January 2010

Dombrowski on Granderson, leadoff

One of the questions that came out during the morning Q&A session with Dave Dombrowski was the oft-asked question about who will be Detroit’s leadoff hitter. Dombrowski said they don’t have have a traditional leadoff hitter in line for this season, but they didn’t last year, either. That drew some surprised reactions from the crowd. One fan could be heard saying, ‘Wow.’ Dombrowski clarified his remarks as he went along, then rephrased it a bit when talking with reporters later.

Here’s the quote:

“We really didn’t have a leadoff hitter last year, as far as your traditional leadoff numbers. I mean, I’m not taking away anything from Curtis’ performance, but when you look at leadoff numbers, those last year were ones where we scuffled at times, especially versus left-handers. So we didn’t have a traditional, on base percentage, high stolen bases, that type of thing out of that role. We had a guy who hit hte ball with pop in that [role], and very good. So I don’t think we’ll have the traditional leadoff hitter once again. We don’t have that type of guy. I don’t know who we’ll have hitting No. 1 at this point.”

Inge expects to play full games by camp's end

Brandon Inge most likely isn’t going to be at 100 percent strength when Spring Training opens next month. He might not even be able to play much when Spring Training games begin at the start of March.

“Even if I am, I don’t think they would let me start playing games right away,” Inge said.

If he keeps on this rehab track, though, he should be fully ready by the end of camp.

“The initial projection was that I’m playing in full games by the last two weeks of spring,” Inge said. “And I talked to the doctor today, and he said it looks like I’m ahead of schedule.”

That schedule now has him cleared to start doing baseball activities, which is huge news for Inge.

The All-Star third baseman underwent surgery in October to repair torn meniscus in both knees, injuries which hobbled him for the season’s second half and turned a promising start into a helpless finish. The recovery process has been excruciating for him.

A year ago at this time, Inge was working on a revamped swing with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, making the adjustments that set up that fast start. Not only has he not been able to swing, he hasn’t been able to run.

Only now has he been able to do light jogging.

Right after the surgery, Inge said, “I had braces from my ankles all the way up to my thighs. It was two weeks of hell, that’s for sure. And to be able to at least walk around and jog around and do some baseball activities now, that’s exciting.”

The Tigers will be more excited once he’s able to play full games. That’ll be his last hurdle to being ready for Opening Day.

Quotes from Cabrera

As you’ve no doubt read by now, Miguel Cabrera opened up about his alcohol counseling today. He was very conscious about what he wanted to say, enough so that he had somebody serve as an interpreter when there was a question or a phrase he didn’t understand. That’s something I don’t think we’ve seen him do since he came to Detroit two years ago. Here’s a sampling of what he had to say …

“Drinking is a problem. Right now I feel good because I went through [conseling]. Right now I feel I’m a new man.”

On whether it’s a work in progress: “After the season, I worked on that. I’m still working with that. It’s a process.”

On how he feels: “I feel good. I feel great. I have to keep going. I feel like I’m going to be 100 percent. I’m excited.”

On how much of a difference he thinks counseling has made: “A lot. I feel happy. I feel more comfortable. I feel more comfortable with you guys talking. It’s like something in my life happened. I feel great. Right now I feel like it’s going to be a new season, a new life for me. I’m going to be a better dad, a better husband, a better player and better with the fans, too. And with the media, too.”

On how difficult it was to face his problems: “When you have problems, you can’t hide. When you know you don’t do right, you need to do something and ask for help.”

On whether he feels more grown-up : “I feel grown up now. I’m still young. I’m still learning a lot from baseball and from life. So right now, I’m going to take the right steps for life. Right now I feel comfortable with what I’m going to do. That’s why I feel excited. I feel positive for that.”

On being able to open up more: “I have better communication with my family, with my wife. I feel great with my kid, with my daughter. It’s a beautiful life.”

Hold that thought on Phil Coke

I know it was a pretty big story when Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday that lefty Phil Coke would be stretched out and potentially viewed as a contestant for the fifth starter’s spot. But manager Jim Leyland indicated he still sees Coke’s future in relief.

“Personally, I’m looking at him more as a bullpen guy,” Leyland said. “I think we’re going to have enough issues when you talk about Galarraga bouncing back and Bonderman bouncing back and Nate Robertson bouncing back and Dontrelle Willis bouncing back. There’s only so many innings.

“Am I ruling it out? No, I’m not. But you can only give so many innings to so many guys in Spring Training, and the one thing you want to make sure is that you’re getting the guys ready that you know need to be ready.”

That said, he has quite a few relievers, too. And now that he has Jose Valverde at the end of it, he thinks the rest of the bullpen is going to fall into place.

He did not hide his happiness for the Valverde deal.

“Getting a closer was just humongous for us,” Leyland exclaimed. “Now you can kind of work backwards and fill in some holes here and there. Here’s the sixth inning, seventh inning, eighth inning. Now Bonderman comes back, Zumaya comes back. Nate [Robertson] and Willis, you don’t know how that’s going to play out. But with Scherzer, Porcello, Verlander, all of a sudden you look pretty good.”

He also did not hide his hope for another left-handed hitter.

“We’d like to have one,” Leyland said. “It’s just not that easy to find.”

Other Leyland tidbits included his outlook on the catching situation, where Alex Avila’s potential playing time is a looming issue to determine whether or not he sticks with the big club.

“Normally playing time is dictated by performance,” Leyland said. “The better you play, the more you play. We obviously have a pretty solid everyday catcher that was as good defensively last year as anybody in the league but needs to produce a little more offensively. Alex got a little experience — not a whole lot, but some good experience last year.

“I think Gerald put a lot of pressure on himself last year at handling the staff, learning the pitchers. I’m not making excuses for him; but I think he’ll be better offensively this year. I may be wrong, but I believe that. I think last year he really concentrated on getting to know Verlander and the pitchers and make sure he was handling the running game and all those things that he did so well for us. I think he’ll relax a little bit more offensively this year and produce more. We need him to produce some more offensively, there’s no question about that. And he knows that.”

Tigers fifth starter Phil Coke?

It’s starting to sound more like a possibility now.

One of the questions that came up during the conference call announcing the Jose Valverde deal is how the rest of what was already shaping up to be a deep Tigers bullpen will slot with a closer now on board. If Zumaya’s healthy, Dave Dombrowski pointed out, he has a history as a setup man. Ryan Perry and Zach Miner slot in for the middle innings, and Dombrowski obviously likes the depth with their left-handers.

Which brought him to Coke.

“I think he’ll get the ball with a change to lengthen out in the spring,” Dombrowski said, “and get a chance to compete for the fifth spot.”

With that, another names enters the rotation competition with Armando Galarraga, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Eddie Bonine. With the Tigers sounding increasingly confident that Jeremy Bonderman will take the fourth spot in the rotation, it’s looking like a handful of pitchers will compete for one rotation spot.

That should pretty much be the field, because the pitching staff looks pretty much set.

“If we did [make another signing], it would not be a pitcher,” Dombrowski said. “We feel very comfortable with our pitching right now. We have four starters who we think are set.”

Tigers formally announce Valverde deal

The Tigers formally announced their signing of All-Star closer Jose Valverde on Tuesday to a two-year, $14 million contract with a club option for 2012.

Valverde was scheduled to be introduced on a conference call Tuesday morning.

A National League saves leader in two of the past three seasons, Valverde’s 116 saves over the last three years tie him for fourth in the Majors in that span with Jonathan Papelbon, trailing just Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero. The 31-year-old right-hander had 25 saves and 45 games finished last year, but his supporting numbers were basically as strong as usual. He scattered 40 hits over 54 innings, struck out 56 and allowed just five home runs as part of a 2.33 ERA.

The move bolsters a Tigers bullpen that has stockpiled young talent over the past few years, led by Joel Zumaya and Ryan Perry, but lacked a proven option for the ninth inning after losing Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon to free agency. Zumaya, Perry, Bobby Seay and others will now set up for one of the most vaunted closers the Tigers have had in several years.

Valverde has never pitched in the American League. He spent his first five seasons with the Diamondbacks before he was traded to Houston after the 2007 season. His save totals last year suffered in part with the Astros’ slow start, but he went 19-for-19 in saves from July on. In the process, he held opponents to a .206 batting average and .580 OPS while posting a 1.67 ERA.

Ironically, the Tigers were responsible for Valverde’s last blown save. Brandon Inge’s ninth-inning homer off him June 28 at Minute Maid Park sent Detroit to a 4-3 victory.

By signing the Type A free agent, the Tigers give up their first-round pick in this summer’s First-Year Player Draft, the 19th overall selection, to the Astros. It would mark the first time since 1991, after the Tigers signed Rob Deer, that Detroit has given up its first-round Draft pick. However, the Tigers have two compensation picks coming at the end of the first round for losing relievers Rodney and Lyon.

Lyon signed a three-year, $15 million with the Astros last month, while Rodney agreed to a two-year, $11 million contract with the Angels on Christmas Eve. In essence, Detroit swapped Lyon for Valverde with Houston, with the Astros getting a first-round Draft pick and the Tigers getting a sandwich pick.

Dombrowski: We haven't expressed interest

While the Tigers still aren’t saying anything official about a Jose Valverde deal, they’re throwing some cold water on the Johnny Damon market at the moment. Through a team spokesperson, Dombrowski said they have not expressed interest in Damon.

Now, lest anyone forget, Dombrowski said early last week that they were “content with what we have now” in the bullpen without ruling out a move. Earlier this week, he apparently told Jim Bowden that they were focused on the back end of the bullpen. Now, they’re on the verge of adding Valverde.

So, while Dombrowski hasn’t talked with agent Scott Boras about Damon, and they apparently haven’t expressed interest, that’s the situation at the moment.

Closer's in. Now what? Damon?

damon.jpgNow that the Tigers have agreed to terms with closer Jose Valverde, they’re expected to take one more look at upgrading their offense. If they’re going to make an upgrade, it’s most likely going to be in the outfield.If they’re going to go for an outfielder, it’ll be interesting to see if they give a long look at Johnny Damon to fill the one or two spot.

The pending arrival of Valverde had barely settled in when SI.com’s Jon Heyman suggested via Twitter that the Tigers could be “in play” for Damon, then said on MLB Network that the two sides are talking.

While there’s been contact between Damon’s agent, Scott Boras, and the Tigers, a source indicated talk has been preliminary because a closer has been the Tigers’ priority.

Offense now moves up on the list. And we’ll see if Damon’s brand of offense fits the Tigers’ needs well enough for them a take a shot at another veteran in an outfielder that has a couple of them already.

Take age and money out of consideration and go on hitting credentials, and there’s statistically a complement. As Heyman pointed out, Damon has hit up a storm at Comerica Park, batting .363 for his career with a .550 slugging percentage and a .961 OPS.

Keep it in perspective. A lot of those hits came in the first half of his career, including his start with the Royals. But the last three years, when he had only one series a season here, he still hit, going 13-for-40 (.325) with seven runs scored, two homers and five RBIs.

Of greater relevance to the Tigers now might be his fit at or near the top of the order. He batted second almost exclusively last year after spending most of his career in the leadoff spot, and the shift translated well to him.

The home run numbers are relative because of the lefty power-friendly new Yankee Stadium — 17 of his 24 homers came at home — but his 36 doubles were evenly split between home and road. He hit better away from home (.284) than he did in the Bronx (.279), and his average on balls put in play was 50 points higher road than home (.330-.280). He isn’t the same burner he once was on the bases, but he’s smart — 12-for-12 on steal attempts, +18 in Bill James’ baserunning analysis. He has drawn at least 60 walks in 11 of the last 12 years, 71 last season while batting in a stacked lineup.

Whether first or second, an experienced top of the order guy could allow the Tigers to fit in one of their younger players better in the other spot.

His throwing arm, well, evokes memories of Rondell White, which could be a problem in that big of an outfield. His legs still cover ground. He didn’t play center at all last year, so it’s hard to consider him anything more than a spell or a complement for Austin Jackson in center. But he could also be a veteran presence, not that the Tigers don’t have that already with a few guys such as Adam Everett.

Offensively, you can make a very good case that the Tigers can use Damon. But there would have to be a middle ground between them on a contract. The one bright side is that it wouldn’t take a long-term commitment, supposedly one or two years, and it’s tough to see a lot of competition right now, though reports suggest the Braves are interested.

I can’t say where Damon fits into the plan for payroll, because it’s hard to see where the plan is right now. But you can see where he could fit on the field and why this could be an opportunity for both sides.

Source: Tigers, Valverde agree to terms

The Tigers are poised to sign the veteran closer they hoped to add. They agreed to terms Thursday with Jose Valverde on a two-year contract with an option for a third, a source close to the negotiation confirmed to MLB.com pending a physical.

Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports first reported the deal, worth $14 million plus a $9 million option for 2012. Tigers officials would neither confirm nor deny the agreement.

By signing the Type A free agent, the Tigers would give up their first-round pick in this summer’s First-Year Player Draft, which would be the 19th overall selection. It would mark the first time since 1991, after the Tigers signed Rob Deer, that Detroit has given up its first-round Draft pick. However, the Tigers have two compensation picks coming at the end of the first round for losing relievers Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon to free agency

Slew of minor league contracts

The Tigers officially announced 17 players signed to minor league contracts so far this offseason. Several of them had already been known. Some have been signed for more than a month. Still, it’s worth some interest to take a look at some of the names.

One we didn’t know until now was catcher Mike Rabelo, who returns to his original organization two years after going to Florida with five prospects in the trade for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Though the Tigers haven’t announced spring training invites for these guys yet, one would expect Rabelo to be in camp as one of the extra catchers the Tigers always need for the first few weeks when lots of pitchers are in camp throwing their side sessions. On a similar note, Max St. Pierre also returns.

Macay McBride resigned with the Tigers earlier in the offseason. He hasn’t pitched competitively since opening day of the 2008 season, but while it’s hard to see a whole lot of opportunity for lefties to advance to Detroit these days, the deal allows McBride to continue his rehab process with the same medical staff who have handled it the last couple years.

Here’s the list of the guys announced:

RHPs: Enrique Gonzalez (confirmed — he’ll get camp invite), Ruddy Lugo, Josh Rainwater
LHPs: Phil Dumatrait, Ryan Ketchner, Macay McBride, Sam Narron, Jason Waddell
Cs: Andy Bouchie, Robinzon Diaz, Mike Rabelo, Max St. Pierre
IFs: Kory Casto, Santo De Leon, Cesar Nicolas, Jason Stokes
OF: Ryan Patterson