November 2009

Brandon Morrow and Shawn Kelley?

Those are two players SI.com’s Jon Heyman hears the Tigers wanted from the Mariners during their trade discussions for Edwin Jackson, a desire which the Mariners apparently didn’t like.

The Tigers aren’t talking on their trade discussions, but given their history and the fact that the Tigers are looking for young pitching and young players, such a package has logic. Morrow went one pick ahead of Andrew Miller in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, and the Tigers were believed to have interest if he fell. As it was, they didn’t decide on Miller until the last minute. With the power fastball, he fits the profile of the Tigers’ ideal pitching target, someone with good stuff who needs work after a disappointing season. He also won’t hit arbitration until next winter.

Kelley has closing experience in the minors and had a better second half in his rookie season than his first half. Detroit has no shortage of relief prospects, but Kelley is ready now.

Ramirez to replace Granderson? Probably not

The continued trade interest in Curtis Granderson raises the question of who would replace him in center field. But contrary to published speculation, Wilkin Ramirez isn’t the answer.

From a pure athletic standpoint, Ramirez might be the closest Detroit has to Granderson that’s Major League ready. He was arguably Detroit’s fastest player as a spot player over the summer and late-season pinch-runner. His power potential is big, to the point that he would project more for an RBI producer.

He is not, however, a center fielder. He never has been, save for two games in center at Triple-A Toledo this past season and some time there in winter ball for Licey this offseason. The Tigers considered moving him to center in the lower levels of the farm system once they determined he was not a third baseman, but team officials felt he was a better fit in left field, where he made 11 errors in 95 games this year. The physical tools are there, but his instincts are a work in progress.

So if not Ramirez, then who? Ryan Raburn was Granderson’s backup in center for most of the year, and started there on a few occasions when Granderson had a game off, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a full-time center fielder. Clete Thomas was a regular in center at Erie and Toledo in 2007 and ’08, and maybe could fit in a platoon, but he was overmatched at the plate down the stretch this year. Prospect Casper Wells has the ability to play center field in the big leagues, according to some, and he definitely has the desire. Whether he could do it every day is another question; he would have to prove himself to the Tigers to do it.

Ideally, a Granderson trade would bring back a center-field prospect in return, but given the teams with reported interest, that doesn’t appear likely.

The other option would be to add a veteran center fielder, maybe someone like Mike Cameron, with whom the Tigers were linked in trade talk last summer as someone to play CF against lefties. That, however, would beg the question: If a Granderson trade frees up money to fill other needs, what good is it if you have to spend money to replace Granderson?

Let the debate over Tram and Lou resume

Back from Thanksgiving break to find that the Hall of Fame ballot is out, and the debate over who deserves to get in. If you’re among the many Tiger fans who see Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker as deserving Hall of Famers who haven’t gotten a fair shake — or in Whitaker’s case, didn’t get a good look at all in his lone year on the ballot — you have company.

Joe Posnanski blogged over the weekend about a small group of players who received 15-20 votes in their only year on the ballot — enough to claim a group of support, but not enough to make it to next year’s voting. Lou Whitaker not only leads Posnanski’s list, but draws comparisons to Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. Fittingly, if you go to Whitaker’s page on baseball-reference.com, it lists Ryne Sandberg as his most similar player. It’s a good read, and not just for the Whitaker discussion.

While Keith Law doesn’t yet have a Hall of Fame vote, he has his opinions on who’s deserving. He points to Wins Above Replacement as one stat to consider among hitters, and notes that Whitaker is high on the list. In fact, at No. 54, he’s the highest-ranking position player to have been eligible for the Hall and not get in. Among players who are eligible, Law makes his case for Trammell, who isn’t far off on that Wins Above Replacement list at 67th. He sees the situation much like a lot of Tigers fans, that Trammell gets penalized for being in Ripken’s shadow.

A tip of the cap to Mike Hessman

hessman.jpgMike Hessman was a Toledo Mud Hen for five years. He joined the club back when they had a prospect named Curtis Granderson in center field, a slugger named Marcus Thames and a first-base mix of Chris Shelton and Carlos Pena.

Now, Hessman is a free agent at long last, and it appears his time as a Mud Hen is over.

Baseball America’s full list of minor league free agents is out, and while the Tigers don’t have a lot of them, they include some familiar faces. Brent Clevlen is one, and with a full outfield of prospects ready to come up from Double-A Erie, Clevlen’s Toledo tenure is likely at an end as well. He spent three years with the Hens, but could never quite seem to strike the balance between hitting for contact and hitting for power.

Macay McBride is also a free agent, though his baseball future seems to be in question. His injuries haven’t allowed him to pitch in a game since he left the Mud Hens season opener in 2008 after one inning.

But make no mistake, the biggest name heading out of Toledo is Hessman, whose 140 home runs as a Mud Hens are easily a franchise record. By comparison, nobody in Detroit this year has that many homers as a Tiger. He’s a familar, welcome face for many fans at Fifth Third Field, and he’ll be missed.

hessman2.jpgStill, this is a bittersweet parting, because it finally gives Hessman the chance to find a better opportunity elsewhere. There was talk last winter of an opportunity to play in Japan, but with Hessman on Detroit’s 40-man roster, that wasn’t going to happen. No idea whether that’s still a possibility, but if it is, it can be a lucrative one. Many Triple-A veterans make more money playing overseas or in Mexico.

If Hessman ends up staying in the States, he can look for an organization that might give him a better chance at a call-up to the Majors, even in just a spot role. He didn’t get any time in Detroit this year after the Tigers outrighted him out of spring training.

Hoping for the best for him. He’s a good guy and he deserves to see what opportunities he can get. Whatever happens, it’ll be odd going to Toledo and not seeing him there.

Here’s the full list of Tigers minor league free agents:

RHPs Nate Bump, Ruddy Lugo, Patrick Stanley
LHPs Ryan Ketchner, Macay McBride, Kris Regas, Jason Waddell
C Dane Sardinha
IF Mike Hessman
OFs Brent Clevlen, Jeramy Laster, Maiko Loyola

Nothing going on with Tigers, Smoltz

Once again, John Smoltz is on the open market, and questions of a return home to Michigan naturally follow. Again, however, that doesn’t appear to be happening.

While several teams have expressed interest in Smoltz, including some clubs examining him as a closer, the Tigers aren’t one of them. They’ve been in touch with agent Keith Grunewald, but those talks are in regards to shortstop Adam Everett.

The Tigers had some interest in Smoltz last offseason, but weren’t going to outbid the Red Sox, who signed him to an incentive-laden one-year deal for the chance to start in Boston by summer. He struggled with the Sox and was released in August, but found some success again in the National League with the Cardinals down the stretch.

Leyland places 6th in AL Manager of the Year voting

Jim Leyland received two third-place votes out of 28 ballots for American League Manager of the Year from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Angels skipper Mike Scioscia, for whom Leyland has been outspoken in admiration, won the award with 15 first-place votes. Minnesota’s Ron Gardenhire was the runner-up, following by World Series champion Joe Girardi, Seattle’s Don Wakamatsu and Texas’ Ron Washington.

Highlights from Ernie Harwell interview

Honestly, there were more highlights from Ernie Harwell’s lengthy interview with Bob Costas for the hour-long Studio 42 show than I have room to describe. Some were included in the preview article from last week. Still, it’s worth finding room to mention quite a few, especially those that would be pertinent for Tigers fans.

On his situation: “This will be my last World Series, I think. Back in July, the doctors gave me six months to live, give or take a
few months. I’m hoping to reach my birthday on Jan. 25, but I’m pretty
sure I won’t make the baseball season. But you never know, as the Lord works wonders.”

When Costas remarked at how healthy Harwell looked, that he didn’t look like he was dying, Harwell cited something he heard from former Michigan governor George Romney: “I want to die healthy.” Then he added, “And it looks like I’ll die pretty healthy.”

On his relationship with Tigers fans and the affection they have for him: “I do feel like those poeple out there were my friends, and I hope I was their friend, because it is a unique association that you have with your listener. I really appreciate the fact that they take an interest in me. I don’t know if I deserve that, but all I tried to do was just be myself. I wanted to broadcast the game that I thought I would like to hear as a listener. And I tried to give the score as often as I could. That was my main concern, and then let the play take over. And of course you can’t just say ball one, strike one. You have to fill in and usually I did with anecdotes or historical information that maybe nobody came up with and let the chips fall where they may. There’s going to be some people who like you and some people who don’t like you, and you have to accept that starting out.”

He was pretty revealing on Bo Schembechler, the Michigan football coach turned Tigers president. On the decision to let him go after the 1992 season, he admitted maybe he didn’t like Schembechler for it, but that he got over it.

“I knew that everybody could be replaced. Nobody lasts forever. And if you work for somebody, he’s certainly got the privilege and the right to fire you. It was certainly a blow to me, but I think in the long run, it’s probably the best thing that happened to my career, because it brought some undue attention toward me and caused quite a commotion around Michigan and Detroit. I recovered. Mr. Mike Ilitch bought the team and within a year I was back broadcasting for the Tigers. It was something that I had to accept. Once again I leaned on my faith and I knew for some reason this was happening and it would eventually work out for the best.”

On whether Schembechler ever came up and apologized to him, or talked to him about it: “No, he never did, but I forgave him. It’s in the past. He was a great football coach. I had a lot of admiration for him. I never had any problems with him. It’s just they felt they were going in a ‘new direction.’”

On his long-lost call of The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, which was overshadowed by Russ Hodges’ radio call: “Russ Hodges and I were the two announcers, and we alternated between radio and TV. And on that particular day, Oct. 3, it turned out that I was going to be on TV. And I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be a lot better assignment than poor old Russ with those five radio broadcasts. He’ll sort of get lost, and I’m on coast to coast by myself on NBC, the first sports series ever telecast coast to coast. This is a big moment. And sure enough, it happened and Russ made that great call. I was on TV when [Bobby] Thomson hit the home run. I just said It’s gone and [Andy] Pafko watched it go into the row of the seats for the home run that won the pennant.

“There was no record of my voice at all. People didn’t record things in those days, and of course, Russ was recorded. The sponsor Chesterfield got out a record, it became the greatest sports broadcast of all time. And only Mrs. Harwell and I know I was on that afternoon.”

Nonetheless, he called that one of his two greatest moments to call in his career. The other was Jim Northrup’s triple in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series.

On his move to Detroit to broadcast for the Tigers: “It’s probably the best move I ever made, because the people of Michigan have really been super. They’re great fans. It’s an original franchise. They know their baseball. They have a great passion for it that and other sports, too. It goes generation to generation People that used to come to Briggs Stadium and then Tiger Stadium and then Comerica Park. They hand it down from generation to generation.”

On growing up in the south and then breaking into the Major Leagues broadcasting Dodgers games and Jackie Robinson: “I think what tempered my feelings even before I got to Brooklyn was that, when I was with the Marines, I saw that the African Americans were just as good as the white people in whatever they did. I really had a feeling of comfort when I went up there about the racial issue. It didn’t bother me at all. It was a little strange because I’d never seen a black man play against white competition, but it was there, and I accepted it. And Jackie became a very good friend of mine. I played cards with him, played golf with him, rode the train with him. It was the most exciting, most eventful thing I think that’s happened in sports history, the breaking of the color line by Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.”

He closed out the interview by reciting his speech from his Hall of Fame induction, by memory, word for word. Amazing.

Reminder: Harwell interview on MLB Network tonight

Just a reminder that MLB Network will be airing the Bob Costas interview with Ernie Harwell on Inside Studio 42 tonight at 8pm ET. It looks like a very good piece, likely to tug at the heart again. If you miss it, it'll air again tonight at 11pm ET.

Verlander places third in AL Cy Young voting

Justin Verlander wasn’t expected to win the AL Cy Young award, but his 19 wins and 269 votes presented a strong case. He got one first-place vote, but finished third behind Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez. He beat out CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay. Halladay actually got more votes, but they were all for third place, and Verlander’s first-place nod and nine third-place votes outpointed him.

Verlander’s the first AL pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2002 to lead the league in two of the three pitching triple crown categories and not win the Cy Young, but Greinke’s performance was going to be tough to top, even with playing on a contender. As it is, third place is the best showing by a Tiger in Cy Young balloting since Willie Hernandez won it in 1984.

Porcello edged out in AL Rookie balloting

Rick Porcello finished third in AL Rookie of the Year balloting, just released. A’s closer Andrew Bailey earned 13 of the 28 first-place votes. Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus finished second.

Porcello received seven first-place votes, eight votes for second place and five votes for third. He was left off of eight writers ballots. But then, even Bailey was left off of four.

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