January 2009

Spring training dates announced

As expected, Tigers pitchers and catchers will have their first formal workout in Lakeland on Feb. 14, with the full squad working out on the 17th. For players in the World Baseball Classic, they have to report to their national team camps on March 2 — except for players from Asian countries involved in Pool A, who must report on Feb. 27. That means an earlier departure for recent signing Fu-Te Ni. So unless he pitches in the Tigers’ Spring Training opener Feb. 25 against the Braves, he probably won’t get into a game for Detroit until he returns from the WBC. Whether that puts him at any disadvantage for earning a spot remains to be seen. The Tigers will watch him in the tournament, so they’ll get some idea there how he’s throwing.

Thames also agrees to one-year deal

In addition to Fernando Rodney, the Tigers avoided arbitration with
outfielder Marcus Thames by agreeing to terms on a one-year deal. Terms
were not immediately disclosed.
He’ll make $2,275,000. Thames is projected to return as
Detroit’s fourth outfielder after batting .245 with 25 home runs and 56
RBIs over just 316 at-bats.

Tigers avoid arbitration with Rodney

While the Tigers remain on the lookout for a closer this offseason,
they have avoided arbitration with their incumbent. Fernando Rodney and
the club agreed to terms Wednesday on a one-year contract worth $2.7
million, according to two industry sources.

Rodney, who will
turn 32 years old in March, saved 13 games this year to go with an 0-6
record and a 4.91 ERA. He became Detroit’s closer near the end of July,
while Todd Jones battled shoulder problems, and remained in the role
for the better part of the final two months.

As of now, he
remains Detroit’s in-house option for the job. The Tigers have
maintained contact with free-agent relievers on the market with veteran
closing experience, including Jason Isringhausen and Brandon Lyon, but
have yet to make a signing. Even if the Tigers add someone with closing
experience, however, Rodney could get some share of opportunities. At
the very least, he would fill a setup role in the eighth inning.

Rodney will be eligible for free agency at season’s end. That could end up a big motivation for him

Granderson accepts invite to WBC

Curtis Granderson received and accepted an invitation Thursday to join Team USA for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. He’ll be in the outfield alongside current known commitments Grady Sizemore and Ryan Braun. The prospect of Sizemore and Granderson as teammates is an interesting one, given their similar talents.

Granderson’s long desire to play internationally was a part of his presentation when he joined a delegation of Major League and U.S. Olympic officials in November for a meeting with the International Olympic Committee to propose restoring baseball to the Olympic Games. One of his favorite baseball cards in his childhood collection, he said, was a Mark McGwire Team USA card from the 1984 Summer Olympics, the first for baseball as an Olympic sport.

Granderson joins what could be a sizeable list of Tigers players taking part in the World Baseball Classic. Carlos Guillen confirmed in November that he plans to participate again for Team Venezuela. Tiger teammates Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera are expected to do the same. All of them were on an early list of invited players at the end of November. Second baseman Placido Polanco could also take part for the Dominican Republic, though he said near season’s end that he was inclined not to participate this time around.

UPDATE: Add Armando Galarraga to the above list. He was not on the original list for Venezuela, but he was later invited and promptly accepted. Also, Brad Hawpe is the fourth and final outfielder invited to play for Team USA. If he accepts, he’ll take some playing time, though how that four-man, three-spot mix will work remains to be seen.

Smoltz set to sign with Red Sox

As reported by MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, John Smoltz is heading north … to New England. The Red Sox will reportedly grant him his wish to remain a starter, not to mention incentives that will bring his salary to $10 million if he’s healthy and productive, and the chance to do it all for a team with World Series expectations.

Given a Boston Globe report that the Red Sox had been talking with Smoltz and his agent since before the Winter Meetings, the Tigers didn’t stand much of a chance, even with the Michigan connection.

Vance Wilson signs with KC

He signed a minor league contract without a spring training invite. The Matt Treanor signing pretty much ended his Detroit tenure, but hopefully this will be the start of Wilson's comeback from elbow problems.

Cordero to throw for teams this week

To relay a note from last night …

Former Nationals closer Chad Cordero will be throwing for teams starting this week, an industry source confirmed. To characterize it as a showcase, however, would be a little too formal. At this point, Cordero and his representatives are encouraged enough about his progress from labrum surgery last summer that they’ve invited teams to send scouts and watch his regular throwing sessions at a training facility near his home in Anaheim. He’s currently throwing from distance off flat ground on a schedule that should put him on a mound in early February and throwing side sessions when pitchers and catchers report to camps later in the month.

The Tigers are one of several teams who have expressed interest in Cordero this offseason, and they’re expected to watch him. Reports have also said the Brewers, Diamondbacks and Nationals will watch. A slow-moving market for free-agent relievers arguably works to Cordero’s advantage, allowing him to progress and prove himself before getting a deal, potentially with a chance to close again if he can be ready for games around the start the season.

Tigers bring back Alexis Gomez

gomez.jpgThe Tigers agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with Alexis Gomez, according to an industry source, bringing the 30-year-old outfielder back where he was a postseason hero. Gomez will join the Tigers in Spring Training and provide insurance at Triple-A Toledo as a left-handed bat. The Denver Post first reported the agreement.

Now 30 years old, Gomez last played in the big leagues in 2006 in Detroit, where he became part of the lore of the Tigers’ surprising World Series run. Playing in his first career postseason game, he had a two-run homer and four RBIs in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Oakland. Gomez went 4-for-9 in three games of the four-game ALCS sweep, helping make up for the left-handed bat lost when injured Sean Casey missed the series.

The short-term glory didn’t translate into a Major League role. Gomez signed with Colorado that winter and spent the 2007 season at Triple-A Colorado Springs before joining the Marlins organization last year at Triple-A Albuquerque. He batted .234 with five doubles, four home runs and 12 RBIs in 23 games for the Isotopes, covering 73 at-bats.

Leyland on Tiger Talk

Hope everyone had a good holiday season while I was on break. It’s funny how the holidays can go by pretty quick when Detroit’s winter seems to drag on.

Anyway, Jim Leyland was on the Tiger Talk show on WXYT Monday night, where Dan Dickerson and Pat Caputo asked him about the bullpen. When asked about the importance of having a set closer going into spring training, Leyland was uncertain they’d have that.

“I don’t know that that’s going to happen. I don’t know that we can say that. I think [Fernando] Rodney, if I was going to assess him and give my own opinion, I think he has the potential to do it, but from what I’ve seen in the past, he’s probably a very good part-time closer. In other words, there’s some nights when he takes unhittable stuff out there with good control. There are some other nights when the control is not good enough. So I would say he’s a very good part-time closer, but probably not a real perfect closer at this particular time — consistent enough, maybe, is the right word.

“But I’m looking forward to Rodney this year because, whether people believe this or not, Rodney’s a free agent and I think he’s going to do everything he can. He knows this is a big year for him. So we should be able to get quite a bit out of Rodney this year. But to say that he’s going to be our definite closer, I couldn’t say that at this time.”

Leyland also reiterated his stance that he wants to get a look at the young relievers in camp, such as Ryan Perry and Cody Satterwhite, and try to learn from observing them. “I’m going to look at them,” Leyland said. “I’m going to keep an open mind.”

Asked about the moves so far, he said, “I think Dave did exactly what he thought he was going to have to do. I think he said he was going to have to be creative. I think he’s done that. I think he’s done a good job. We’re still in the mix for a couple things that would solidify our club even a little bit more. Exactly what that’s going to be, I don’t know. But I think Dave’s done a good job.”

On another relief note, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Monday that Joel Zumaya could start a throwing program in Lakeland within a week. What does that mean for Zumaya’s chances for starting the season three months from today? We’ll find out, but barring a setback, it should be somewhat encouraging.