any of the free-agent relievers — save for maybe the recuperating Chad Cordero — expected to sit on the market for this long. Last week, coming out of the holidays, was supposed to be the week that the markets really defined for a lot of these guys. That really didn’t seem to occur until this week. Now that it’s starting to happen, though, I expect you’ll see these guys make their decisions quickly, and clubs doing the same. Once Isringhausen or Lyon reach a deal, maybe by the middle of next week, the other might soon follow, since some of the same teams seem to be involved. Russ Springer, who seems to be attracting a surprising amount of interest on the market, might not be far behind. So could Juan Cruz, whose status as a Type A free agent who will cost a signing team a draft pick really seems to have dampened interest. Eric Gagne is out there, too.

Somebody’s going to get a good reliever in Cordero, as long as he’s healthy. The risk in focusing in on him alone is that if he has to take it slow and isn’t ready when the season starts, or if he ends up signing somewhere else — keep in mind, a dozen teams are reportedly monitoring him — then what? Wait for a team to dump a closer at the end of spring training?