October 2010

Gibson holding onto Tigers stuff for now

Kirk Gibson cited a combination of estate planning and scholarship fundraising as he discussed his move to put up some of his items from the 1988 World Series for auction online, including his bat, helmet and uniform from his memorable Game 1 home run. For now, though, he’s holding onto the artifacts he has from his Tigers days, including the 1984 World Series.

“Not right now,” Gibson said on a conference call. “This is kind of a first step. We’ll see how this goes. I’ve retained all my Tiger stuff right now. I just have my reasons. We’ll just leave it at that.”

Those items presumably will stay in the Michigan warehouse where he has piled up so many items he has collected over the years. He bought that storage space back in 1978 and collected a slew of items, not just from baseball, but just in life.

“Pretty soon I had a warehouse full of everything — cars, boats, memorabilia, things I saved,” Gibson said. “I never considered myself a collector. Got to the point where I needed to start going through it. I went through all of my memorabilia as part of that. I had all this stuff.”

Pretty soon, the stuff piled up, even though Gibson himself says he’s never considered himself a collector. He worried about what to do with that stuff down the road, what would happen to it in a fire or something. But just as important, he also worried about a legacy, of carrying on the commitment to education his parents established as high school educators.

This auction allows him to do that. Proceeds will go towards his foundation, which has in turn donated money towards a scholarship fund at Michigan State as well as at Clarkston and Waterford Kettering High Schools, where his parents worked.

“These are things that, I don’t want to say I don’t value them, but I just thought I’d donate them to my foundation,” Gibson said. “I just thought it would be better for me, before I go, before my mom goes, I want to make sure they understand my commitment to giving back.  So I put those into my foundation.”

Minor-league coaching updates

The Tigers have become known for giving former players a shot at managing with minor-league posts, from Bruce Fields in the 1990s to Tom Brookens, Matt Walbeck and Phil Nevin more recently. Ernie Young wasn’t a Tigers player for long, and he already has a few years of managerial experience, but he’s set to be the next ex-Tigers player to manage.

The Tigers normally don’t announce their Minor League coaching staffs until they’re just about set at every level, and that hasn’t happened yet. But they have an opening to fill at low Class A West Michigan, after Joe DePastino shifted into a teaching role as the organization’s roving catching instructor.

AOL FanHouse reported over the weekend that Young, a longtime Minor League veteran who spent 2003 in the Tigers system, will take over. No final hire has been made, according to a team source, but unless something falls through, all signs point to Young getting the job.

It would not be a first chance. 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.

Joining Young at West Michigan could be another ex-Tiger, Ben Ogilvie. TigsTown.com reported Ogilvie is expected to be named the Whitecaps’ hitting coach.

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.

Magglio to play winter ball?

There was no response from the Tigers Thursday to a report that Magglio Ordonez could be playing winter ball this year to prove the recovery of his ankle. But it appears that if Magglio is indeed playing winter ball, it’s news to them.

Especially in Venezuela, this is the time of year when a lot of winter ball rumors pop up. Carlos Guillen seems to pop up in those rumors annually. The reports on Ordonez seem to be varied coming out a media gathering for the Caribes de Anzotegui. After a radio reporter in Venezuela reported that Ordonez could be available as soon as mid-November, the Venezuelan publication Lider en Deportes cited club officials saying Ordonez might be available in early December. Given the recovery timetable for Ordonez following his August ankle surgery, the later report seems more realistic.

Normally, any report of a prominent Major Leaguer under long-term contract playing winter ball has to be taken with a grain of salt. Venezuelan players get a ton of pressure from home to play and help out their respective teams, and a lot of times they’ll leave the possibility open for reporters, knowing that their big-league clubs will be the bad guy and say they can’t play.

Ordonez used to fall under that category. Now, though, he’s a free agent, and there’s a motivation for him to play this winter. If he can how his ankle is healthy and moving around relatively well, he can answer some serious questions, for the Tigers and other teams, while it can still affect contract negotiations. If Ordonez plans on playing in December, and Major League scouts plan to watch him, that backs up the notion that he will not be a quick sign, which seemingly backs up the possibility that the Tigers could move on without him if the right opportunity pops up.

Granderson, Thames remember tiebreaker

One year ago Wednesday, The Tigers and Twins were down to a one-game battle to try to get into the postseason, and needed extra innings to do it. The ramifications of that AL Central tiebreaker still linger with the two clubs today. The Twins are building on a potential division dynasty, now coming into the AL Division Series against the Yankees. The Tigers are still building to try to get back.
Two guys in Minneapolis right now to try to beat the Twins in the postseason Wednesday night know that pretty well. That tiebreaker loss on the other side of downtown at the Metrodome was the final game in a Tigers uniform for Curtis Granderson and Marcus Thames. 
“I think it’s arguably one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of,” Granderson said Tuesday, “even though we came up on the losing side of things. But the ups and downs, the back and forths, the long innings in that game, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. 
“I certainly hope we don’t have that for all five games here. It’s going to be a real long series [if we do]. But to be in a situation and have a chance, that’s exactly where you want to be, and I think that’s where both teams are right at this point right now.”
By both teams, he meant the Twins and Yankees, of course. While Granderson went to New York in the Austin Jackson trade last December, Marcus Thames signed as a free agent after Detroit released him.
Thames did not play in the tiebreaker loss, or in any of the final three scheduled regular season games that led into it. The fact that he didn’t start in the tiebreaker despite his success off starter Scott Baker (8-for-26 at the time wth four home runs and six RBIs) lingered with him. He’s moved on, but he still hasn’t forgotten it. Thames did face Baker in his final game as a Tiger, but it was five days earlier at Comerica Park, where he went 1-for-2 with a single and a hit-by-pitch.
“I was a little upset I didn’t get to play in that last game,” Thames said. “With my career numbers off Baker, it didn’t sit too well in my stomach. But I was a team guy. I sat up there and rooted for the team. But it’s a whole different story. I turned that page when it was over, and I’m ready to chip in and contribute with the Yankees. Being able to face these guys pretty much through my career, I pretty much know how they’re going to try to pitch me and stuff. So I get a chance to go out and compete.”

Wanted: One run producer (at least) for Tigers

Miguel Cabrera is a physical presence at 6-foot-4, with a listed weight of 240. In real life, he doesn’t need a whole lot of protection.

In baseball, Miguel Cabrera received 32 intentional walks this season, more than any American League player received since 1993, and more than the next two highest AL totals this year. He could use some protection in the lineup.

In a year when the Tigers have potentially more than $50 million to spend on upgrading the club, protecting Cabrera with at least one proven hitter will be one of team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski’s two biggest goals, if not the biggest.

Help could be in the form of a corner outfielder, of which there are many potentially set to hit the mark. It could be in the form of a designated hitter, and Dombrowski didn’t rule out the idea of going back to a full-time DH again. They could do multiple signings, something Dombrowski hinted at when he talked Sunday about being nimble in this market. But some way, they need to bulk up the heart of the lineup.

“We need a middle of the order bat to drive in runs,” Dombrowski said. “We have to have that. And it’s most likely going to come either in the outfield or at DH, or both, because we already have that type of bat at first base. There are other areas [where it could come], and that’s why we need to be flexible this winter in what we do. But those are the most likely areas that it would come.”

The difference that support makes can be seen in the splits. Cabrera, and in turn the Tigers, were at their best in May, June and early July, when Magglio Ordonez was getting on base in front of Cabrera, and rookie Brennan Boesch was proving to be a potent run producer behind him. His top two months in terms of OPS were May and July, and three of his top four months for RBIs came in that span.

Once opposing pitchers began approaching Boesch differently after the All-Star break, and his amazing production went south, the walk totals on Cabrera logically soared. Once Ordonez suffered his season-ending ankle fracture, of course, Cabrera’s RBI opportunities dipped.

Ordonez’s injury set in motion a lot of moving parts. Once it became clear he wouldn’t get enough at-bats to best his $15 million option, it became the club’s decision whether to pick it up. Dombrowski announced Sunday that they won’t pick it up, making Ordonez a free agent this winter.

The Tigers and Ordonez have mutual interest in working out a deal, but it’s going to take some creativity, beyond simply the contract terms. The Tigers have to look at Ordonez’s recovery from ankle surgery as it goes along and project how much time he can realistically play in the field at age 37.

“At this point, I don’t know how much you consider him being an outfielder compared to also where it fits into [him] being a DH,” Dombrowski said. “I think you have two spots you’re talking about, and see where eventually he kind of fits into that.”
If the Tigers re-sign Ordonez, Dombrowski indicated, it likely wouldn’t be their only signing. But if Ordonez is back, can they still sign someone for the DH slot, or would they need that fifth hitter to play the outfield at least some?

For what it’s worth, Dombrowski’s comments indicate he’s more open to having a full-time DH again than he might’ve been, say, two years ago with an older lineup.

“I guess you’d prefer not to,” Dombrowski said, “but would we consider that? I think we’ll consider anything that gives us some offense in the middle of the lineup at this time, that we think we need, somebody that can drive in some runs. Ideally you’d prefer not to have it, but if that’s the way it fit in, that’s the way it fit in.

“One thing is that we don’t have as many players going forward that are older. I mean, we’ve kind of turned into a little bit younger club. So most guys can go out there and play most days. You might look to give a day off to somebody once in a while, and then [manager Jim Leyland] can decide who he wants to DH at that particular time, but we don’t have a lot of older players. … If the right guy fit, we’d sign a DH.”

Dombrowski said the Tigers would prefer to add at least one left-handed bat to their lineup. That could come internally, if Carlos Guillen is ready for the start of the season after microfracture surgery, or if Boesch wins an expected competition for an outfield spot. More likely, though, they’d like one of the bats they sign to come from the left side.

That shouldn’t be a big problem to find on the free-agent market, where the top end could potentially include slugger Adam Dunn and multi-tooled catalyst Carl Crawford, among others. Dunn, specifically, would seem to fit a DH type of role, though he has told reporters in Washington he’d rather not do that full-time.

Dombrowski isn’t getting into any names at this point, other than the guys on his team, but he believes there’s enough on the free-agent market for them to find help. He also has players on the team who can supplement that.

One of those guys is Ryan Raburn, who might finally be poised for close to an everyday role. Dombrowski stopped just shy of labeling him as such, but made it clear he has stepped up in importance to the lineup.

“I don’t know if he’ll be an everyday outfielder or not, but I think we feel he could be a primary guy,” Dombrowski said. “How many at-bats that entails, I don’t know. It depends on who else is with our club at that time, how the manager makes out the lineup, how he produces. But we look at him as being an important part of our team, and a guy that’s going to play a lot. I wouldn’t say he’s an everyday outfielder yet, but he’s going to play a lot.”

Inge sure sounds like a Tiger next year, and beyond

To hear Brandon Inge talk about the multi-year contract offer he received from the Tigers, one would think he already had his signature on it. That was the tone of his voice. 
“I’m absolutely ecstatic about it,” Inge said. “This is where I want to play, as long as they’ll let me. 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.”
He caught himself eventually and cautioned that he hasn’t agreed to it yet, that there’s still a business side involved. Still, walking away from the interview, it was difficult to envision Inge not being a Tiger next season.
“You never know,” he said, “but in general, [it’s] the gesture of telling me that they want me back and already starting out with an offer. And obviously, there’s a dirty business side of it, but that’s just to be handled. You just have to do what’s fair for you and your family at that point. I’m not looking to break the bank. I just want what’s fair. That’s all.”
It is not hard to envision Inge and the Tigers reaching an agreement before he hits the free-agent market.
“I don’t want to make it for certain, because like I said, there’s a business side of it, but absolutely,” Inge said. “If it’s fair, which I don’t really foresee them not being fair, then absoultely, without a doubt. I’m a person who’s big on loyalty. If they stick beside me and they showed me the gesture this way, then I’m going to stick beside them. I love that. That’s right up my alley as far as respect for the game, respect for an organization, and a lot of loyalty.”
The fact that the Tigers started out with a multi-year offer, rather than a one-year stopgap, is a good sign. Inge had hinted that he was looking for a multi-year deal, possibly even three years, but two years is a good starting point for both sides. 
The fact that they started out on that road seemed to catch Inge by surprise.
“It was a matter of whether I was wanted, in my mind,” Inge said. “My only thing was I’m not going to play somewhere where I’m not wanted, that’s all. I’m not saying that in any disrespectful way, but if somebody doesn’t really want you around, then that’s probably not the best move they should make, and I respect that. I’d go my separate ways, then. And obviously [the offer], that’s what I wanted to hear.”

Tigers want Inge back, and other end-of-season items

Just finished a long, long conversation with Dave Dombrowski, and he pretty much mapped out the Tigers’ offseason plans and priorities. The biggest point of it: The Tigers will indeed be looking for a middle-of-the-order bat, either in the outfield or at DH, but they want to keep Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta at 3B and SS, respectively.

Dombrowski confirmed the Tigers have talked to Inge and his agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, in the last couple days about a multi-year contract and made him an offer. It’s still early, but considering Inge clearly wants to stay in Detroit and the Tigers not only want him back, but seem to consider it a priority, there’s every ingredient for a match.
“We want him back,” Dombrowski said of Inge.
The Levinsons also represent Peralta, and Dombrowski said they’ve been in touch about him, too. That doesn’t mean they’re going to pick up his $7.25 million option, but one way or another, they would like to have him back at shortstop. 
“We’re looking to sign him as our shortstop,” Dombrowski said.
The other contract option they face is Magglio Ordonez, who is in a middle ground right now. Not surprisingly, Dombrowski said they’ve told Ordonez and agent Scott Boras that they will not exercise his $15 million option. However, Dombrowski indicated that they’re open to bringing him back.
“That will not close the door by any means,” Dombrowski said. “For us, he is definitely a possibility.”
Ordonez, in turn, expressed what Dombrowski called “a strong desire to remain a Tiger.” So again, the two key pieces for a deal are there. Whether that results in an agreement is something different. Ordonez is a Boras client, and as the Yankees will attest with Johnny Damon, sometimes those negotiations can stretch out in an effort to get the best deal.
“Magglio will not be a quick sign,” Dombrowski said.
As for the rest of the pending Tigers free agents, the answer is essentially no. Dombrowski told Johnny Damon and Gerald Laird they will not be purusing them as free agents, and Dombrowski said they “most likely” won’t pursue Jeremy Bonderman.
“We’re not closing the door per se, but we’re not actively pursuing him,” Dombrowski said of Bonderman.
Some of the other notes to come out of the nearly hour-long interview:
  • Alex Avila is going to get the majority of the starts at catcher next year. As Dombrowski said, “We’re going to give Alex Avila the primary responsibility at catcher.”
  • Dombrowski stopped short of saying Ryan Raburn is an everyday outfielder, but he came awfully close. “I think we feel he can be a primary guy,” Dombrowski said. “I wouldn’t say he’s an everyday guy, but he’s going to play a lot.”
  • Confirming what Dombrowski told WDFN next month, they’ll go into next season with Will Rhymes and Scott Sizemore competing for time at second base. Dombrowski also said Danny Worth could see time there, as could Carlos Guillen when he’s healthy.
  • Dombrowski on Rhymes: “We like what we see. We think he has a chance to be a spark for us.”
  • Dombrowski seconded what Leyland said earlier about the bullpen as a priority. “Ideally, we’d like to have one more guy in the back end,” said Dombrowski, who used Brandon Lyon as an example of the kind of signing they’d like to make there. 
  • The Tigers will not be pursuing Cliff Lee, or anyone at the very top end of the free-agent starting market. However, Dombrowski cautioned that they won’t necessarily be looking for a stereotypical fifth starter.
  • The Tigers are open to having a full-time DH, if that’s what it takes to add a bat in the middle of the order. In other words, they can find room for Adam Dunn.
  • Brennan Boesch and Casper Wells will compete for outfield spots next year.

Coke heading to Tigers rotation next year

For those of you who figured something was up when Phil Coke was named to start today’s season finale, you were right. After Jim Leyland said earlier this month that he was still unsure whether Coke was better suited as a starter or a reliever, Leyland said Sunday morning, “My intention is to have Phil Coke in the rotation.”

Coke will slot in behind Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. Leyland said Armando Galarraga will compete for the fifth spot in a mix that could include some youngsters and maybe a free-agent pickup. He didn’t name Andy Oliver, but one would presume he’ll be a key figure. He did not name Jeremy Bonderman, either, which means we’re probably going to get some news on Bonderman from team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski later today.
Sunday will mark Coke’s first Major League start. He was most recently a starter at Double-A Trenton in 2008.

Saturday: Tigers at Orioles

Leyland said he’s load up his lineup with right-handed hitters against Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz, and he wasn’t kidding. Aside from first baseman Don Kelly, it’s an entirely right-handed lineup, including Scott Sizemore as the designated hitter.

On the Orioles side, Adam Jones gets the night off. We also learned today that Brian Roberts won’t play tonight or Sunday, so his season is done.
  1. Jackson, CF
  2. Santiago, 2B
  3. Raburn, LF
  4. Peralta, SS
  5. Wells, RF
  6. Inge, 3B
  7. Kelly, 1B
  8. Sizemore, DH
  9. St. Pierre, C
P: Armando Galarraga
  1. Corey Patterson, LF
  2. Nick Markakis, RF
  3. Jake Fox, DH
  4. Luke Scott, 1B
  5. Felix Pie, CF
  6. Ty Wigginton, 3B
  7. Matt Wieters, C
  8. Robert Andino, 2B
  9. Cesar Izturis, SS
P: Brian Matusz

Laird leaves game with bruised left shoulder

A Jake Fox backswing knocked Tigers catcher Gerald Laird out of Friday night’s game against the Orioles with a bruised left shoulder after three innings. His status for this weekend’s games wasn’t immediately known, meaning he might have played his final game as a Tiger.

Laird is a free agent at season’s end. The Tigers have committed to Alex Avila as their catcher next year — a platoon situation at the very least, and perhaps an everyday role. Laird has said he’ll move on to another club if he can find a situation with more playing time.
Laird was behind the plate for Tigers Rick Porcello in Friday’s doubleheader nightcap when Adam Jones tried to steal second. Fox swung and missed at Porcello’s pitch, but his backswing caught Laird on his left side as he stood up to try to throw out Jones. Home-plate umpire Phil Cuzzi sent Jones back to first by calling interference. Laird stayed in the game for a couple more innings, but his shoulder apparently swelled up on him. Alex Avila replaced him behind the plate for the fourth.