March 30th, 2010

Fallout from Robertson trade

By now, you’ve heard about Nate Robertson being traded to the Marlins (with cash) for Jay Voss. Just came out of a gathering with Dave Dombrowski to talk about it. Here’s what it means:

  • Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman are in the rotation. Willis will start the series finale at KC on Thursday, April 8. Bonderman, who can’t start that game because of his suspension, will start against the Indians on Saturday, April 10. While Dombrowski stopped short of saying Dontrelle and Bonderman had beaten out Robertson for the spots, he said they would’ve put Robertson in the bullpen had they not been able to pull off the trade. In other words, Bonderman and Willis were in the rotation regardless, according to Dombrowski.
  • With no starter needing to go to the bullpen, the bullpen is now set. Eddie Bonine and Brad Thomas are both on the team along with Jose Valverde, Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry, Phil Coke and Fu-Te Ni.
  • Tigers have one more roster decision to make for the final position spot between Don Kelly and Clete Thomas. That decision will be announced after the game Wednesday or Thursday. The Tigers were originally saying they’d announce it after Tuesday’s game, which makes you wonder how much Thomas’ shoulder injury is forcing the delay. If the answer is quite a bit, that makes you wonder whether Thomas is the guy.
  • Here’s how unclear the Tigers’ rotation competition was for other teams. One longtime scout suggested earlier this month that Robertson would be the easiest for the Tigers to trade based on performance. Then another scout told me recently that Bonderman was the guy more teams wanted if the Tigers were willing to deal him. That was before the Robertson trade came down. Then there was supposedly a team that had a scout in attendance at Tuesday’s game specifically to watch Willis — not sure whether it was to gauge potential interest or simply assemble a scouting report on him for opposition purposes.

Tigers down to 27, Avila makes team

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Tigers’ catcher of the future will be their backup catcher of the present. Alex Avila will open the season in the big leagues, the Tigers decided Tuesday morning.

The move became official Tuesday morning once the team assigned veteran backup catcher Robinzon Diaz to minor league camp. Avila received the call from his father, Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila, Monday night over dinner.

The Tigers also optioned shortstop Brent Dlugach to Triple-A Toledo. Infielder/outfielder Jeff Larish and relievers Josh Rainwater and Robbie Weinhardt were assigned to minor league camp. The moves reduce the Tigers’ roster to 27 players; they have until Sunday to finalize their 25-man roster, but are expected to do that within the next day or two.

The moves with Dlugach and Larish leave the battle for the final positional roster spot down to utilityman Don Kelly and outfielder Clete Thomas. That decision could come in the next 24 hours. The one decision left after that is the pitching staff, where Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson are battling for the final two spots in the rotation.

For the backup catching spot, the choice was essentially a decision on Avila, who has had only one full season as a pro after converting to catcher a few years ago at the University of Alabama. Avila started at DH Monday against the Blue Jays and went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk in what should be his final action before he finds out where he’ll open the season. The Tigers know he can hit in the big leagues, and his .394 average this spring hasn’t disappointed.

The Tigers had to make their best judgment whether he was better off catching a couple days per week in Detroit behind starter Gerald Laird or catching every day at Toledo.
Diaz was essentially the backup option if the Tigers chose the latter.

Avila spent the final two months last season with the Tigers and provided an offensive boost with his left-handed power bat. However, he caught only sparingly in September behind Laird, whose defense and game-calling skills made him a regular option despite his offensive struggles last year.

Laird has shown strong signs of being a better hitter this spring, but the Tigers still value Avila for his bat. He’ll also likely work on his catching on the side in Detroit.

Two of the three rotation candidates start Tuesday. While Jeremy Bonderman starts in a Triple-A game at Tigertown, Dontrelle Willis will be with the big club facing the Orioles Tuesday afternoon in Sarasota, Fla. It’ll be his first road start this spring, and it’ll be a good test if the Tigers needed it in their decisions.

Nate Robertson is scheduled to make his final spring tuneup Thursday against the Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium. By then, the decision will most likely have been made. What happens with the guy who doesn’t make the rotation, whoever that is, is another matter.