November 2009

Putz and the Tigers, revisited

putz.jpgJason Beck / MLB.com

While Fernando Rodney filed for free agency and Brandon Lyon weighs his options on the open market, the Tigers might well be gaining another option at closer once the Mets make their expected decision to decline now that the Mets formally declined the 2010 option on J.J. Putz.

A year ago, the Tigers were deep in talks with the Mariners for Putz, then Seattle’s closer but on the trading block. A deal with Detroit was supposed to be the dream situation for Putz, the Trenton, Mich. native who pitched at the University of Michigan. But the M’s reportedly wanted both Matt Joyce and Jeff Larish as part of a return package, while the Tigers would only offer Joyce. That opened the door for the Mets to snag Putz in a three-way trade that the Indians helped facilitate to help keep Putz out of the division.

It’s a way different situation now, of course, and Putz as a free agent is just part of it. The Tigers, spurned by Seattle, sent Joyce to the Rays for Edwin Jackson. Putz battled elbow problems all year en route to a disappointing season as a setup man for Francisco Rodriguez.

The Tigers aren’t looking for a high-priced closer, but after two years of injury concerns, Putz has the chance to be more of a low-risk, high-reward signing. On Putz’s side, it’s believed he would not only enjoy a chance to pitch for his hometown team, but welcome the chance to close again. It could be quite a match.

For now, it’s just theoretical. Putz hasn’t filed for free agency yet, and once he does, the Tigers can only talk interest and not contract terms with him until Nov. 20.

On a side note, looking back at the Putz trade, the Mariners had by far the best of that deal thanks to a player who was little more than a side mention in the deal. Franklin Gutierrez went from Cleveland to Seattle, got a full-time job in the M’s outfield and proceeded to set career highs with a .283 average, 18 homers, 70 RBIs and 16 stolen bases while playing stellar defense in center.

Tigers part ways with Thames, Treanor

Marcus Thames’ Tigers tenure is likely over. The team removed him from the 40-man roster Friday, the first step towards making the slugging outfielder a free agent.

The move was part of the Tigers’ maneuverings to prepare their 40-man roster. Catcher Matt Treanor also was taken off the roster and will become a free agent. The moves free up spots for Reliever Joel Zumaya and infielder Jeff Larish both of whom were reinstated from the 60-day disabled list as required.

Infield prospect Michael Hollimon also was taken off the DL, but he was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo. Pitching prospect Jay Sborz, who would’ve been a minor league free agent, was added to the 40-man roster.

Thames was eligible for arbitration and was thus expected to be non-tendered this offseason. From that standpoint, Friday’s move makes him a free agent sooner than he would’ve been had the Tigers waited until the December deadline to offer a contract. Nonetheless, it likely ends a career that included several big home runs and torrid stretches in the Tigers lineup, though never culminating in the everyday role he would’ve liked.

Five Tigers file for free agency

As the veteran Tigers scribe Jim Hawkins likes to say, no sense waiting (yes, I recycled that line from my Twitter account, @beckjason). Five Tigers — Adam Everett, Aubrey Huff, Placido Polanco, Fernando Rodney and Jarrod Washburn — filed for free agency Thursday, the first day players could do so. The only Tiger eligible for free agency who didn’t file Thursday was Brandon Lyon, and that’s more of a formality. His agent and the Tigers haven’t talked yet. Look for a free-agent roundup on the site tonight.

The Tigers have exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents through Thursday, Nov. 20. While those players can talk with other teams, they technically can’t talk contract terms or exchange offers, though agents seem to get around the contract terms part. Starting Nov. 21, it’s a free-for-all.

Also, the Elias rankings that determine compensation for free agents came out today. Polanco qualified for Type A status, meaning the Tigers would receive at least a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft, and possibly a first-round pick as well, if they offer him arbitration and he signs somewhere else. That leaves the Tigers with a decision to make whether they offer him arbitration, and I’m not sure the Tigers won’t take a chance and offer it. After all, if he accepts it, the Tigers have him for one year.

Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon both qualified for Type B status. If the Tigers offered them arbitration, they’d get a draft pick after the second round if they signed elsewhere.

Porcello named Tigers Rookie of the Year

In case you missed it (sorry, but blog program wasn’t working earlier today), Rick Porcello won the Tigers Rookie of the Year award today. It wasn’t really a surprise, but it was another moment to appreciate what he did this year after he surprised a lot of people by making the rotation out of spring training in the first place.

As reported many times already, Porcello is just the fourth pitcher since 1970 to put up a 14-win season before his 21st birthday, the last being Doc Gooden. What stood out to me, though, was the way he adjusted his game after a midseason slump and thrived down the stretch for it. He went 5-2 with a 3.07 ERA over his final 13 starts, allowing just 66 hits over 73 1/3 innings. Just 18 of those hits went for extra bases. He lost only one of his final eight starts, and his 5 2/3 innings with eight strikeouts in the AL Central tiebreaker gave Detroit a shot at winning the division before falling in extra innings.

Want to know what else was impressive about that stretch? Look at his ground ball to fly ball ratio. He had one of highest ground-ball rates in the American League for the season, but he was close to even for the final two months. He went from throwing sinker after sinker to mixing in more four-seam fastballs down the stretch, partly at catcher Gerald Laird’s suggestion, and batters popped them up.

Did the Tigers manage him well? Sure, and they deserve credit for it, especially pitching coach Rick Knapp. But this kid worked well with Laird and made adjustments, and he showed an aptitude well ahead of his time. He probably won’t get the credit he deserves for that when AL Rookie of the Year voting comes out next week — too bad, because the Tigers would’ve lost the division before Game 163 without him — but it’s going to be fun to look at this season’s AL rookie crop in a few years and see where Porcello stands.

Bill James predicts 22 HRs for Raburn

Jason Beck / MLB.com

So what happens every November, right around the time that the Bill James Handbook comes out, is that they send out an email to writers detailing what they project for the next season from certain players on their team. Generally, it’s a look at last season’s stats and a projection whether the player will build on those numbers or regress.

This year’s version is out, and the projections include a 22-homer season in 439 at-bats from Ryan Raburn, But as Bill James admitted in the email, they can’t predict or project playing time.

The projection on Raburn includes a .276 average, 73 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. What interested me, though, were projections for some of the hitters. Curtis Granderson, under their scenario, would bat .275 with 27 homers, 76 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and an .844 OPS — keeping a lot of his home-run power while still getting a bounceback on batting average. Magglio Ordonez is projected to bat .311 with 17 HRs and 84 RBIs.

On the pitching side, Rick Porcello would get a bit of a sophomore slump, going 10-11 with a 4.25 ERA in 195 innings.

Washburn would like to return to Seattle

MLB.com Mariners reporter Jim Street caught up with likely former Tigers pitcher Jarrod Washburn, who should be healthy next spring after having his knee cleaned out last month. That said, even a healthy Washburn seems unlikely to return to Detroit.

As many expected, Washburn sounded like someone who would very much like to return to Seattle, where he credits his success for the first half of this past season and the clubhouse atmosphere with pulling him away from a possible retirement.

“We had a lot of fun and the coaching staff made it a much more
pleasant working environment,” he said. “You looked forward to coming
to work.”

On the July 31 trade to Detroit, Washburn said he had mixed feelings.

“Going to a first-place team was nice,” he said, “but I was leaving a group of players that I loved. It was both good and bad.”

Return of the Inbox

For better or for worse — no, really, it is for the better — I’m bringing back the Inbox feature for the offseason. You might remember it as the Mailbag.

By now, you all know the deal with these: I can’t guarantee that a question is going to get into the story. In fact, given the ratio of questions submitted to space available for the story, it’s safe to say that most questions won’t make it. The better the question, and generally the more specific the question, the better the chance of getting answered.

You can email your question here, or click the link at the bottom of this post. Please include your first name, last initial, and your hometown. If you decide to email me directly, please be sure to include “Inbox” in the subject line. That’ll save a lot of hassle.

Click here to send an inbox question.

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