November 2009

Yes, there's still free agency for Tigers

While trade rumors build around the Tigers regarding players they control, their interest in their own free agents hasn’t gone away, at least not for most of them.

The Tigers have had contact with the agents for relievers Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon, second baseman Placido Polanco and shortstop Adam Everett, but those discussions were believed to be preliminary ahead of follow-up talks later.

Meanwhile, president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed to Booth Newspapers that they will not be pursuing free agents Jarrod Washburn and Aubrey Huff, both late-season trade acquisitions for the Tigers this past summer who struggled down the stretch.

Neither was expected to be a Tigers target. Washburn had told reporters last week that he hadn’t heard from the Tigers other than to check on his knee after surgery.

“We called both Jarrod and Aubrey this week and told them we will not be pursuing them,” Dombrowski told Booth Newspapers. “We wished them well.”

Dombrowski said the team had not made such calls to its other four free agents.

The Tigers acquired Washburn from Seattle at the nonwaiver trade deadline July 31, but knee problems hampered him in August and September until the Tigers shut him down for the final couple weeks. He posted a 1-3 record and 7.33 ERA in eight Tigers starts, compared with an 8-6 record and 2.64 ERA in 20 starts for the Mariners.

Huff batted .189 with two homers and 13 RBIs in 40 games for the Tigers after coming over from Baltimore in a mid-August trade. Detroit’s plans to rotate players between designated hitter and the outfield, including Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, essentially sealed Huff’s departure.

The Tigers hold exclusive negotiating rights on their free agents for seven more days. Other teams can talk to them now, and all four have drawn interest, but those teams can’t make contract offers or talk contract terms until next Friday.

By then, the Tigers should have a better idea about any trade talks, where they may lead, and what holes any deals could fill.

All four are expected to seek multi-year contracts, according to industry sources, but that’s no surprise. The Tigers didn’t sign any free agent or arbitration-eligible player to a multi-year contract last year, and aside from possibly Justin Verlander, it remains to be seen whether they would do so now.

Prospect Scott Sizemore has been deemed ready for the big leagues, while relievers Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt could conceivably be ready within a year. Shortstop is a different situation, and barring a trade acquisition, there’s expected to be mutual interest for Everett to return.

Telling comment on Jackson from Brewers GM

By now, you can tell it’s going to be a crazy stretch of reported interest in the Tigers’ trading pieces, and it’s just starting. But Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, in confirming contact with the Tigers on Edwin Jackson, had a telling remark to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on how this could play out:

“Dave’s in charge of that one,” Melvin told the J-S. “They’ll identify which clubs are matches and they’ll call them. He’s looking for young players and young pitchers.”

That’s a little bit more than listening, though not necessarily a quick sale. The youth part isn’t a surprise, of course.

They might’ve had a better match before the Brewers traded J.J. Hardy trade with Minnesota, but the Brewers still have some young pitching. They also have outfielder Corey Hart, in whom the Tigers reportedly had interest in the past.

Add Angels to Granderson suitors

Trade interest in Curtis Granderson is expected to draw teams that already have an established center fielder. That group is now believed to include the Angels.

The Angels have talked with the Tigers about a Granderson trade, according to a report in New York’s Newsday, with the enticement of slotting in Granderson as a corner outfielder alongside Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter and adding a left-handed bat to a lineup that had a lot of right-handed hitters in the middle of the order this past season.

Angels general manager Tony Reagins declined comment to Newsday, much like Tigers officials have been quiet on the Granderson front this week.

Granderson is a friend of Hunter dating back to their days as AL Central rivals in Minnesota, and while Granderson loves center field, he understandably has a lot of respect for Hunter as one of the greats at the position. Granderson has also talked about how much he enjoys Angel Stadium, and the way the stadium plays.

It probably helps that the Angels have seen some of Granderson’s best performances. He’s a .353 (30-for-85) career hitter at Angel Stadium, and his eight home runs in 21 games there are as many as he has hit anywhere other than Detroit.

The Angels have position prospects that could entice the Tigers, including outfielder Chris Pettit. They also have some level of bullpen depth that could provide Detroit with some late-inning help.

Dombrowski: Tigers aren't having a fire sale

As the GM meetings rumor mill began to swirl around the Tigers Wednesday, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski wanted to dispel a notion that popped up.

“We’re not having a fire sale,” he said by phone Wednesday.

He was surprised the question came up, in fact, and he thought it was a rather ridiculous question. Still, given the buzz coming out of the meetings on Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson, it had to be asked.

Others gave no impression of a looming payroll purge, either, so far as they knew. Agents who have talked with the Tigers, too, suggested that wasn’t their understanding, though they didn’t claim to have an intricate knowledge of the team’s plans.

The impression that came out today was that of a team that needs to get creative to look for ways to improve a team that didn’t win the AL Central while having a lot of money tied into untradeable contracts. So they have to look at what the tradeable contracts can get them. One source suggested that after a season like the Tigers had, they could listen to interest on a lot of their players, that the notion of untouchable players was questionable.

So on Jackson and Granderson, and maybe Gerald Laird, maybe even others, they’re going to listen and discuss. If you look at it, they don’t have a whole lot of other players who would attract a nice package in return. But there’s no indication they’re going to move if they don’t like the return.

More on Jackson

When rumors started up last fall about the Tigers potentially trading Magglio Ordonez, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski eventually said that they weren’t looking to trade him. He also said, however, that they would listen on just about any player another club would call him about.

Fast forward to now, with the Tigers reportedly at least listening to interest on Edwin Jackson, and Dombrowski isn’t saying much, which is telling.

“Do not have anything to say about any trade conversations other than to say we have visited with many clubs during the meetings, which is customary,” Dombrowski said in an email Wednesday morning from the GM meetings in Chicago.

He did add, however, that they will have to make some tough decisions this offseason, particularly with the number of free agents they have.

Jackson, an All-Star in the first half of the season before struggling down the stretch, is a tough decision, particularly if trading him can net him from help in return at shortstop or in the bullpen.

That doesn’t mean it’s a payroll decision or a sign of slashing ahead. There’s a difference between cutting payroll and swapping it, particularly if any deal would end up even in salary. There’s also a difference between cutting a salary and selling high on a player.

At this point, Dombrowski said, nothing is close to a deal on anything.

Could Tigers trade Edwin Jackson? Tough decision

The tight payroll the Tigers have to manage is the biggest challenge in their offseason dealings. That much was clear even before the report Tuesday night on Edwin Jackson. How they deal with it, and the difficult decisions it could prompt, will be a huge factor in how the Tigers look in 2010 and beyond, both with free agents and even with players under team control.

So yes, it could even force the Tigers to make a decision on Jackson, whose maturation as a pitcher this past season made him an All-Star before his second-half struggles left the Tigers trying to figure out what to make of the gifted young right-hander.

A report from FOXSports.com suggests the Tigers are at least listening to interest in Jackson, their No. 2 starter this past season and a 13-game winner. While there are no indications any deal is close, it’s at least a reflection of the choices the Tigers have to consider as the offseason unfolds, and what they might have to consider on Jackson regardless of finances.

Like staff ace and 19-game winner Justin Verlander, Jackson is eligible for arbitration and could qualify for free agency in two seasons. The Tigers are expected to talk with Verlander and his agent about a long-term contract this winter. Dombrowski hasn’t commented on that matter, but he said last month that they hope to keep Verlander in a Tigers uniform for a long time.

They’re both young, both coming off impressive seasons, and both in a position to get a hefty raise in arbitration. Several other Tigers are up for arbitration, too, including catcher Gerald Laird, utilityman Ramon Santiago and relievers Zach Miner, Bobby Seay and Joel Zumaya.

Other Tigers under long-term deals will see their salaries rise next year. Magglio Ordonez’s $18 million option was the most publicized situation. Miguel Cabrera’s salary leaps from $15 million to $20 million. Carlos Guillen’s salary jumps from $10 million to $13 million. Nate Robertson goes from $7 million to $10 million. Curtis Granderson gets a $2 million raise to $5.5 million.

Dontrelle Willis’ salary, too, will rise, from $10 million to $12 million.

Those salaries add up to $75 million, with nearly $23 million more going to third baseman Brandon Inge and pitchers Jeremy Bonderman, Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner. The Tigers have a slew of contracts expiring at season’s end to provide relief, but that doesn’t help them deal with payroll this year while Michigan’s economy suggests more tough times ahead.

“We’re all aware that the economy is not the same all over the country,” Dombrowski told FOXSports.com. “We’ve been hit hard in our area.”

Add in at least four free agents the Tigers must replace or re-sign — Fernando Rodney, Brandon Lyon, Placido Polanco and Adam Everett — and the Tigers have a challenge.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Tigers have to make a selloff. Owner Mike Ilitch’s desire to win in baseball is a great financial equalizer, and their willingness to even consider Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman suggests some ability to spend. But with the long-term contracts likely not going anywhere, simply keeping payroll steady could be a tough squeeze mathematically.

With Jackson, too, there’s the question of what to make of his 2009 season. Though he ranked seventh among AL starters with a 3.62 ERA and 214 innings, everyone who followed his season knows his first- and second-half difference. He entered the All-Star break with a 7-4 record and a 2.52 ERA, allowing just 94 hits over 121 2/3 innings with 97 strikeouts and averaging better than 6 2/3 innings per start.

Statistically, he went 6-5 after that, but gave up a 5.07 ERA. 106 hits and 17 home runs in 92 1/3 innings. Stuffwise, he lost movement in his slider and went predominantly to his fastball in some starts down the stretch.  Tweaks in his side sessions between starts made a little difference, but didn’t turn things around.

It was his second straight year with a second-half dropoff after a strong turnaround in 2007, and it left some with a sense of befuddlement and disappointment. The Tigers have to decide what it means in the bigger picture. Even with the dropoff, his ability to eat innings was critical to Leyland’s management of the bullpen.

What can the Tigers get out of Jackson next year? What can the Tigers get for him? Difficult questions.

Tigers would interest Putz

Yes, free agent reliever J.J. Putz confirmed, the Tigers would be a situation that interests him.  But then, a lot of situations would interest him.

“I’d have interest in most teams, including the Tigers,” Putz wrote in an email to MLB.com Tuesday.

In other words, while a homecoming to Michigan might be a good fit for Putz, it wouldn’t be the only fit.

Both Putz and his agent, Craig Landis, said the Tigers have not contacted them. He technically didn’t become a free agent until this past weekend, after the Mets declined to pick up his option for next season. The Mets still hold exclusive negotiating rights with Putz until Nov. 20, though other clubs can call to express interest and talk in non-financial terms.

The intrigue surrounding Putz and Detroit stems from his Michigan upbringing, his college career at the University of Michigan, and the trade discussions the Tigers had with the Mariners last winter before Seattle sent him to the Mets in a three-team trade.

The Tigers moved on, signed Brandon Lyon later in the offseason, and went with Fernando Rodney as their closer out of Spring Training. Rodney and Lyon are both free agents.

The chance to close somewhere is definitely appealing, Putz said, though it isn’t the only situation he’d consider.

“I’d rather be a closer,” Putz wrote, “but I am open to setup jobs, depending on the fit.”

As for how he’s feeling after undergoing surgery in June to remove bone spurs from his throwing elbow, Putz was upbeat.

“My arm feels great! I’ve been throwing and rehabbing with no pain,” he wrote.

Polanco wins second Gold Glove in three years

Detroit+Tigers+v+Los+Angeles+Angels+Anaheim+pJX3WVneAEYl.jpgPlacido Polanco is the Tigers’ lone Gold Glove award winner this year, picking up his second such award in three years and adding another honor to his resume as he hits the free-agent market.

Polanco beat out defending Gold Glove winner Dustin Pedroia for the honor at second base, as voted on by Major League managers and coaches. He becomes the third Tigers infielder to win multiple Gold Gloves, joining the double-play duo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. The Gold Glove awards date back to 1957.

Though he couldn’t duplicate his errorless 2007 season, his error total fell from eight last year to two this past season. Working alongside shortstops Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago, plus with Brandon Inge back at third, Polanco helped turn a career-high 112 double plays. His .997 fielding percentage easily led all AL second basemen, while his 731 total chances and his Range Factor of 5.1 putouts plus assists per nine innings ranked near the top.

The more specialized fielding stats were more favorable on Polanco than one might expect for a middle infielder who turned 34 years old last month. While Polanco ranked lower among AL second basemen on zone rating, a statistic created by STATS Inc. to measure the rate of outs converted in a player’s defensive zone, his ultimate zone rating of 11.4 led all Major League second basemen.

Other Tigers fell short in their Gold Glove bids.  Gerald Laird’s league-leading 42-percent rate of throwing out baserunners couldn’t earn him the nod at catcher over Minnesota’s Joe Mauer. Brandon Inge’s abundance of highlight plays couldn’t overshadow his error totals at third, where Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria captured his first Gold Glove. Curtis Granderson couldn’t crack the AL Gold Glove outfield mix of longtime standards Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki plus newcomer Adam Jones.

(Photo courtesy Getty Images)

More on Brookens: It's about people

One of the things that Jim Leyland pointed out about his new 1B coach, Tom Brookens, was his ability to relate with people, notably with players.

“This guy’s baseball knowledge and his people skills are tremendous,” Leyland said.

I don’t think it’s a chemistry thing with Leyland, but for Brookens, it’s a way of getting his message across.

“I think one of the things that helped me tremendously is I have three young daughters,” Brookens said. “Even though they’re girls — which may be tougher than boys — I can kind of relate to the age bracket that these guys are in. It isn’t like it’s very foreign. And it is important to me, managing and coaching. Fundamentals go to a certain point, and then it’s [about] relating to them, try to get inside the player’s head and have him believe in himself so that he can go out and compete to the best he can.”

Brookens knew the question about being an outfield coach would come up, since he played the outfield for just seven games out of his major league career and he didn’t specifically coach the outfielders in the farm system. But as a minor league manager, he did have to coach them up a bit when roving OF coordinator Gene Roof was elsewhere, and he said he can coach the fundamentals required to be a good outfielder.

“I think handling all those facets in the minor leagues will help me some,” Brookens said. “Certainly my playings days didn’t take me to the outfield much. I know plenty about the fundamentals of the outfield, [such as] footwork, release points, and that’s a lot of what it comes down to, really. I’ve always considered myself a good baserunner. I don’t foresee any real problems with any of those.”

Brookens also noted the irony of getting the call from Leyland that he got the job. Leyland was Brookens’ manager at Triple-A Evansville to start the 1979 season, and he was called up to Detroit that year.

“He was actually the one who called me in [and told him the news],” Brookens said. “It’s a little ironic I get a call from him again to say I’m getting the call again to Detroit.”

Brookens got the job over Roof. Mike Rojas, minor league field coordinator, also was considered.

Tigers name Brookens first base coach

brookenserie.jpgFormer Tigers infielder Tom Brookens is headed back to Detroit, this time to join manager Jim Leyland’s coaching staff as the new first-base, outfield and baserunning coach.

The Tigers announced Brookens Monday as their replacement for Andy Van Slyke, who parted ways with the club last month. It’ll be the first big-league coaching job for Brookens, who built his resume managing in the Tigers farm system for the past five years after playing a decade in Detroit.

“Tom Brookens is a quality baseball person that I have known since managing him in the minor leagues,” manager Jim Leyland said in a statement. “He has been a member of the Tigers family for many years and we feel he is a perfect fit for our major league staff.”

Brookens will make the jump from Double-A Erie, where he managed the SeaWolves to a 71-70 this year while working with prospects such as Alex Avila, Scott Sizemore, Casper Wells, Ryan Strieby, Brennan Boesch, Alfredo Figaro, Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt. It marked his second year in Erie after managing Class A West Michigan to a Midwest League championship in 2007.

Brookens began his managerial career in 2005 managing the Tigers’ short-season Class A team in Oneonta, NY.

brookenscard.jpgThat type of resume resonated with Leyland, a longtime manager in the Tigers’ farm system in the 1970 and ’80s who got his chance as a coach with Tony La Russa’s staff on the 1983 White Sox. Leyland has talked frequently about the value of managing in the minors before getting a shot in the big leagues. He also said last month that he would almost surely fill the coaching vacancy from inside the organization.

It was during Leyland’s Minor League days that he got to manage a young Brookens in the late 1970s at Triple-A Evansville.

“I’m really excited about getting the opportunity to join the staff in Detroit,” Brookens said. “It will be fun to be back in the big leagues in a Tigers uniform, and I’m looking forward to working with Jim and the rest of the staff.”

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