January 2011

Guillen still on same timetable

If there was any question whether Carlos Guillen had suffered a setback in his recovery from microfracture surgery, Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski seemed to knock it down Saturday. Dombrowski was asked about Guillen’s recovery today at TigerFest, and the timetable Dombrowski gave about the same as before, with a little more encouragement.

“The doctor said he’s further ahead than what he even anticipated,” Dombrowski said. “He’s in a position where the doctor projects that Carlos should be able to play in games around the middle of March. But still, until you go out there and you start pounding day in and day out in Spring Training, I think you won’t get a total feel until that takes place. But right now, [the news is] very encouraging on how he feels.”
The timetable itself creates the uncertainty that creates the doubt. He’s expected to be able to play in games with about two weeks left in Spring Training. Will that be enough time for Guillen to be ready to play second base on Opening Day? The Tigers have reason for optimism that he will, but they also have to be prepared that he won’t.
Guillen was not available for comment.

Dombrowski says Galarraga likely to be traded

Dave Dombrowski had finished up his question-and-answer session with fans this morning when he did a group interview with the media. Among the topics that came up was an update on trade talks for Armando Galarraga, whom the Tigers have a little less than a week to move (trade, release or outright to minors).

Dombrowski sounded quite confident it’s going to be a trade.
“We’re making some progress on some trade talks at this point,” Dombrowski said. “Not quite sufficient to make any announcements, but I would think by the middle of next week we would be in a position where we would make a deal.”
Asked then if a trade is likely, Dombrowski said, “Yes, I think it’s likely.” 

Tigers to honor Sparky, retire number

The Tigers will honor Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, from a patch on their right sleeves to the retirement of his number 11 on the brick wall at Comerica Park. 
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski made the announcement Saturday morning during his annual question-and-answer session at TigerFest.
“To me, there’s no greater honor for a franchise to bestow upon an individual than to retire his number,” Dombrowski said. “It’s happened very few times in Tiger history, with all the great players that have been through.”
The Tigers will begin the honors by wearing the patch during Spring Training games. The patch, in the shape of home plate, features “Sparky” and his number 11. The team will raise a flag to remember him before their home opener April 8. The ceremony to retire his number will take place at a game to be determined.

TigerFest awaits

No release with the full roster for TigerFest this time, but that’s likely because the vast majority of the projected roster is here already.

The players we know will not be here for TigerFest include Ryan Raburn (wife is expecting their first child), Brad Thomas (in Australia) and likely Brad Penny (just signed and on vacation this week). Aside from a few pitching prospects, the rest of the roster is here. Joaquin Benoit is expected to be around as well after traveling from Boston, where he received the Tony Conigliaro Award from the Boston baseball writers Thursday night.
Correction: Carlos Guillen is indeed here.
So if you’re among the lucky with tickets to TigerFest, you should have plenty of options for autographs and photos. Just remember to dress warm, of course.

Leyland not expecting Guillen to be ready

The Tigers’ winter caravan is off and running here at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, where the Mud Hens are holding their annual Fandemonium event. That includes an appearance from manager Jim Leyland, who talked a little bit about the team. Among the topics:

  • Carlos Guillen — “I don’t think he’s going to be ready to start the season,” Leyland said. “I don’t think [so], but I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.” That doesn’t mean he doubts Guillen is going to be healthy. But Leyland doesn’t expect Guillen far enough long in Spring Training to open the season at second base. “We’re hoping he’s going to be part of the mix at second. He could be a big key for us. He won’t be until he’s ready to play, obviously. But out of all the positions, that’s one where we’re pretty comfortable because we’re pretty solid. I mean, we’ve got some choices — Rhymes, Worth, Sizemore, Santiago. Raburn could play second if he had to. We’re pretty deep there, really.”
  • I followed up with some folks after Leyland’s remarks, and the impression I get is that nothing has changed in Guillen’s status since last month, when Tigers people sounded more optimistic. It sounds like the Tigers are proceeding cautiously because of the nature of the surgery and how rare it is in baseball. If Guillen does have a setback or falls a little bit behind schedule and can’t play in games until the final week or two of Spring Training, they don’t want to be caught unprepared.
  • Third catcher — Leyland wants to make sure somebody is ready for that role, because it’s going to come up late in close games when Alex Avila is on base and Leyland debates whether to use a pinch-runner. To that end, Leyland said Don Kelly is going to catch a little bit this Spring Training. They don’t want him to play much, but they also want him as a little more than an emergency catcher.
  • Pitching coach Rick Knapp said Joel Zumaya is already throwing in Lakeland, has been for a little while, and is on track. Again, the Tigers are being cautious, but they can’t hide their optimism. “I’m praying to God [he] holds up, because he could be a huge weapon for us.”
  • Leyland doesn’t know yet who will hit second in the order. It partly depends on who ends up starting at second base to begin the season. Leyland did say he would like a little bit of speed there.
  • Casper Wells said his left knee, the one he tweaked near the end of his winter ball season in the Dominican, is fine. He should be ready to go.

Rosters announced for winter caravan

Some of you had asked, and the rosters are out for the winter caravan Thursday and Friday. It’s a pretty good list. The metro bus includes manager Jim Leyland, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Magglio Ordonez, Jose Valverde, Jhonny Peralta, Austin Jackson (Friday’s stops only), Max Scherzer, Alex Avila, Ramon Santiago, Robbie Weinhardt, Andy Oliver, Scott Sizemore, Al Alburquerque, Duane Below, Audy Ciriaco, and the FSN broadcast team of Mario Impemba and Rod Allen.

The north bus includes Brandon Inge, Joel Zumaya, Phil Coke, Brennan Boesch, Rick Porcello, Ryan Perry, Casper Wells, Daniel Schlereth, Will Rhymes, Don Kelly, Danny Worth, Brad Thomas, Jacob Turner, Ryan Strieby, Cale Iorg and Ryan Strieby.

Here’s a breakdown of who’s scheduled to go where in the public events:

METRO BUS – Thursday

Detroit Institiute of Arts, 2 p.m. rally — Alburquerque, Allen, Below, Cabrera, Ciriaco, Dombrowski, Impemba, Oliver, Ordonez, Peralta, Scherzer, Sizemore, Valverde, Weinhardt

Taylor Police Department, 5:30 p.m. rally — Alburquerque, Below, Cabrera, Impemba, Lamont, Leyland, McClendon, Oliver, Peralta, Verlander, Weinhardt

West Bloomfield Library, 5:30 p.m. book reading — Scherzer and Sizemore

Hockeytown Authentics in Troy, 6 p.m. visit — Avila and Ordonez

Center of Music and Performing Arts (COMPAS), 6 p.m. visit — Allen, Ciriaco, Santiago, Valverde

METRO BUS – Friday

Detroit Science Center, 10 a.m. visit — Scherzer and Verlander

Oakland University, 2 p.m. rally — Alburquerque, Below, Cabrera, Ciriaco, Impemba, Leyland, Lamont, Oliver, Peralta, Santiago, Scherzer, Weinhardt

McDonald’s on Walton Blvd. in Rochester Hills, 2 p.m. — Valverde and Ordonez will join the work crew

North American Intl. Auto Show, 4 p.m. rally — Allen, Avila, Jackson, Ordonez, Sizemore, Valverde, Verlander

Galarraga officially hits the trading block

The Cubs are on the verge of sending Tom Gorzelanny to Washington for
prospects. Joe Blanton no longer looks like a sure bet to be traded out
of Philadelphia. The quality of the remaining free-agent market drops
precipitously after Carl Pavano.

What’s a team looking for starting pitching left to do?

Could they go for Armando Galarraga?

That’s what Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is counting
on. He’s strong enough about it that he thinks he stands a better
chance of trading Galarraga now than Spring Training. Otherwise, he
probably wouldn’t have designated him for assignment Tuesday to make
room for Brad Penny.

Instead of waiting until March, the Tigers have 10 days to try to deal Galarraga.

“I’m confident,” Dombrowski said Tuesday when asked about his chances of
finding a trade partner for his former fifth starter. “You never know
until you get it done. We’ve had enough  clubs express some interest.
It’s not like I have a for-sure deal, but I do have enough clubs that
have asked me about him.”

By no means is Galarraga an answer for teams looking for a front-line
starter. For teams needing a fifth starter who has been through a few
seasons, though, Galarraga is an option. That list could be longer than
expected, now that waiting for the Tigers to release Galarraga in Spring
Training is no longer an option.

The Tigers’ return for Galarraga might be only marginally better than
what they received last spring for Nate Robertson. Galarraga doesn’t
have an untradeable contract, or a significant injury history, but he’s
coming off an up-and-down season and a stretch.

Considering Galarraga’s issues with attacking the strike zone last
summer, he’s the type of pitcher who might benefit from a pitching coach
who views him as a bit of a project to restore his confidence.

The Tigers could still end up bringing Galarraga to camp if no team
claims him on waiver. He could then be outrighted to Triple-A Toledo and
brought to Spring Training as a non-roster invite. But with the Tigers
rotation clearly set, and prospects Andy Oliver, Charlie Furbush and
Jacob Turner also likely to get stretched out in terms of innings, the
Tigers could have a problem finding the innings to showcase Galarraga
for anybody.

Tigers, Galarraga avoid arbitration

The Tigers will go another winter without an arbitration hearing, continuing their streak by agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with right-hander Armando Galarraga.

The deal, announced Tuesday, is reportedly worth $2.3 million for the first-time arbitration eligible Galarraga. It bridges what was expected to be a potentially difficult gap between what Galarraga wanted after the better part of three seasons in Detroit’s rotation, and what the Tigers wanted for someone whose rotation chances for 2011 now look shaky after last week’s signing of Brad Penny.

Galarraga had a statistical conundrum of a season, and his would-be perfect game ruined by umpire Jim Joyce’s blown call was just the start of it. Galarraga could never turn that June 2 outing into momentum for the summer, and finished the year with a 4-9 record and 4.49 ERA. He made $438,000 last year.

Not since Eric Hillman in 1993 had a Major League pitcher won four games or less in a season when they posted a 4.50 ERA or less over at least 140 innings. Just three others besides Hillman had pulled off that feat since 1985: Larry McWilliams and Zane Smith in 1989, and John Dopson in 1988. Galarraga was the first American League pitcher to do it since Frank Tanana in 1981.

Galarraga’s puzzling 2010 season came two years after he came out of an obscure minor-league trade with Texas to lead the Tigers in victories in 2008, going 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA. He has gone 10-19 in the two seasons since, seen his walk-to-strikeout ratio deterioriate and struggle to pound the strike zone with the same effective he enjoyed as a rookie.

Galarraga’s contract is not fully guaranteed. The Tigers can let him go into Spring Training and compete for a spot, but could conceivably release him by March 15 and owe him just 30 days’ termination pay, or just under $380,000. If they released him by March 30, they would owe him 45 days’ pay, or just under $569,000.

They could also try to trade him, or they could keep him around as a reliever if he doesn’t take a rotation spot.

For reference sake, Galarraga will earn the exact same salary Jeremy Bonderman did in his first arbitration-eligible season back in 2006. Nate Robertson earned more as a first-time eligible player, signing for $3.26 million in 2007.

The Tigers have not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since Dave Dombrowski took over as general manager in 2002. Galarraga’s agreement, on the heels of a two-year contract with Ryan Raburn and a one-year deal with Joel Zumaya earlier in the month, means that streak will continue for another year.

Tigers avoid arbitration with Zumaya

The Tigers agreed to terms on Friday on a one-year, $1.4 million contract with reliever Joel Zumaya, inking another of their arbitration eligibles as they try to wrap up their offseason to-do list.

The deal has been expected for a while. Zumaya said earlier this offseason he wasn’t going to be greedy as he looked for a contract. With free agency coming for him next winter, he knows his big pay should come shortly if he can come through with a healthy 2011 season.

That, of course, has been the problem. His elbow fracture on the mound in a game last June ended his 2010 season at 31 appearances, yet it was his highest total since his rookie season of 2006. Zumaya went 2-1 with a 2.58 ERA and one save, striking out 34 batters over 38 1/3 innings. He made $915,000 last year, but just missed a $20,000 bonus had he pitched in 35 games.

When healthy, Zumaya has the chance to be a valuable piece in the bullpen, even with the depth the Tigers have built up in their relief corps this winter. His ability to get swings and misses in big situations with a fastball around 100 mph is extremely difficult to replace, and his willingness to work on his secondary pitches bodes well for improvement. He also has the potential to work two innings, which could make him a must-have bridge between Tigers starters and their late-inning tandem of setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde.

Zumaya’s deal leaves Armando Galarraga as the lone arbitration-eligible Tiger who has yet to sign. Given his resume, plus the Tigers’ recent agreement with Brad Penny, his situation might take a while to resolve.

The Tigers have not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since Dave Dombrowski took over general manager duties in 2002.

Tigers, Raburn avoid arbitration with 2-year deal

The Tigers signed left fielder Ryan Raburn to a two-year, $3.4 million contract, taking one more player out of their arbitration concerns and inking an emerging member of their starting lineup just as he emerges as a regular player.
Raburn spent the past few years shuffling between a superutility role and occasional stretches in the starting lineup. After batting .280 last year with 25 doubles, 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 371 at-bats, though, he’s poised to take the bulk of the playing time in left field and possibly grab a key spot in the top half of the order.
It was somewhat of a surprise deal for Raburn, who turns 30 years old in April and is eligible for arbitration for the first time. Given Detroit’s other contractual commitments and the arbitration cases they had this year, they were expected to hold themselves to one-year deals. And as of a week ago, there supposedly hadn’t been much going on between the two sides.
But as long as the Tigers are committed to keeping Raburn in a big position beyond this year, and they believe he can produce, then there was a financial benefit to signing him for 2012 now rather than let him go to arbitration with a full season of production on his resume.
The move leaves reliever Joel Zumaya and starter Armando Galarraga as the remaining arbitration-eligible Tigers.