May 30th, 2010

Agent: Dontrelle could use a fresh start

Just got off the phone with Dontrelle Willis’ agent, Matt Sosnick, who will be waiting with his client for the next week and a half or so to see if Willis is going to be traded — and Sosnick does anticipate there being some interest — or become a free agent who can pick and choose his club. Whatever happens, they’re feeling like a change of scenery should do him some good.
“On Dontrelle’s end, I think it’s going to be a relief getting a fresh start,” Sosnick said Sunday night. “If anything’s going to get him back, it’s going to be a fresh start.”
In that sense, Sosnick said, the move to designate Willis for assignment this weekend “probably played out this way at a good time.”
By no means was Sosnick criticizing the Tigers by saying his client needed to move on. Sosnick had complements for the Tigers and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, saying they did everything they could to try to set up a support network around the left-hander. But in the end, the struggles of the last two seasons just lingered over Willis’ 2010 campaign, and there was nothing either side could do about it.
“Wherever [Willis] goes next,” Sosnick said, “I think he hopes he can be successful without him being the guy that has all these issues as opposed to being [another pitcher]. His playing games in Detroit was kind of secondary to figuring out why he wasn’t the same guy who won the rookie of the year [in 2003]. …
“Every time he pitched well, it was [a story of] the guy who was pitching well in spite of all the stuff he was dealing with. That’s not to say it was anybody’s fault, because it wasn’t.”
That history put a huge amount of pressure on Dontrelle — not the pressure of pitching, but what he was associated with in Detroit, between the past couple years and the contract.
“I’d say he got an incredibly fair shot in Detroit,” Sosnick said. “They signed him to an incredibly good contract. Dontrelle feels terrible he didn’t give the team what they thought they were getting. It’s Dontrelle who had to go through it, but after the contract got signed, the guy who was the next most important person Dontrelle to pitch well was Dombrowski.”
While it certainly would benefit Willis to become a free agent and pick his next club, Sosnick said there could be a positive for both sides if the Tigers could get something in return for Willis in a trade.
In the end, no hard feelings. But it was a situation that, after the last couple years, proved impossible to overcome. Willis’ body language coming off the mound didn’t have the same energy his last few starts that he had in Spring Training. He was not happy, even when he would have a good inning or a good stretch.
“It was a really negative vibe for him,” Sosnick said. “It’s nothing that’s Detroit fault. It was a bad mesh.”
For now, Willis is going to wait out his situation and try to continue to throw off a mound to keep his arm in shape. Sosnick did not rule out the possibility that Willis would be willing to start out in the minor leagues for a little bit to get ready, but he feels like Willis can stay ready to pitch in the big leagues. Sosnick did not get into teams or locations, though it’s worth noting that Willis just bought a home in Arizona.
Like many, Sosnick believes his client can turn it around with a better situation. The stuff is there; it’s the walks that have hurt.
“I really do feel like he’s going to come back and be really good,” Sosnick said.