January 18th, 2011

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.