October 2010

Larry Parrish named Braves hitting coach


Just when it looked like the Tigers had their minor league coaching staffs filled, they have a big void to fill in Toledo. The Braves named Larry Parrish as their hitting coach on Friday, ending his seven-season stint as Mud Hens manager.
Parrish is the winningest manager in Hens history. Except for a 2007 season lost to ankle surgery, he’d been there since 2003, an amazing tenure for a minor-league skipper at any level. He led them to back-to-back International League titles in 2005 and ’06, and he was named Sporting News manager of the year for his efforts. They’ve been around a .500 team the last few years, due in no small part to a short-handed roster from injuries and call-ups, but he played his part in developing players.
“Larry has a great reputation in the game and came highly recommended,” new Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “His background truly speaks for itself.”
It’s great news for Parrish, whose last big-league stint was as Tigers manager in 1999. He moved his offseason home to Georgia a few years ago, so he’ll be close to home. It’s tougher news, of course, for the Tigers, who now have a big position to fill and no automatic conclusions to filling it.
Tigers vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila said Friday evening that it’s too early to tell which way they’ll go in filling the post. He added they will look at candidates outside the organization as well as internal options. Atlanta had to get permission to interview Parrish, so the Tigers have been kept up to speed on the move. They also gave a glowing recommendation for Parrish.
The internal options aren’t numerous. Phil Nevin just completed his first season at Double-A Erie, while Detroit just hired Ernie Young to manage at low Class A West Michigan. Nevin could be a candidate, but it’s far from an automatic promotion. Joe DePastino just went from Whitecaps manager to roving catching instructor and supposedly likes the idea of being home more often. Another internal possibility could be Andy Barkett, who has managed at Class A Lakeland for three years.
As for guys outside the system, an intriguing name is Matt Walbeck, let go by the Pirates in a bizarre move after leading Double-A Altoona to the Eastern League title this year. Walbeck is rumored to be seeking a job on a big-league coaching staff, but might be enticed to Triple-A as a potential springboard to the Majors. He knows the system, having managed at West Michigan and Erie before leaving to take a third-base coaching job in Texas after the 2007 season.
Another intriguing thought: Would a Bruce Fields return be out of the question? He managed the Hens in 2001 and ’02, spent three years on Alan Trammell’s coaching staff, then was out when Jim Leyland was hired as manager. He has been a roving instructor in the Indians farm system since. It would be retracing his steps, obviously, but would being close to home again with the possibility of managing his son in a couple years bring him back?
One thought raised by John Wagner at the Toledo Blade was Kevin Hooper, who reportedly turned down the West Michigan job earlier to stay with the independent team in Wichita. There’s a big difference on many levels between managing low Class A and managing at Triple-A, and the latter might have more appeal to him. Again, though, his managerial experience is limited to the past two years in Wichita.

Cabrera loses out on AL Outstanding Player

It isn’t the official American League MVP award, and it isn’t a reliable tracker of eventual MVP voting, but the Players Choice award for AL Outstanding Player is a pretty nice award to have. And at least this year, Miguel Cabrera doesn’t have it. The honor goes to Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton, Cabrera and Major League home run leader Jose Bautista were the finalists for the award, which is voted on by Major League players through balloting conducted in September. Hamilton was out at that point with a rib injury that ended up costing him almost the whole month, but his body of work before that was enough to convince players that he earned it.
Since the award is for Most Outstanding Player, not Most Valuable Player, a team’s playoff contention usually doesn’t play into it. In fact, six of the previous nine winners didn’t get to the postseason that year. That would seemingly play to the advantage of Cabrera and Bautista and their individual resumes, but not this year.

Tigers hire former Dodgers scouting director

The Tigers made a nice boost to their amateur scouting ranks Wednesday by completing their previously reportedly talks with Dodgers scouting director Tim Hallgren. He’s coming on board as Detroit’s national crosschecker, filling a post that opened with the promotions of Scott Pleis to scouting director and David Chadd to VP/special assistant.

Hallgren has more than a quarter century in baseball with the Dodgers and Texas Rangers. He was Logan White’s right-hand man with the Dodgers drafts, both as scouting director since 2007 and in his previous posts. He’ll now be working with Pleis, Chadd and James Orr in the Tigers draft room.
Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com first reported the move last week, though at that time nothing was official.

Could Peralta get a two-year deal?

The Tigers have been expected to reach some sort of deal to bring back Jhonny Peralta as their shortstop for next year. But could they sign him even beyond that?
If it allows Detroit to bring back Peralta for a lower average salary than what he would’ve made on his $7.25 million contract option, then the answer might be yes. Foxsports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi suggests the Tigers will agree on a two-year contract with Peralta rather than pick up the one-year club option.
An industry source said late Tuesday night that no deal was imminent. Still, a second year would be an interesting twist to a deal that has been expected since the season ended. 
Indications have suggested in recent days that the Tigers will not pick up the option, even if it means letting Peralta become a free agent. The option was part of the five-year, $13 million contract Peralta signed with Cleveland entering the 2006 season, one of several long-term deals the Indians reached with their young stars in the wake of their surprise threat to the division title in 2005.
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said at season’s end that they were interested in negotiating a new deal with Peralta, though he didn’t rule out the option at the time. Peralta, for his part, has said since the day he joined the Tigers in late July that he’d like to stay.
Dombrowski indicated at Brandon Inge’s press conference last week that talks were still in the early stages, but that they had time to work out a deal. To that end, Dombrowski said he’s “optimistic something will happen.” 
If the Tigers aren’t interested in paying Peralta $7.25 million for next season, but would like to sign Peralta before he hits free agency, something would logically have to entice Peralta to sign. Short of contract incentives, a second year on the deal might be the enticement.

Jackson takes Players Choice honor for top AL rookie

Tigers center fielder and leadoff man Austin Jackson won his second American League rookie honor in just over a week, this time winning the vote of his fellow Major Leaguers for AL Outstanding Rookie in the Players Choice awards.

The AL Rookie of the Year vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America won’t be announced until next month, and it’s expected to be a tough selection between Jackson and Neftali Feliz, who set a rookie record with 40 saves for the AL West champion Texas Rangers. For the time being, though, Tuesday’s selection is the second time MLB players have voted Jackson for the honor. A panel of Major Leaguers polled by The Sporting News voted Jackson for AL top rookie, as announced last week.

Jackson became just the fourth Major League rookie since 1901 to post 180 hits, 100 runs, 30 doubles, 10 triples and 25 stolen bases in the same season. The others formed a pretty distinguished club: Hanley Ramirez in 2006, Juan Samuel in 1984 and Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1911. In the outfield, Jackson’s combination of athleticism and instincts earned him a slew of highlight catches and a potential Gold Glove resume.

Inge nominated for Marvin Miller Man of the Year

Brandon Inge, fresh off his two-year contract extension signed Thursday, has a chance to become the second consecutive Tiger to win the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. The MLB Players Association named Inge as one of the three finalists for the honor, which is awarded to the player whose contributions on and off the field inspire others to achieve.

The award is part of the MLB Players Choice awards, which gives out end-of-season honors as voted on by big-league players. The Tigers are well-represented among the various lists of finalists, from Miguel Cabrera for American League Outstanding Player to Austin Jackson for AL Outstanding Rookie. Winners will be announced next week.

While Inge doesn’t attract attention with a lot of his charitable efforts around Metro Airport, he’s in a unique position to earn some recognition as Man of the Year. His work with Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor has long been known to Michiganders, including a generous donation to help add an activity room for the hospital’s cancer ward.

It’s work that has always hit close to home with Inge, a father of two. But for him and his wife, Shani, it’s literally close to home now, having moved to Michigan full-time.

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski noted Inge’s meaning to the community when he talked about his new deal Thursday.

“Some things that they do sometimes get a lot of publicity,” Dombrowski said, “but a lot of times they do it very quickly. And when you can have people in our organization do that, it’s an added plus and something that means so much to a community.”
Inge has a chance to follow in the footsteps of former Tiger Curtis Granderson, who won the award last year. To do so, though, he’ll have to draw more votes from his peers than popular Angels outfielder Torii Hunter and Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Hunter created the Torii Hunter Project as a partnership with the Little League Urban Initiative to help save baseball diamonds in America’s inner cities. Tulowitzki serves as the national spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology’s Play Sun Smart program, encouraging skin cancer awareness and prevention.

Tigers confirm Ernie Young hire at West Michigan

The Tigers made official Thursday their hire for manager at Class A West Michigan. It’ll be ex-Tiger (albeit not a Tiger long) Ernie Young, a longtime former Minor Leaguer who’s building a wealth of experience managing in the farm system.

Joining Young at West Michigan is another ex-Tiger, Ben Ogilvie, as first reported by TigTown.com.

The Young move fills the opening created when Joe DePastino shifted into a teaching role as the organization’s roving catching instructor.

Young managed in the White Sox organization the last two years at Class A Kannapolis, and just finished a stint last week managing Team USA in the Pan Am Games qualifying tournament. His hitting coach for Team USA: Leon “Bull” Durham, his hitting coach as a player at Triple-A Toledo in 2003 and still the Mud Hens hitting coach.

Young went 2-for-11 in his brief stint as a Tiger that year, one of 17 seasons he spent in pro ball. He made it to the big leagues one more time, with the Indians in 2004, before retiring after the 2007 season.

DePastino’s move is not being taken necessarily as a demotion. Speculation pointed towards a change back in August when another former Tiger, Kevin Hooper, told the Wichita Eagle he had been offered the West Michigan job. At that point, the Whitecaps were rallying towards a wild card spot in the Midwest League playoffs, making them the only Tigers affiliate to reach the postseason.

“My new job is one I’ve always wanted,” DePastino told the Grand Rapids Press. “I’ve been a catcher my whole life, and while I love managing, being with the catchers full time is a good gig.”

Andrew Graham was the roving catching instructor this season, but he’s expected to move into a full-time coaching role, possibly a managerial post.

Follow-up from Inge signing

Not a whole lot of indifference towards Brandon Inge’s 2-year, $11.5 million (not $11 million, since he’ll get at least the $500,000 buyout for 2013 even if the Tigers don’t pick up his option) contract. Fans either like it, really like it or really hate it, much like everything else with Inge over the last three or four years.

I’m probably not going to change any minds, but I’ll just offer up some points …

  1. Re-signing Inge isn’t the centerpiece of the offseason. It’s a first piece. You don’t re-sign Inge to bat fifth behind Cabrera; you sign him to bat lower in the order and maintain a high level of defense at third base.
  2. By having keeping Inge’s range and arm at third base, the Tigers have the flexibility to get away with Jhonny Peralta at shortstop. They’re separate negotiations, and nothing is close with Peralta right now, but it would’ve been tough to look at Peralta as a shortstop without Inge to his right. I’m not sure it’s an automatic right now that Peralta gets re-signed, or that his option is picked up, but that’s the Tigers’ preference.
  3. For all the speculation about the Tigers making a run at Adrian Beltre, it wasn’t going to happen. He didn’t give Detroit the time of day when he was a free agent after the 2004 season (he supposedly wanted to play on the West Coast), and he wasn’t expected to this time, either.
  4. There was a decent chance of Inge getting more money, at least a little more, had he hit the open market. There are enough managers and front-office people who value his defense that some team would’ve stepped forward. Inge accepts the idea that he probably left some money out there, but the comfort level of sticking around and the peace of mind this offseason meant more.
  5. One side benefit of re-signing Inge is the continuity in the Tigers clubhouse, where Inge has emerged as a team leader over the last year or two. He isn’t an in-your-face guy, but he gets a lot of respect.

Tigers re-sign Inge to two-year deal

The Tigers took care of their first piece of offseason business Thursday by signing third baseman Brandon Inge to a two-year contract with a club option with 2013, keeping the longest-tenured current Tiger in the Old English D. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The signing completes negotiations that began before the season even ended, a relative rarity for the Tigers. But with the potential additions the Tigers stand to make this winter, they wanted to quickly move on keeping their defensive stalwart at the hot corner before he could hit the open market.

The 33-year-old was eligible for free agency this winter, having just finished a four-year, $24 million contract he signed after the Tigers’ trip to the World Series in 2006. The Tigers have been through plenty of change since, including a brief positional move for Inge a couple years ago, but his defense at third has become one of the constants.

Inge batted .247 this year with 28 doubles, 13 home runs and 70 RBIs in 144 games, having missed two weeks to a fractured hand, but his strength has been his range at third. He ranked third among AL third basemen in range factor and total chances, though his zone rating ranked more towards the middle of the pack.

The total package was something the Tigers wanted to continue, especially given their desire to retain Jhonny Peralta at shortstop for next year and look for offensive moves at other spots.

“I think with Brandon, you have to know what you have in a player,” team president/general manager Dombrowski said at season’s end. “First of all, he’s an outstanding defensive third baseman. We all know he’s a gamer. He gives you everything he can. He represents what you want on the field. He never leaves an ounce of anything behind that’s out there.

“He gives you some offense. I don’t think you write down Brandon Inge as coming out and hitting 25 home runs and knocking in 100 runs all of a sudden. I think you have to look at the numbers he’s put up and figure that’s probably the type of hitter you have. If he gives you more, that’s great.”

Inge has long expressed his desire to stay in Detroit, but he also wanted multi-year security. He was seeking a three-year deal at one point and had a two-year offer from the Tigers at season’s end, but the third-year option proved to bridge the gap.

“This is where I want to play, as long as they’ll let me,” Inge said at season’s end. “A multi-year [deal], I feel like they’re showing me a little respect. And it’s another thing where everyone’s comfortable with everyone, meaning myself and the organization.

“They know what they’re going to get. I’m going to go out there and play as hard as I can, rain or shine, whether I’m injured or not. And I think it maybe eases their mind a little bit.”

Inge has been in the Tigers organization his entire career, from draft day until now. He made his Major League debut in 2001, and is one of just two players left in town who were around from Detroit’s 119-loss season in 2003 to its World Series trip three years ago. Ramon Santiago is the other, but he was traded out of the organization and came back.

Inge made Michigan his full-time home this year, making him the only Tiger who lives in the area year-round. It appears he’ll be able to commute to work for at least the next couple years.

On Tigers and Victor Martinez

The Tigers haven’t had the Major League portion of their end-of-season meetings, the part where they go over their potential roster moves for the offseason and flesh out their wish list. That will come next week here in Detroit. And even then, the Tigers fear tampering accusations enough that they won’t say a whole lot on specific players before free agency gets going and players officially hit the open market. Still, it isn’t difficult to look at the roster as it is now and see a fit for Victor Martinez.

Troy Renck of the Denver Post wasn’t reporting that the Tigers would make a “strong push” for Martinez so much as he was tweeting what he has heard. His name had popped up in someone else’s prose as well earlier this month. But in a market where there are few impact bats and the prices for the top ones are expected to go big, it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if the Tigers went after Martinez, so long as he’s willing to fit into the openings the Tigers have.

If he is, he would essentially fill two holes with one signing. The Tigers need a run-producing bat in the middle of the lineup, but they also need a right-handed hitting catcher to back up and/or share at-bats with Alex Avila. The switch-hitting Martinez fits both, having batted .300 with an .846 OPS since 2004 while averaging better than 20 home runs and just under 100 RBIs over a healthy season.

The Tigers are a known commodity for Martinez. He knows the AL Central from his years in Cleveland, and he knows Tigers players both from Venezuela and beyond. And assuming the Tigers end up re-signing Jhonny Peralta, Martinez knows at least one Tiger really well.

The big question, possibly the one that makes or breaks any interest, is how attached Martinez is to catching every day. If it’s a deal-breaker for him, then it could be interesting, not just catching him now at age 32 but down the road in a long-term deal. While Martinez had solid numbers this year catching 110 games in Boston, his reputation as a catcher isn’t all that strong. Tigers pitchers have had the benefit of standout defensive catchers for several years now, and as this past season showed, they’re not used to having to hold runners to give their catcher a chance to throw out a would-be basestealer.

Catching transitions haven’t gone well recently in Detroit. Ivan Rodriguez’s situation turned ugly two years ago once the Tigers talked about splitting starts with Brandon Inge, who didn’t really want to catch anymore in the first place but wanted to play. Simply getting Pudge to take days off was a chore for Alan Trammell and Jim Leyland. Gerald Laird was kind of a forgotten man by season’s end once the Tigers decided to see how Avila would handle everyday duty and were impressed. Dusty Ryan’s late-season audition in 2008 didn’t go well.

The ideal scenario for the Tigers would be to have Martinez catch part-time and DH when he isn’t behind the plate. It gives the Tigers some flexibility next year if Avila struggles, and it fills their DH needs while also leaving some games open there for other guys — maybe Ryan Raburn, maybe Magglio Ordonez if he’s re-signed. But then, with Ordonez coming off ankle surgery, there’s plenty of question how much he can be counted on to play outfield next year. I don’t think the Tigers have the roster flexibility to sign both Martinez and Adam Dunn, more like one or the other. Considering Dunn doesn’t want to be a DH, and reportedly is serious about it (not just a negotiating ploy), it could be a matter of which one is most willing to DH. But can they fit Martinez and Ordonez?