December 2009

Minor league managerial search continues

The Tigers won’t just be looking for players at the upcoming winter meetings. They could well be looking for a Double-A manager as well.

Detroit’s search for a replacement for Tom Brookens has extended a little longer than many would’ve expected since Brookens was hired in October. No deal is close, and at this point, the Tigers appear willing to look at people from outside the organization.

It deserves mentioning that the Double-A coaching staff is vitually important. It’s a huge step in the developmental ladder for players coming through the farm system, and with the prospects on track to come through Erie in the next couple years, it’s vital. The Tigers have had good people in that regard with Brookens for the last couple years and Matt Walbeck before him.

Detroit shows interest in Crosby

Could there be a Crosby sighting in Detroit? No, not that Crosby; this is baseball, after all.

The player in question is Bobby Crosby, the former A’s shortstop who could emerge as an alternative to Adam Everett if the Tigers need one. An industry source confirmed that the Tigers have had discussions on Crosby, including talks with his agent, Paul Cohen. Interest appears to be mutual.

Like Everett a year ago, Crosby is hitting free agency coming off an injury-shortened season in which he did not end the year as a starting shortstop. Cohen told Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports earlier this week that landing in the right spot could jump-start things for the former American League Rookie of the Year, who has his 30th birthday coming up next month.

Cohen told Yahoo that about a half-dozen teams were showing interest in Crosby. That was before the Red Sox reached an agreement with Marco Scutaro to take over at shortstop.

Various published reports have linked interest in Crosby to the Rangers, Rockies and Pirates.

It’s believed that at least three clubs interested in Crosby have potential openings at shortstop. The Tigers would be one, having used Everett along with Ramon Santiago this past season. Others would be interested in him as a utility infielder.

Crosby played in 97 games for the A’s this past season, but made just two starts at shortstop behind Orlando Cabrera and Cliff Pennington. With just 272 plate appearances, Crosby batted .223 with 10 doubles, six home runs and 29 RBIs. He played a full season at short in Oakland in 2008, compiling a .972 fielding percentage with 17 errors in 144 starts while turning 99 double plays.

Crosby batted .237 that year with a career-high 39 doubles to go with seven homers, 61 RBIs and seven stolen bases.

The Tigers maintain interest in Everett, but news has been slow on that front. The Red Sox reportedly had been in touch with Everett’s agent, but again, that was before they reached agreement with Scutaro.

Whether it’s Everett, Crosby or someone else, via free agency or trade, the Tigers have to add a shortstop this offseason. Their current roster includes Santiago and prospects Brent Dlugach and Audy Ciriaco. Tigers officials have not viewed Santiago as an everyday player, and for now, they haven’t looked at Dlugach as ready quite yet.

Moreover, adding another shortstop would allow the Tigers to use Santiago as protection at second base if prospect Scott Sizemore has a setback from his ankle injury or otherwise struggles in the spring.

Clearing up Wilkin's situation

Just wanted to clear up the situation with Wilkin Ramirez, who was suggested in some published circles this week as a potential successor to Curtis Granderson in center field even though he played just two games this summer in center and a little bit of winter ball.

The winter ball assignment with Licey of the Dominican League came with a preference from the Tigers that he get some time in center field. However, it was more of an exploratory move than anything with a set plan, and it wasn’t full time.

“We were hoping for him to get a chance to play center field,” Tigers player development director. “He’s such an athlete. I don’t know what’s the next step.”

Ramirez was playing regularly in the early stages of the Dominican season, but he has been in more of a late inning or reserve role lately. That isn’t a surprise. A lot of winter ball teams in the Dominican rely on younger players early on until more established players join in later. By playoff time in January, the rosters tend to include some bigger-name Dominican players.

There’s a roster flexibility advantage for the Tigers if Ramirez can eventually play or fill in at all three outfield spots. He should have the athleticism to do it, but the question is whether he has the instincts.

Polanco's 3-year deal and arbitration

Placido Polanco’s three-year, $18 million contract with the Phillies marks the second time in as many year that a Tigers free-agent infielder has signed a multi-year deal after Detroit declined to offer arbitration. Both Polanco and Edgar Renteria were Type A free agents, meaning Detroit would’ve gotten two draft picks each had they offered arbitration and the free agents had turned it down.

How negotiations unfolded proves interesting. By all accounts, interest in Polanco picked up a couple days ago once the Tigers declined to offer him arbitration. However, MLB.com’s Phillies writer, Todd Zolecki, wrote that the Phillies and Polanco were in serious discussions beforehand:

It appeared the Phillies and Polanco’s representatives were in serious
discussions before the Tigers decided not to offer Polanco salary
arbitration before Tuesday’s 11:59 p.m. ET deadline. The fact that
Philadelphia will not have to forfeit its first-round pick in the 2010
First-Year Player Draft to sign him must have made him even more
attractive to the team.

Would Philly have moved in on him so quickily if it had to give up a draft pick to sign him? Not sure, but it’s difficult to envision the Red Sox and Astros, among other clubs, moving on him if they had to.

There was a definite feeling leading up to Tuesday’s deadline that an arbitration offer would’ve hurt Polanco’s market value. There were also strong indications that Polanco probably would’ve accepted the offer and gone to arbitration looking for a one-year salary on par with some of the bigger contracts for second basemen out there. He would’ve almost surely received a bigger salary than the $6 million he’ll average per year in Philly, possibly much bigger, and he would’ve been back on the market next winter at age 35.

The Tigers could’ve called his bluff if they thought that’s what it was. But given their payroll and their needs left to fill, they couldn’t have afforded a big salary — had they lost an arbitration case — at a position where they already felt they had a replacement ready.

Baseball America: Tigers farm system in bottom half

It’s a familiar refrain over the last couple years since the Miguel Cabrera trade, but given the coming need for prospects, it’s worth a mention. Baseball America’s John Manuel wrote a piece for SI.com ranking the best and worst farm systems, and while he didn’t assign a specific number to the Tigers, he ranked them in the 16-25 range. It wasn’t among the five worst — that belongs to the Astros, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks and Nationals — but it wasn’t in the top half, either.

“Top arms are green, and organization overall lacks athleticism.”

Ouch, moreso about the latter than the former. Given the Tigers’ well-known struggles developing position prospects, however, it isn’t necessarily a surprise, Wilkin Ramirez and Casper Wells aside.

Look for more tomorrow on tigers.com on how the Tigers farm system factors into their dealings.

Zumaya update: Rehab basically done

I know every rehab update on Joel Zumaya has to be taken cautiously, since another injury could be ahead. But even with that in the mind, the news coming from the Tigers is surprisingly good.

Zumaya, who had season-ending surgery this past summer to remove a bone shard from the stress fracture in his right shoulder, has progressed well enough throwingwise that he basically will be working out normally for the rest of the offseason rather than just rehabbing.

That doesn’t mean he’ll have a normal throwing program the rest of the winter, but for the first time in a few years, he gets to focus part of his offseason on strength and conditioning.

“Everything went well,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. “He did a prethrowing program and then played catch up to 90 feet. As a result, we’re at a point where we’ve assimilated him into the normal strength and conditioning program.”

He’ll pick up his throwing program again once he reports to Spring Training early. That part isn’t new, but the fact that he finished up most of his rehab program early — it began late in the season, after all — is perceived as a good development.

That doesn’t mean he’s all clear and counted on to be a big part of the Tigers bullpen just yet. He has to prove he can stay healthy. It would be a surprise if his health impacted the Tigers’ dealings, at least at this point of the offseason. Still, this is better than most years.

Still nothing tying Tigers to Putz

There’s interest building among teams with free-agent reliever J.J. Putz, according to reports. The Phillies, Pirates and Astros are among the clubs that have inquired about him, according to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick. But while the Tigers have been listed among teams that could fit as the offseason rolls along, there have been no discussions as of earlier this week.

Polanco could've made a cash grab

Talked with Dave Dombrowski this afternoon about their decisions on arbitration to free agents, and his remarks echoed the sentiments that were out there. While Dombrowski isn’t bidding farewell to Polanco and plans to keep in touch with his agents, the Levinson brothers, he indicated there was a real chance — maybe more than a chance — that Polanco might have accepted an arbitration offer and gone to a hearing.

Good deal, right? The Tigers would get Polanco on a one-year contract.

Actually, it’s not that simple.

The risk, Dombrowski said, was that Polanco would go to a hearing and ask for more money than the Tigers would be comfortable doing. It sounds unlikely in this market until you consider long-term contracts last winter for other All-Star second basemen, such as Brian Roberts ($10 million per year) and Dustin Pedroia (6 years, $40.5 million, including $31 million over the final three seasons). They also could’ve used other free-agent infielders as a reference point.

No fault in doing so; I just wanted to use the term “cash grab” in a headline.

As it is, Polanco instantly becomes a hotter commodity on the market now that teams don’t have to give up a first- or second-round Draft pick for him.

The relievers, Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon, were a different story. Dombrowski essentially confirmed what others such as agent Barry Meister have suggested, that Rodney and Lyon are looking for multi-year deals and stand a decent chance to get them.

“I would be very surprised if either of them accepted [arbitration],” Dombrowski said.

That said, interestingly, Dombrowski didn’t write off Detroit’s chances of re-signing them, either. He’ll keep in touch with their agents — Rodney is also a Levinson client — and see where it goes. Even as Meister fully expects to get a multi-year deal for Lyon, he said there’s mutual interest from the two parties in re-signing.

Could the Tigers be open to a multi-year contract to keep a reliever? I don’t think you can write that off quite yet. But they might have to clear some payroll space to do it.

Rodney, Lyon offered arbitration, Rodney not

The Tigers decided to offer arbitration to Type B free agent relievers Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon, but not to Type A free agent Placido Polanco.

The announcement ahead of Tuesday night’s midnight ET deadline sets the stage for the Tigers to receive compensation picks in next year’s First-Year Player Draft if Rodney and/or Lyon sign elsewhere, but nothing in exchange for Polanco.

Though the Tigers had to be tempted by the potential for two compensation picks, there was a logical chance Polanco would have considered arbitration if offered. While a multi-year deal is obviously a huge appeal for the 34-year-old second baseman, arbitration would’ve almost surely hurt his value on the market. Any other team would’ve had to give up a first- or second-round Draft pick to sign him, and that would’ve slowed the market on him. The other pick would’ve been sandwiched between the first and second rounds.

Moreover, the one-year salary Polanco could’ve earned in arbitration could have been very tempting. Polanco earned $4.6 million in each of his four full seasons in Detroit as part of an extension he signed in 2005, but contracts signed last offseason for such All-Star second basemen as Boston’s Dustin Pedroia and Baltimore’s Brian Roberts have come at much larger salaries.

The Tigers are prepared to promote Scott Sizemore, their Minor League Player of the Year, to second base. Sizemore underwent surgery in October after breaking his ankle while playing in the Arizona Fall League, but he’s projected to be ready for the start of Spring Training. The Tigers are still free to negotiate with Polanco’s representatives and try to re-sign him.

The risk is far less on Lyon and Rodney, since any other team that signs them won’t have to give up a draft pick. The compensation picks on them would come at the end of the second round.

Both Rodney and Lyon are looking for multi-year deals and attracting interest along those lines, even in a relief market that can be unpredictable.

Rodney and Lyon have six days to accept or reject arbitration. Given their situations, they’ll likely to reject the offers. That won’t necessarily close off the Tigers’ interest, but it sets the challenge of multi-year offers, something that could require the Tigers to do some of their much-rumored maneuvering to free up payroll.

Lyon’s agent, Barry Meister, indicated he has stayed in touch with the Tigers, though talks won’t likely progress until teams and agents gather in Indianapolis next week for baseball’s Winter Meetings.

“We’ve each expressed mutual interest,” Meister said. “Well have a chance to sit down with them and talk about him at the Winter Meetings.”

Detroit’s last compensation pick was a first-round sandwich selection for reliever Jamie Walker, who signed quickly with the Orioles following the 2006 season before the Tigers had to decide on arbitration.

Detroit’s other three free agents this offseason — Adam Everett, Aubrey Huff and Jarrod Washburn — were not offered arbitration. They didn’t qualify as Type A or B free agents, so they wouldn’t have brought any compensation picks in return

My guesses on arbitration

Everyone else seems to be playing the guessing game on which free agents the Tigers will offer arbitration, so I figure I might as well chip in with my two cents before the news comes out later today. As much of a financial hit as it could be for the Tigers if Placido Polanco accepted arbitration, I’m just not sure that it’s enough to justify passing up on a sandwich pick in next year’s draft and possibly a first-rounder if Polanco signs elsewhere. Polanco is at the point where multi-year security looks better than a one-year deal, and I’m not sure his chances at that become much clearer in six days. If there’s a concerted drive for the Tigers to bring in more young talent, this might be the simplest way they can do it this winter, so long as they believe Polanco wouldn’t accept the offer. But then, that’s the big question, isn’t it? In the end, it might still be too much of a risk.

Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney carry much less risk, since any team that signs them wouldn’t have to give up a pick. It’s just a supplemental pick or two after the second round in this case. And if you believe that multi-year contracts are big for both of them, there’s good reason to believe they wouldn’t want it. Everything Lyon’s agent, Barry Meister, has said indicates his client will get a multi-year contract. Rodney should, too, but in his case, he’s hitting free agency off one big year. If he were to accept arbitration off a 37-save season, the payout could be huge. I like Lyon’s chances of being offered arbitration more than that of Rodney, but I’m not sure the Tigers still wouldn’t offer it to Rodney.

In the end, the Tigers might offer Lyon and Rodney, but pass on Polanco. Again, just my opinion. We’ll see what happens.

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