December 2010

Zach Miner signs with Royals

The Tigers had every intent at keeping Zach Miner after they designated the right-hander for assignment last month, and Miner had plenty of interest in sticking with Detroit. But there was more interest in Miner than one might expect for a swing pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery.
And when it came down to picking a deal, Miner said, the Royals were a better opportunity for him. Kansas City announced its minor-league contract with Miner on Friday. (UPDATE: Miner will earn $950,000 if he spends the entire season with the big club, any DL time included. That’s the same salary for which he signed with the Tigers last year.)
“There were a few teams that checked in, and the Tigers and the Royals were the most aggressive,” Miner wrote in an email to MLB.com. “But in the end, we just felt like KC was going to be a very good opportunity going forward, not only for this year, but for a few years down the road.”
The prevailing thought a month ago was that no team would value Miner more coming off surgery than the Tigers, who knew what they had in him after four seasons in Detroit. But the Tigers also had it clear that they envision Miner as a reliever, not a starter, and they go into 2011 with potentially few openings in their bullpen between the addition of Joaquin Benoit and the development of their young relievers.
Kansas City, on the other hand, has openings abound, including in the rotation, and Miner said the Royals feel like he could start. 
It wasn’t an easy decision for Miner, who goes from being able to drive to Spring Training from his Florida home to now trekking to Arizona. But it was arguably the best decision for his career.
“I really enjoyed being a Tiger,” Miner said, “and loved playing for Jim Leyland.”
The Royals have seen enough of Miner to know what they’re getting if he’s healthy. He has pitched more innings in his career against Kansas City (49) than against any other opponent, going 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA in seven starts and 10 relief appearances.
What this means for Detroit isn’t clear quite yet, and might not be until we know how soon Miner is ready to pitch in games this coming season and how Joel Zumaya looks heading into camp. If Zumaya’s ready and Ryan Perry matures as a reliever, the relief corps is pretty well stocked from the seventh inning on. With both Miner and Eddie Bonine gone, though, the Tigers have lost their two experienced right-handed long relievers, as well as two ground-ball specialists. The Tigers might add another minor-league invite for depth, but at first glance, there’s a good opportunity for Robbie Weinhardt to make this team out of camp.

TigerFest tickets on sale now

If the winter weather seemed a little bit warmer Friday, it might have something to do with TigerFest around the corner. Tickets for the annual offseason warmup event went on sale Friday morning.

This winter’s edition heads back to Comerica Park on Saturday, Jan. 22, and includes a lot of the events that get fans looking forward to baseball season. It’s usually a first chance for fans to meet some of the newest Tigers, though a roster of players expected to attend won’t be released until after the new year, and an opportunity for fans to get autographs from their favorite players. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, manager Jim Leyland and others answer fan questions on the main stage. Fans can warm up with a self-guided tour through the Tigers clubhouse and a guided tour of the Champions Club and Ernie Harwell Media Center.

Tickets are available at tigers.com/tigerfest or by calling 866-66-TIGER. But hurry, since this usually ends up being a sold-out event pretty quickly once tickets go on sale.

Dombrowski: We have to build

Dave Dombrowski characterized the Tigers’ courtship of Carl Crawford much the same as he did for Jayson Werth a few days ago: They inquired, heard the contract expectations, and moved on.

“I mean, you have to like Carl Crawford,” Dombrowski said. “When we were in our situation, we sat down and we looked at it. Any preliminary conversations we had were in a position where those were the type of dollars that they were looking for, and we were not prepared to go into that area with what we were trying to do. That’s why we had a feeling of that early and we went in a different direction.

“We never had any serious conversations, never had any feel. We always told them we like the player, but it’s just not the area we felt comfortable going to.”

They weren’t comfortable doing seven years and $20 million a season for Crawford, or Werth, or Cliff Lee. They weren’t comfortable doing that for anybody, really. It didn’t fit in the big picture of what they were looking to do.

“We have a wonderful owner, to me as fine as anybody in baseball,” Dombrowski said. “When you put together your club, short of a couple clubs, you can only have so many players that are making $20 million a year. We have two. So sometimes you choose those two and build around them. When you’re doing it, it’s always a combination of trying to put everything together.

“When you’re looking at it, we chose Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander to be our two key guys. We have a wonderful situation, fantastic, great owner, but you have to build. To me, you build around those guys.”

Is it a new financial reality for the Tigers? Maybe a little, but not really a shock. I can’t imagine many people expected Detroit to spend all $60 million or whatever of the payroll space that opened up in expiring contracts. On the other hand, the payroll is just under $100 million as is. Assuming the Tigers re-sign Magglio Ordonez around $10 million a season — not saying it’s happening, just predicting — payroll will spill just over $100 million heading into Spring Training.

Everybody remembers owner Mike Ilitch telling reporters at the Mike Modano press conference that he’s still going to spend on his baseball team. But lost in those remarks was the quote where he says he’s learned from recent years and that they have to make smart decisions. They signed Victor Martinez at a price that looks very good right now. They acknowledged the new market on setup relievers and signed Joaquin Benoit to a three-year deal they didn’t want but needed to do, and they’re the most likely team to get Ordonez.

It’s more than a lot of teams will do this winter. It’s just not what some might have expected or hoped.

Magglio holds private workout for Tigers

UPDATED at 8:15 pm: The Tigers watched Magglio Ordonez move around on his surgically repaired right ankle in a private workout Wednesday morning. What it means for the market on the free-agent outfielder remains to be seen.

Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed the Tigers were represented, a statement agent Scott Boras made earlier in the day. No other club was represented or invited, though neither the Tigers nor Boras confirmed that.

“We had a workout today with Magglio where he got a chance to illustrate where he got a chance to illustrate just where his baseball abilities were at,” Boras said. “That took place this morning. Teams got to see that. I really don’t know [how many teams] because I haven’t gotten the report. I know that Detroit was there for sure.”

The workout took place in central Florida, close to the site of baseball’s Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort. Dombrowski wouldn’t offer an assessment or any other details.

Boras spoke with reporters in the hallways of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, where baseball’s Winter Meetings are taking place this week. He spoke about a number of players, including the just-signed Carlos Pena, but his remarks on Ordonez became a popular topic.

The workout for Ordonez was meant to demonstrate the health of his surgically repaired ankle, which Boras has said in recent weeks is fully healed and has allowed him to adopt a normal workout regimen. It would make sense that the Tigers would want to check out his health, especially with Ordonez and Boras looking for a two-year contract.

One reason the Tigers were so cautious about Ordonez’s recovery back in August was the nature of the broken ankle. It was a vertical fracture up and down the ankle, rather than across. Putting weight on the ankle too soon could hamper the recovery, team medical officials said back then.

Dombrowski’s confirmation was the first statement he has made on Ordonez in at least two weeks. The Tigers had gone into silence about their interest in Ordonez, his health, and contract negotiations, citing new baseball rules limiting their comments about free agents. However, they’re known to be interested.

Ordonez is seeking at least a two-year deal, according to a source. Boras wouldn’t confirm that Wednesday, preferring to let the market decide, but he indicated the market on Ordonez has grown in recent days since Jayson Werth’s seven-year deal with the Nationals.

“Magglio is a guy that has gotten a lot of interest from a lot of teams now that Jayson has signed,” said Boras. “He’s a middle of the [order] guy. He’s had a great batting average, been a productive guy, he’s a veteran player and he’s a winner. There are a lot of things about Magglio Ordonez where he fits a broad base of teams. Once Jayson signed, a lot of the teams interested in Jayson are now interested in Magglio.”

Tigers watch Magglio workout

Scott Boras held a very long interview session with reporters today after Carlos Pena’s press conference for his new deal with the Cubs. Among the topics was Magglio Ordonez, whom Boras said was working out for teams today. Among the teams set to be in attendance, not surprisingly, were the Tigers, who set up his rehab process after his broken ankle in late July led to season-ending surgery.

Boras said there’s a good market going for Ordonez’s services, which might lead to a deal sooner rather than later. Still, it doesn’t sound like any deal for Ordonez is imminent.

Lefty relief not a pressing priority right now

The Tigers have been touching base with agents for left-handed relievers and keeping tabs on the market, but the impression among folks at the Winter Meetings is that they’re not going to move on anybody in that category anytime soon. They’ve shown some interest in free agents J.C. Romero and Ron Mahay, according to sources, but nothing has gotten far. Given Dave Dombrowski’s recent remarks that Daniel Schlereth could be their No. 1 lefty reliever, it seems to reinforce that notion.

As I’ve written before, the free-agent market has had no shortage of left-handers available late in the winter as Spring Training approaches. Though Detroit’s deal for Joaquin Benoit brought some question whether the market would speed up, that doesn’t seem to be the case for left-handers.

Alfredo Figaro to Japan?

Not exactly scalding the hot stove, I know, but credit NPBtracker.com with the scoop on Tigers pitching farmhand Alfredo Figaro and negotiations for him to join the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Pacific League. Nothing is finalized, but talks are ongoing.

Figaro was kind of an underrated pitching prospect rising through the farm system when the Tigers gave him a shot in 2009. He made two starts that June — one really good, the other very bad — and went back to Triple-A Toledo before coming up in September for some relief work. His ill-fated spot start against the White Sox on the final Saturday of the regular season was highly scrutinized, you might remember, but the Tigers understandably didn’t want to start rookie Rick Porcello or ace Justin Verlander on short rest.

Figaro went 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in eight games for the Tigers this past season, allowing 11 earned runs on 18 hits over 14 2/3 innings. He walked eight and struck out five. With the Tigers’ pitching ranks getting deeper at the upper levels now as more recent draft picks rise up the ranks, Figaro might have reached his ceiling with Toledo.

Will it impact the Tigers? Not really. The main difference will be another rotation spot open for the Mud Hens, where Andy Oliver and Charlie Furbush front what should be a talented starting staff. Some have seen Furbush as a darkhorse candidate for a lefty relief spot in Detroit at some point during the season, but I seriously doubt he’d be used that way in the minors, especially with the Tigers needing to identify some insurance starters other than Oliver if case the injury bug hits early.

Dombrowski: Tigers were never in on Werth

The Tigers were rumored among the most serious suitors for Jayson Werth, who just signed a seven-year, $126 million deal with the Nationals. But team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said their interest didn’t go very far.

“The majority, and just short of all of that, was strictly paper talk,” Dombrowski said. “We never had any serious conversations on Jayson Werth. Not one. And the reality of it is, when we prioritized our players, we had Victor Martinez up there, that we pursued. And just preliminary conversations, very preliminary, where they talk in generalities, the dollar numbers and years were just not appealing to us.

“That’s why sometimes you move quickly in other directions to do things. For us, it just made more sense to move in the direction that we did.”

Tigers sign Omir Santos at catching insurance

What Dane Sardinha was to the Tigers in 2008 and 2009, and what Robinzon Diaz was meant to be last year, Omir Santos is expected to be next season. The Tigers signed the 29-year-old catcher to a minor-league contract to serve as insurance for Alex Avila and Victor Martinez.

Santos is best known for a good stint of playing time behind the plate for the Mets in 2009. He batted .260 in 96 games that season with 14 doubles, seven home runs and 40 RBIs. He played just 27 games this past season between Triple-A Buffalo and Double-A Binghamton, batting a combined .160 with a home run and 10 RBIs in 94 at-bats.

Again, it’s insurance. Avila and Martinez were the only catchers on Detroit’s roster, unless you count emergency backstops Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge. Once rosters expanded in September, the Tigers’ third catcher was Max St. Pierre, who earned his first Major League stint after 14 minor league seasons. They’re starting to develop some more young catchers in the system, and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski says it’s probably the best catching development they’ve had since he took over, but that young talent is currently in the lower levels.

Tigers still looking at lefties, talk on Mahay

Tigers people were out working the lobby at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort Monday morning. That’s a normal thing for them at the start of the Winter Meetings as they try to gauge teams and see where there might be fits.

For now, the buzz is still the Jayson Werth deal and how it might affect the rest of these meetings, especially the top of the outfield market. The Tigers obviously fit into that, but they’re still keeping their eyes on other things, too, including lefty relief. They had some discussion on longtime lefty specialist Ron Mahay, currently a free agent, but nothing seems to have progressed just yet. There’s an impression that lefty relief isn’t a pressing priority at this point.

Mahay turns 40 years old next year. He went 1-1 with a 3.44 ERA for the Twins last year, allowing 33 hits over 34 innings with 25 strikeouts. Left-handed hitters batted just .219 against him: 14-for-64 with 12 strikeouts.

Don’t expect them to make a run at Scott Downs. Though the Tigers love what Downs brings to the job, they don’t want to give another high-round pick as compensation for the Type A free agent. That’s the same problem many teams are facing when it comes to him.

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