December 2009

Granderson fundraiser hoops game still on for Jan. 24

What began as Curtis Granderson’s annual offseason fundraiser has now become his chance to say thank-you and goodbye to his fans in metro Detroit. Before the former Tigers All-Star heads off to Spring Training with the Yankees, he’ll host a collection of local athletes and personalities on the basketball court for his third annual Celebrity Shootout on Sunday, Jan. 24 at 3 p.m. at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Mich.

Proceeds from the event will go to the Grand Kids Foundation, which will continue to try to enhance the lives of students in Michigan’s inner cities and emphasize the importance of education.

Granderson was in the planning stages of the event when he was traded to the Yankees Dec. 9 for Austin Jackson and Phil Coke. He decided to continue on with the fundraiser.

“This will also be an emotional event on a personal level, as it will be somewhat of a goodbye from me to the fans and the city that have supported me so strongly throughout my career so far,” Granderson said in a statement. “I hope that those fans can pack the gym and also raise a lot of money for inner city education in Michigan.”

Granderson will serve as a referee for the game. Detroit Pistons star Ben Gordon and University of Michigan coaching legend Lloyd Carr will serve as coaches.

Among the former local collegiate stars scheduled to attend are former Michigan Fab Five members Jalen Rose and Jimmy King, both of whom currently work as basketball analysts on television. Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard will also be taking part, as will former Michigan State football standout and NFL running back T.J. Duckett plus ex-NBA player Jeff Grayer.

Shootout players on the celebrity side include reigning World Series of Poker champion Joe Cada, a Detroit area native, as well as FSN Detroit anchor/reporter Trevor Thompson, Dateline NBC correspondent Chris Hansen, ESPN personalities Jemele Hill and Dana Jacobson, Biggest Loser season 7 winner Helen Phillips and runner-up Mike Morelli, local traffic reporter Erin Nicole and Fathead.com CEO Pat McInnis.

Tickets cost $30 for adults and $25 for students with a valid student ID, and are available online at grandkidsfoundation.org and curtisgranderson.com. Admission is free for kids ages two and younger.

Phil Nevin set to take over at Erie

The Tigers won’t be announcing their minor league coaching staffs this week, but one big hire is set: Former Tiger Phil Nevin is poised to return to the organization to take over as manager at Double-A Erie.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the story Thursday morning. Nevin was here in Indianapolis for the Winter Meetings.

The 38-year-old Nevin reportedly spent last year managing for the first time in independent ball with the Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League. His first shot in affiliated ball will come in the same organization where he played from 1995 to ’97.

The Tigers acquired Nevin in 1995 from the Astros, who had made him the first overall pick of the 1992 Draft. He was part of the Mike Henneman. Two years ago, Detroit traded him to the Angels along with Matt Walbeck, who was Erie’s skipper in 2006-07 and won Eastern League Manager of the Year honors.

The Erie job opened up when the Tigers promoted Tom Brookens to take over as first-base coach in Detroit. Nevin will make it four consecutive former Tigers to manage the SeaWolves.

Dombrowski explains "adjustments"

No fire-sale terminology, no direct reference to the economy. But in explaining the trade that sent Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson out of Detroit and brought in four young players, Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski conveyed the idea that this was a move that had to be made.

“The reality is, no matter what, we needed to make some adjustments,” Dombrowski said. “In almost any scenario, it’s a necessity. But it’s also one of those where we’re in a very good situation with a quality owner that projects to have a really solid payroll as we go forward. But at some point, adjustments needed to be made, and this was the time to do it for us.”

Part of the necessity, while the Tigers won’t talk about it, comes from the Michigan economy. But the other impetus, which Dombrowski admits, came from a huge payroll over the last two years and contracts that have weighed down the organization.

They were very revealing remarks, and they set up this move as the counterbalance to the trade for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis that came out of the Winter Meetings two years ago in Nashville.

“We made a lot of trades over the recent years where we traded a lot of young players for guys to help our big league club,” Dombrowski said. “The Cabrera deal, we traded six young guys. [For] Sheffield, we traded some. …

“When you come on board, you try to turn a franchise’s philosophies around. The Tigers lost for a lot of years. I don’t think people sometimes realize how difficult that can be to do. When you’re losing, there’s usually reasons behind it. One of the things is that you need to upgrade your talent, and our scouts have done a tremendous job at that. But while you’re upgrading, you don’t have the flow of free agents to help your big league club, so you sign some free agents. We made some trades.

“I know myself the last few years, I think what we’ve done well through our time is bring in young players and develop them and bring them up. We kind of got away from it, because we were just in a position where [we asked] what can we do to get this final piece. And I think that this gives us an opportunity to go back to building like we would like and set the foundation.”

He’s ready to take the criticism for trading the known quantity for the unknown, as he put it. But he’s also ready to take the criticism for some of the contracts they made to try to win now.

“Hey, we made some signings that haven’t worked out for us,” Dombrowski said. “And we’re almost through it. But at the time, people thought they were good signings. And sometimes, when you’re making adjustments, unfortunately, they affect you in a different way. Everybody has bad signings on their books, but we’re in a position where some of it’s due to injury.

“I’ve seen it written: Jeremy Bonderman — bad signing. Jeremy Bonderman was one of the best young pitchers in baseball at the time. Now, there’s others that haven’t worked out as well. But really, what ends up happening is, we’re working through that, too, but we’re one year away from working through it real well. And this sets us up to do it.”

Tigers teammates react to trade

Can’t say what Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera — or Carlos Guillen, for that matter — think of the Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson trade, but got a sampling from a couple current Tigers.

Why does this matter, you ask? Because it matters to manager Jim Leyland.

“I think one of the big keys is how well our veteran players react to this,” Leyland said Wednesday. “If they react the proper way, with a positive attitude and the proper approach, I think this is gonna work out great. I really do.”

Catcher Gerald Laird, himself the subject of trade rumors this offseason, tried to put a good face on it. He talked with his younger brother Brandon, a Yankees prospect, about the talent coming over from New York.

“It’s tough to lose two guys like that, to lose one of your top of the rotation pitchers and your starting center fielder which was a big part of our success and a big face-of-the-franchise type guy with the community and the team,” Laird said. Obviously, it’s a tough trade because they’re two really good guys. But I’m sure Dave [Dombrowski] and the organization have their mind set on a direction they want to go, and I’m sure they’re making decisions they feel is best for the team.”

It’s a direction change Laird wasn’t completely foreseeing when the Tigers lost their AL Central tiebreaker two months ago.

“You look at it and, yeah, we didn’t get to where we wanted, but we felt like we had a really good year,” Laird said. “We felt like we had a really good core of guys. To lose those two guys, that’s when you think, ‘Wow.’ [Granderson] is a big time player, and he’s definitely going to help New York out. He’s a tough player to lose. The guy is a remarkable talent and a remarkable person. But I feel we have a good group of core guys that I think can help us win.

“It’s one of those things where guys are going to step up now. I’m sure Nate’s ready to bounce back and Bondo. I think we’re still going to be a solid rotation, but to lose a guy like [Jackson], it’s definitely tough.”

With the shift towards youth, Laird said, comes some added responsibility.

“It’s going to be up to the veterans to welcome these guys and help them out as much as we can. The better they fit, the better they’re going to be.”

Laird was playing golf when he heard the news.

“I kind of just shook my head and said wow,” he said.

Reliever Zach Miner, now potentially an elder statemen in a young Tigers bullpen, took a pragmatic look at it.

“I think all of us understand the way the business of baseball works,” Miner wrote in an email. “It would be
naive of any of us players to think we would have the same teammates all of our
career, and if management and the coaching staff feel this was necessary to keep our
team moving in the right direction, then we have to trust their judgment.

“That
being said, it will be hard to replace Curtis and Edwin’s production for our
team, and in my opinion impossible to replace Curtis’ leadership in the
clubhouse, on the field, and in the community.”

Granderson/Jackson trade is official

It's a done deal: the Tigers have sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke. The three GMs are scheduled to have a news conference at 4:30 pm. Look for that on MLB.com if you're not by a TV.

Tigers still looking at veteran relievers

Unless the Tigers go with an experimental 10-man bullpen, they’ll have more young relievers than they’ll likely have spots in their bullpen once the agreed-upon trade of Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson becomes official. But that apparently doesn’t rule out the Tigers dealing for a veteran closer.

Quite the opposite, the Tigers would like one, and they’re expanding their search after Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon turned down Detroit’s arbitration offers late Monday night. They remain interested in bringing one of them back, but they’re preparing as if both of them move on.

Whether it’s Lyon, Rodney or someone else, the Tigers are hoping to have a veteran reliever.

“It doesn’t have to be now,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “We didn’t sign Brandon Lyon [last winter] until late January, but ideally we’d like to have somebody [experienced] out there, yes.”

By adding potential future closer Daniel Schlereth from Arizona and lefty Phil Coke from the Yankees, Detroit further bolstered a group of young relievers that Dombrowski already praised for its potential depth. Ryan Perry was already expected to compete for a setup role next spring, while similar hard-throwing righties Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt could crack the big leagues later in the season after getting more seasoning at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo.

Add in lefty Fu-Te Ni, still-young Zach Miner and a potentially healthy Joel Zumaya, and Detroit’s bullpen has the chance to be very deep, very soon. That doesn’t, however, mean that they’re going to take over the late innings completely quite yet.

When asked about an established closer on Monday, Dombrowski suggested the Tigers could go a different route. On Tuesday, Dombrowski confirmed they were talking with more veteran arms, as well as maintaining talks on Rodney and Lyon.

“Both of them were looking for multi-year deals,” Dombrowski said. “They made that clear. We continue to have interest in them, but I’m also sure that they want to explore what’s out there, and that’s what they’re doing. We continue to talk to them and are interested in them.”

Whether the Tigers would be willing to offer a multi-year deal just became an interesting question. A trade of Granderson and Jackson will open up payroll space, giving the Tigers some much-needed flexibility to address needs. However, it also gives Detroit yet another closing option for the very near future.

The rest of the market is an interesting mix of candidates, and the Tigers are exploring. A FOXSports.com report listed Detroit among clubs interested in free agent J.J. Putz, a trade market of the Tigers last year before the Mariners traded their former closer to the Mets. Any interest would be relatively new; Detroit hadn’t so much as talked with Putz’s agent as of last week.

Detroit also was reportedly among a handful of teams with early interest in former Cubs closer Kevin Gregg.

“We did talk to a couple people, yes, once we knew that they were not accepting arbitration for sure,” Dombrowski said. “Now, we continue to have interest in [Rodney and Lyon], but we also have to start doing our homework. In case they go to other places, we have to be prepared.”

Tigers sign Diaz, could be backup over Avila

While the Tigers still aren’t commenting on their blockbuster deal, they did announce a smaller signing Tuesday that should help their depth. They agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with catcher Robinzon Diaz, who is expected to serve as either insurance at Triple-A Toledo or potentially a backup in Detroit out of Spring Training.

Essentially, the Tigers suggested, Diaz will serve as a catching option if team officials decide catching prospect Alex Avila needs more time in the Minor Leagues. To that end, he received an invitation to Major League camp.

“We like him,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “Some of people really like him, a couple of our guys, and think he’s a guy that could possibly compete for a job as a backup catcher in Spring Training. We’re still in the mode where, I’m sure in Spring Training, we’re going to have to sit back and decide which way we want to go with our backup catcher.

“We know who our No. 1 guy is, but does [manager Jim Leyland] want to keep Alex Avila? Has he progressed enough? Will he get enough at-bats? Should we send him out to Triple-A to play? Does this guy fit the hole? But we do feel like he’s got the capabilities to do that.”

Diaz profiles as a catcher with respectable offense for a reserve role, though not the same kind of offense as Avila. The 26-year-old hit .279 in 41 games with the Pirates last season, adding seven doubles to go with a home run and 19 RBIs. He backed that up with a .262 average over 44 games at Triple-A Indianapolis with three homers and 15 RBIs.

Diaz carries a .301 average over eight Minor League seasons.

His credentials, however, will probably be secondary to the question of Avila’s readiness. The 22-year-old closed out his first full professional season by batting .279 (17-for-61) with four doubles, five home runs, 14 RBIs, 10 walks and 18 strikeouts in 29 games as a Tiger, making an immediate impression on club officials. However, Dombrowski cautioned Monday that he couldn’t be expected to hit that well over a full season, that he’ll go through the typical struggles of youth and have to make adjustments.

There’s also the question of how much more work Avila needs behind the plate. He didn’t begin catching until his junior year at the University of Alabama, a couple years before he went to the Tigers in the 2008 Draft.

Granderson, Jackson deal agreed upon … now the wait

The Tigers, Diamondbacks and Yankees have agreed in principle on their trade, sending Curtis Granderson to New York and Edwin Jackson to Arizona. For now, however, the trade is still pending final reviews. Granderson hasn’t yet heard from the Tigers, much like Andrew Miller didn’t hear from the Tigers after he was in the Miguel Cabrera trade. In fact, Granderson hasn’t heard from the Tigers for a while now, which wasn’t a good sign in itself.

I think everybody anticipated the fallout from this deal was going to be big. Judging from what I’m hearing from folks back in Detroit, it’s huge. How that follows over the coming days as the reports and the interviews unfold is going to be very interesting.

Tigers, Everett agree to one-year deal

What had been negotiations on hold for Adam Everett quickly became a deal Monday evening. The two sides agreed to terms on a one-year contract, bringing back the shortstop credited with helping improve Detroit’s infield defense.

The deal came together quickly, just hours after negotiations seemed to be in a holding pattern and Everett was drawing some interest from the Pirates. The Tigers, meanwhile, had been talking with the agent for fellow free-agent shortstop Bobby Crosby.

It was around the first day of last year’s Winter Meetings that the Tigers reached an agreement with Everett, then coming off an injury-shortened campaign with the Twins. He rebounded in 2009 by retaking his role among the better defensive shortstops in baseball.

Everett’s 8.9 Ultimate Zone Rating, a measure of balls hit into a position player’s area that he should get, ranked fourth among Major League shortstops. He committed 14 errors out of 457 total chances over 118 games for a .969 fielding percentage.

Everett’s offense, never his strength, still ended up better than many expected when he signed. He batted .238 with 21 doubles, three home runs and 44 RBIs, while batting .270 with runners in scoring position. He hit .364 (8-for-22) with a runner on third and two out.

Everett’s return, or some sort of veteran shortstop, became all the more important once the Tigers officially lost free agent second baseman Placido Polanco to the Phillies last week.

“Basically, we have our infield back except for the change at second base,” said team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, whose team now will count on rookie Scott Sizemore to take over at second.

Everett will continue to take the bulk of the duty at shortstop, with Ramon Santiago being mixed in.

Interesting setup for winter meetings

For those who view baseball’s winter meetings as a bunch of GMs and team executives talking in a lobby, it isn’t quite that way. It’s a busy lobby, yes, but teams do their business up in their hotel suites and go from room to room. Best to keep things quiet that way.

That isn’t easy at this year’s meetings, though. Unlike previous years, when every team stayed at the same hotel, there are a handful of teams staying at a different hotel than the rest. The Marriott is the center of most of the action, but the Tigers and a few other clubs are at the Westin across the street. For face-to-face business, they have to either come to the Marriott or have another team come to them.

There’s a skywalk, but it doesn’t directly connect the hotels, only going through the large convention center the next block down. The alternative is to step outside into the winter weather and cross the street.

Or they could just do it by phone, which is what happens a lot anyway. Still, it limits part of the dynamic going on.

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