November 2010

Tigers expected to tender contract to Zumaya

The speculation surrounding Joel Zumaya’s future with the Tigers seems to be reaching a conclusion. Not only is the team expected to tender a contract to their hard-throwing, oft-injured reliever, they could reach a deal sooner rather than later.

Joel Zumaya said by phone Tuesday morning that his agents have started talks with the Tigers about a contract, presumably a one-year deal that would take him into free agency next winter. Even if a deal doesn’t come together in the next couple days, Thursday’s deadline to tender contracts shouldn’t come into play. Zumaya, who has been wondering about his situation himself after reading reports, indicated he was told the Tigers have no intention of nontendering him.

The Tigers haven’t yet announced their nontender decisions, which basically come down to Zumaya and starter Armando Galarraga, and they probably won’t until sometime Thursday. But a look at the situation breaks down like this: While there’s a risk to paying a million dollars or so to somebody who hasn’t had a full, healthy season since 2006, there’s another risk of watching Zumaya finally put together a healthy season for another team, reaping the benefits of all the time the Tigers put in getting him healthy.

When asked how much interest Zumaya would attract on the open market if the Tigers nontendered him, one Major League talent evaluator put it this way: “More than some think.”

Tigers designate Miner for assignment

miner.jpgUPDATE: Miner and the Tigers have expressed mutual interest in re-signing. It’s not a certainty just yet, but givne the situation, with Miner rehabbing and potentially not ready for the start of the season, a return would make sense.

The Tigers opened a roster spot for Victor Martinez on Monday by designating reliever Zach Miner for assignment, potentially parting ways with the versatile swingman after a season lost to Tommy John surgery.

The moves clears up one of Detroit’s potential arbitration decisions. Miner was eligible for arbitration and would’ve been a nontender candidate later this week, so he’ll automatically become a free agent after Thursday night’s nontender deadline. By designating him, though, the Tigers still hold the rights to try to re-sign him.

If he does re-sign, it basically means that Miner will continue his rehab from Tommy John surgery as a non-roster invite to Spring Training rather than as a member of the 40-man roster. If Miner goes elsewhere, he would likely have to seek a minor league deal with a spring training invite from the Tigers or another team.

Miner, who will turn 29 years old in March, was a versatile member of Detroit’s pitching staff for the better part of four seasons before elbow pain in camp last February derailed his season before it could start. Originally diagnosed with elbow tendinitis, Miner tried to rest and rehab his elbow and nearly made his way back before suffering a major setback in an extended spring game in mid-May. He was diagnosed with a partially torn elbow ligament and underwent surgery around Memorial Day weekend.

If Miner’s healthy and in camp with the Tigers, he has a chance to compete for a long relief job or maybe serve as a starting candidate, depending on Detroit’s remaining moves this offseason. Either way, he’ll need to regain the movement on his sinker and establish himself again as a ground-ball pitcher.

Miner posted a 7-5 record and 4.29 ERA in 2009, allowing 101 hits and 45 walks over 92 1/3 innings in 51 games, five of them starts. He owns a 25-20 record and a 4.24 ERA in 157 Major League appearances since the Tigers called him up as a fill-in starter in 2006.

The move eliminates one of the non-tender decisions the Tigers faced Thursday with their arbitration eligible players. Detroit will still have to decide whether to offer contracts to starter Armando Galarraga and reliever Joel Zumaya.

Notes: Benoit might complete bullpen dealings

Now that the Joaquin Benoit deal is official and the Tigers have talked about it, we can now look at how this move affects the rest of the Tigers offseason, not to mention what the Tigers’ other moves Friday mean.

We certainly know what the three-year contract means: The Tigers, who have been very reluctant to do multi-year deals with non-closing relievers, had to adjust to market conditions to get the guy they wanted.

“A couple other clubs had made three-year offers on him that were very solid offers on him,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “He was somebody we identified at the top of our list for setup men and we wanted to be aggressive.”

They were aggressive in a way that they weren’t with their free-agent relievers last winter.

“It wasn’t that we couldn’t,” Dombrowski continued. “It’s just that we chose not to. It’s just that in this case we felt comfortable doing that. We were not comfortable doing that last year. The way we checked it out, the way our reports were, on the field and medically, we felt more comfortable here.

“It was very clear that if we were [just] going to go to two years, we were not going to sign him.”

What else became clear out of this? Glad you asked:

  • Though the Tigers talked at season’s end about possibly adding multiple relievers, and the next target was expected to be a left-handed reliever. Dombrowski threw some cold water on that. He didn’t dismiss the possibility, but he certainly diminished it. “I wouldn’t say that that’s our biggest priority at this time,” Dombrowski said. “We’ll be open minded to that, but one of our advantages to our bullpen when you talk about having Joaquin in the eighth inning and Jose [Valverde] in the ninth is that they get right- and left-handed hitters out effectively. We already have Daniel Schlereth. We’ll keep an open mind, but it’s not something we’re going to be going out and actively pursuing at this point.”
  • That said, I still wouldn’t be surprised if the Tigers still looked at the market later in the offseason to see who’s out there among lefties. That part of the market has had a few guys left on the market going into spring training the last couple years. The Tigers have shown interest in Joe Beimel and John Parrish in past years, but haven’t pulled off any deals.
  • Dombrowski said Joel Zumaya is feeling well and on track to be fully healthy for the start of spring training. If he is, he’ll likely serve as a seventh-inning reliever. If you remember, that was basically his role starting out last season until he replaced Ryan Perry as the main setup man.
  • Dombrowski’s comments hinted that they have their eyes on one signing to bolster the middle of their lineup, rather than multiple moves.

And with that, I’m off for the Thanksgiving holiday. Hope you enjoy your turkey day.

Tigers adjust to the market on Joaquin Benoit

Dave Dombrowski has never been an outspoken flagbearer for general managers who don’t like overpaying for setup relief. In light of his pending three-year deal contract with Joaquin Benoit, that’s probably a good thing.

Still, Dombrowski’s track record speaks for itself. In his first nine seasons as Tigers general manager, he never signed a non-closing free agent reliever to a multi-year deal. Detroit signed Danny Patterson to a three-year, $7 million extension in January 2002, but that’s generally regarded as a Randy Smith contract, before Dombrowski took over as GM but after he had come in as team president/CEO. That deal went bad in less than six months, when he underwent elbow surgery. Total appearances Patterson made in those three years: 62, two more than he made in 2001 before signing the deal. Detroit also signed Fernando Rodney to a two-year deal a few years ago, but that was to avoid arbitration.

After the Tigers’ World Series run in 2006, they watched left-hander Jamie Walker leave for a three-year, $12 million contract and replaced him with Bobby Seay. They never offered Fernando Rodney more than a one-year deal last winter before he left for the Angels and a two-year, $11 million contract. They were willing to discuss a two-year contract with Brandon Lyon, but didn’t come anywhere close to the three-year, $15 million deal he signed with Houston.

Dombrowski never railed against those deals, never talked about the dangers of it. He simply stated it was further than the Tigers were willing to go.

“He got a three-year deal, and we’re very happy for him,” Dombrowski said of Lyon’s deal at last year’s Winter Meetings. “We liked him, but we weren’t prepared to do that.”

The thought process, what goes unsaid, was that those deals weren’t a good investment for them, not for seventh- and eighth-inning guys. There were too much changeover from year to year to do that.

The Tigers did everything they could to try to avoid having to go there. They stuck to their guns on not giving Lyon a multi-year contract when they first signed him two years ago. They went big on relief arms in the 2008 Draft, topped by first-round pick Ryan Perry. They added Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth in their big trade last winter.

Now, the Tigers are going that far and then some — at least a half-million dollars more on average per season than what Lyon got — to sign Benoit. The fact that they’re going there says what kind of year it was for the Tigers bullpen.

Joel Zumaya fired away with his 100 mph fastball and mowed down hitters for half a season before suffering another catastrophic arm injury. Perry never really showed the progression the Tigers hoped to see in his second Major League season. Bobby Seay, Zach Miner and prospect Cody Satterwhite had season-ending surgeries.

The result was Leyland saying the Tigers’ need for relief help was as big as their need for offense this offseason, and Dombrowski saying they could use a Brandon Lyon type of reliever. In a year when the Tigers have more payroll space to spend than any other season in recent memory, this has all the looks of an adjustment to the market.

But if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it for the best guy on the market. Benoit quietly dominated hitters in Tampa Bay with numbers that pop off the page. Add in the fact that he was coming off rotator cuff surgery that cost him all of 2009, and it’s nothing short of incredible.

Truth be told, I voted Benoit for AL Comeback Player of the Year over some far bigger names. The combination of the numbers he posted, the way he pitched and the injury he overcame was too good to avoid. Everybody I talked to — scouts, players and other officials — backed it up. This type of comeback just doesn’t happen. The fact that he came back this good, throwing in the mid-90s again, clearly convinced the Tigers — who had looked at him last winter — that he was worth the investment.

In a strange way, in fact, Benoit’s injury actually helped him on the market. Since he missed 2009, he didn’t have the numbers to qualify as a Type A free agent. So instead of having to give up a first-round pick to sign him, the Tigers don’t have to give up anything. Tampa Bay will get a supplemental pick for their trouble. The Type A free-agent relievers will most likely have to wait until the end of the month, when their former teams have to decide whether to offer them arbitration and set themselves up for the compensation draft pick.

I don’t know if Benoit will stay healthy by the end of the deal, when he’ll be 36 years old and a veteran of 12 Major League seasons. I’m sure the Tigers are serious enough about making sure he’s healthy and checking out his medical reports that it explains why they haven’t announced the deal yet. But if he’s healthy, even if he doesn’t dominate the way he did this year, he finally shores up the eighth inning for Detroit.

The Tigers adjusted to the market. Because while Benoit was going to get a long-term deal somewhere, Dombrowski and Leyland need results to get their contracts, too.

Tigers name (most of) minor league staffs

The Tigers still haven’t filled their managerial vacancy at Double-A Erie, but the rest of their minor league staffs are pretty much set. We found out last week about Phil Nevin joining Leon Durham and A.J. Sager at Triple-A Toledo. Jerry Martin will take over as Erie hitting coach, a spot that Andrew Graham filled for much of last season. The staff at Class A Lakeland will remain intact with manager Andy Barkett, pitching coach Joe Coleman and hitting coach Larry Herndon. 
Coaches Ben Ogilvie and Mark Johnson will join new manager Ernie Young at West Michigan, and Graham will get his first managerial post at short-season Class A Connecticut. Former Tiger Mike Rabelo gets a shot as a hitting coach with the Gulf Coast League Tigers. 
The roving instructional roster is also set. Former Whitecaps manager Joe DePastino takes over as the Tigers’ minor league catching coordinator, while Kevin Bradshaw has been promoted to field coordinator once Mike Rojas became player development director. Hitting coordinator Toby Harrah, pitching coordinator Jon Matlack and outfield coordinator Gene Roof are all back. Dave Owen joins the ranks as the new infield coordinator. 
The moves pretty much ensure that the new SeaWolves manager will come from outside the organization. Club officials have declined to discuss names. 

Galarraga receives honorable mention back home

Armando Galarraga didn’t win the Luis Aparicio award this year for outstanding Venezuelan player in the Major Leagues — that went to Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez — but Venezuelan baseball writers are still going to recognize the Tigers right-hander. He’ll receive an honorable mention for his would-be perfect game and the way he handled himself in the aftermath. Thanks to Gerardo Boscan and Augusto Cardenas for passing along the info.

The Tigers have two Aparicio award winners on their roster, pretty impressive since the award didn’t come around until 2004. Magglio Ordonez won it for his Major League batting title in 2007, two years after Miguel Cabrera’s 2005 season in Florida won him the honor. 

Tigers release spring training schedule

The Tigers will celebrate their 75th Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla., with visits from the NL East champion Phillies, AL East champion Yankees, Red Sox and Braves as part of an 18-game home schedule at Joker Marchant Stadium in February and March.
The longest-running relationship between a Major League team and a Spring Training city hits another milestone this year with 75 years, including the last 46 in a row at the Tigertown complex just north of downtown. 
With Opening Day coming March 31 at Yankee Stadium, the spring schedule also gets going a little earlier. The voluntary reporting date for Major League pitchers and catchers is Feb. 13, followed by position players Feb. 18.
From there, it’s just a week until the Tigers begin their Spring Training schedule with their traditional opening exhibition against Florida Southern College on Friday, Feb. 25 at 1:05 p.m. ET. A day later, the Tigers open the Major League portion of their spring slate against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, followed by a rematch at Joker Marchant Stadium Feb. 27.
Three of Detroit’s first four big league contests are against the Jays, part of five matchups overall between the two clubs. Toronto returns to Marchant Stadium March 1 for a split-squad game, followed by another split-squad matchup in Dunedin March 5 and one more meeting in Lakeland March 12.
With the Tigers and Yankees facing each other to open the season, they’ll have just two meetings this spring at opposite ends of the schedule — Feb. 28 in Lakeland, then March 29 at Legends Field in Tampa to close out Spring Training. Baltimore, which hosts the Tigers in early April, will meet Detroit three times this spring — March 4 in Lakeland, and March 13 and 28 in Sarasota.
The Phillies will send squads to Marchant Stadium on March 6, March 9 and March 26. The Red Sox, Cardinals and NL Central champion Twins will visit to Marchant Stadium March 15-17, part of a stretch of five Tigers home games in a six-day stretch.
Tickets this spring will be split into three color-coded levels. Tickets for premium games, known as Navy level, will range from $14-25. Mid-level games, known as Orange level, will be priced at $12-23. White-level games will be ticketed at $9-20.
Individual game tickets will go on sale Saturday, Jan. 8 at 10 a.m. ET online at tigers.com, in person at the Marchant Stadium ticket office, or by phone at 866-66-TIGER. Full-season ticket packages are on sale now, also at tigers.com and the stadium ticket office, or by phone at 863-686-8075.

Jackson finishes second in AL Rookie balloting

Austin Jackson will have to settle for the respect of his peers among American League rookies. The Tigers center fielder finished as the runner-up to Rangers closer Neftali Feliz in balloting for the AL Rookie of the Year award.

Jackson did not respond Monday to an email from MLB.com seeking comment.
The results, released Monday, came after Jackson topped Feliz last month for AL rookie honors among The Sporting News and MLB Players Choice awards. Both awards were based on player balloting.

In the end, though, members of the Baseball Writers Association of America valued Feliz’s contribution to on a division champion over Jackson’s all-around game for the .500 Tigers. Feliz took 20 of the 28 first-place votes, with Jackson taking the rest along with 19 second-place votes and one third-place nod.

Fellow Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch, a strong contender at midseason before he fell into a second-half slump, garnered three second third-place votes to finish tied for fifth.

Jackson still ended up with the best finish by a Tigers position player since Lou Whitaker won the award in 1978. Justin Verlander remains the last Tiger to win the award in 2006.

In a year when few American League teams had rookies last the entire season in meaningful roles — remember when another Tigers outfielder, Brennan Boesch, was a midseason sensation — the choice essentially came down to Jackson or Feliz. While Jackson’s supporters could argue he had more of an impact as an everyday player, Feliz had the advantage of tangible results for a contending team.

GM meetings begin this week

The early start to free agency has allowed plenty of time for that market to percolate. This is the week when we might find out a little more about the trade market, with general managers and other front-office folks gathering in Orlando for the annual GM meetings (general managers, not general motors).

It was at last year’s meetings that the buzz emerged that the Tigers were very much open to trading Curtis Granderson as well as Edwin Jackson. That, of course, sparked the bigger-picture buzz that the Tigers were looking to slash payroll, which led to rumors about everyone from Justin Verlander to Miguel Cabrera getting dealt. Amazing to look back at that now.

The Dan Uggla rumors will no doubt be a part of this week’s buzz, but we’ll see about who else. What makes this year’s meetings interesting is that unlike past offseasons, we’ve had a week for teams to talk to all free agents. That means clubs have had a better chance to get a read on their chances at signing some of these guys. Teams that don’t like their odds at getting a top bat in free agency might start getting serious about trades, starting the groundwork for trades that end up completed around next month’s larger-scale winter meetings. That was the timetable on the Granderson talks.

With plenty of payroll off the books and a lot of spots to fill, the tables are turned this year for the Tigers, and teams are eyeing Detroit’s young pitching when the Tigers come calling. How much of that pitching the Tigers are willing to give up is going to be a question. Is Andy Oliver untouchable at this point, when he’s on the cusp of sticking in the big leagues but not quite ready to be handed a rotation spot? How about Jacob Turner, who’s still a couple years away? After that, I’m not sure how much the Tigers can offer that will appeal for a team to trade an established guy. Opinions are mixed on Charlie Furbush and Brayan Villarreal.

The Tigers’ position prospects tend to get valued more by the Tigers than by other clubs looking at the system. But Brennan Boesch’s first half and Casper Wells’ stretch run earned some respect.

Wells leaves Dominican with knee injury

The Tigers haven’t had a ton of bright spots in winter ball and the Arizona Fall League, but they’ve generally managed to keep everyone healthy. Now that Casper Wells is headed home from the Dominican Republic, we’re going to have to wait and see about that and see what sort of damage he has in his knee.

Wells confirmed via Twitter and in a message to MLB.com that he’s heading back to the United States after tweaking his knee. He’s expected to be examined next week, but his early indications suggested it wasn’t major.
“I’ll have a much better idea when I get back to the U.S.,” Wells said in a message.
Wells did not specify which knee.
The timing wasn’t exactly good for Wells, whose bat was coming around recently. He finishes his Dominican League season batting 8-for-33 (.242) for Escogido with three doubles, a triple, two RBIs and 10 strikeouts. But all of those hits came in his last five games (8-for-20 in that stretch) after he started out 0-for-13.
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