February 2011

Rand: Guillen will indeed be limited

To do away with the biggest question of Spring Training, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Saturday he would leave Carlos Guillen to the team’s medical staff and trainers as he rehabs from microfracture knee surgery. On Sunday, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand confirmed the obvious, that Guillen will be limited in the early part of camp.

How limited, Rand didn’t want to try to answer until he could see Guillen later this week. Position players aren’t scheduled to report until Thursday, and Guillen has traditionally come in close to reporting day.

From there, expect a good amount of work in the weight room, and a pretty big focus on his agility as he tries to show he’s ready to handle second base. If he can do it in time for Opening Day, it’ll be some of the best news possible for Tigers personnel, who aren’t going to turn down the chance at a switch-hitting middle infielder with a track record of run production.

“The first big thing is to get him healthy,” Leyland said. “The second big thing is to see what he’s got left.”

Reporting day has arrived, and so have Tigers

By most measures, Sunday was a relatively quiet morning for the Tigers, quieter than most days earlier in the week. But it was a milestone day, as the final hours of Detroit’s offseason ticked away.

Officially, pitchers and catchers reported to camp Sunday. Unofficially, the vast majority of them have already been in camp for several days. Victor Martinez made a brief appearance Sunday, as reportedly did Joaquin Benoit. As of Sunday afternoon, only a handful or so of Tigers pitchers and catchers had yet to report. That won’t be a big deal; the real deadline is Monday morning, when the team meets at 9:30.

It’ll be a highly anticipated morning for many players, ready to get moving towards the season and to see what they have in what looks on paper like a stacked pitching staff.

“I feel like I’m more excited to get started now than I ever have,” said Ryan Perry, whose locker this spring will be next to that of Benoit.

Leyland (and Leyland) arrive at Spring Training

Jim Leyland has been coming to Spring Training for more than 40 years now between his playing, coaching and managing days, so he doesn’t get too excited once he arrives in Lakeland. This year, though, was a little different when his son Patrick rolled into the clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium with him and settled into his locker among the non-roster invitees.

“I told him he’s down there on the end, where they usually go fast,” Leyland joked.

Some traditions, however, don’t change, like the one where Leyland sits down in his office upon his arrival at Spring Training and gives his impressions on the state of the team going into camp. As such, there was a decent amount of info coming out of Tigertown today.

The biggest tidbit might be more of an overall theme: Leyland wants to put an emphasis on smarter, more aggressive baserunning this year. They’re not going to become an aggressive team, really, but he wants to work with guys who aren’t good baserunners on learning to run on pitchers who give them the opportunity. In other words, he wants them to take what’s given to them. Think Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Brandon Inge.

“I’m not talking about we’re going to be a running team,” he said, “but I’m talking about a big situation.”

To that effect, they’re going to take advantage of the technology they have. They’ve used cameras to record hitting sessions and batting practice swings for the past several years. This year, they’ll put one on baserunning situations, looking for secondary leads, first steps, etc.

“We really need to maximize our baserunning ability,” Leyland said. “That’s going to be a big thing this spring.”

As for Austin Jackson’s goal of stealing 40 bases this year, Leyland believes he’s capable of that. But he wants to focus on Jackson stealing bases in big situations.

“I want the stolen bases that really benefit the team,” Leyland said. “A basestealer, to me, is the guy that everybody in the park knows he’s going to go, and he goes and steals the base. … Jackson’s going to get his.”

Other tidbits …

  • Don’t expect a lot of news about Carlos Guillen in the opening weeks of camp. Leyland said he’s going to leave Guillen’s situation to the medical staff until he’s closer to action.
    “It’s going to be a slow process, from what I understand,” Leyland said. “I’m going to stay out of it. It’s a process that Carlos and the medical staff are going to take care of. He wants to play so bad.”
  • If and when Guillen’s healthy, he’s going to play second base. He will not shuffle around the infield and outfield. And Guillen playing second base is the preferred scenario for the Tigers. they’d like to work in the younger players — Scott Sizemore, Will Rhymes and Danny Worth. Leyland would like to see some improvement from Sizemore and Rhymes defensively, but he expects Sizemore’s health should help that. “I looked at Sizemore last year,” Leyland said, “and he looked like a totally different guy [at TigerFest last month].”
  • Ryan Raburn will only work in left field. “I’d like to put him in left field and forget about him [moving around],” Leyland said. 
  • Don’t rule out Brennan Boesch making the 25-man roster, or getting at-bats in left field. Leyland was upbeat about him Saturday. “He’s got to get back in a groove offensively, and he’s got to improve defensively,” Leyland said. “And I think he will.”
  • Lefty relief is an issue Leyland sees as something they’ll have to solve. So it might not be quite as simple as inserting Daniel Schlereth in place of Phil Coke, slotting Brad Thomas in long and middle relief and going from there.

Hardest-working Tiger in camp? Maybe Alex Avila

The Tigers don’t start official workouts until Monday, but most of the pitchers are already in camp. The hardest-working Tiger in the early workouts, though, might well be the starting catcher.

“It’s been a good offseason for me,” Alex Avila said Friday. “I was pumped to get down here two Mondays ago.”

Actually, he drove up here to Lakeland from Miami. He was working out there with Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera. When they went back to Venezuela for one more stretch at home, Avila headed north.

He wanted to be around to work with the pitchers — especially the ones he hasn’t caught before — and he wanted to get in some hitting work that’s easier to do in a Spring Training facility than it is somewhere else. So right now, he’s doing a lot of both.

“You’re working out and running and everything can get you ready physically,” he said, “but there’s being in good shape, and then there’s baseball shape. That’s why I come in early, to get in baseball shape. Now, if you’re in good shape, it makes it easier to get into baseball shape. I came here to start catching pitchers and getting used to squatting again.”

Since the pitchers start getting their work done around 9 a.m., Avila gets in his hitting work beforehand. On average, he’s catching two or three mound sessions a day. Add in some training work, and he’s in until early afternoon. He’ll probably get out earlier when the actual workouts get going, and the catcher roster fills out, even though he’ll catch more pitchers then. As it is, Don Kelly and some of the minor-league catchers such as Rob Brantly are helping out.

“At this point, it’s just enough to get used to the squatting and get your footwork down and everything like that,” he said. “It makes for good work up until the start of camp. And then once camp starts, it’s like pitchers everywhere. There’s like 50 guys that have to throw.”

It’s a ton of work, and not surprisingly, Avila loves it. He’s the starting catcher, and it’s tough to wipe the smile off his face.

“Honestly, it’s a shorter day than during the season,” he said. “It’s a full-time job. You know. You have to be there.”

Penny steps off plane, arrives at Spring Training

The first official workout for Tigers pitchers and catchers isn’t until
Monday, but it was hard to tell from the procession of pitchers throwing
off the back mounds at Tigertown Friday morning. Most os f the pitchers
in camp are already here. That now includes Brad Penny, who stepped off
his red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Orlando and went straight to
Lakeland for his first workout in Tigers gear.

“Couldn’t wait to get here,” Penny said Friday morning.

Considering he hasn’t pitched in a game since last May, he’s had it with
waiting. The oblique injury that ended his season early is now a thing
of the past, but the time off might pay off dividends this year. Because
he had so much time this offseason, he more this winter than usual. In
past years, he said, he’d throw one bullpen session before reporting to
camp. He has several under his belt now, though Friday wasn’t his day to throw. He worked out with the pitchers and hit the weight room.

Penny won’t need long to feel at home. He received the Spring Training
locker at the start of the pitching corridor, previously occupied by
Todd Jones and Jeremy Bonderman. Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, Jose Valverde,
Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander are down the line.

For those who were wondering, Penny will wear number 31, Zach Miner’s old digits.

Tigers announce TV schedule

The Tigers’ TV schedule is out, and they’re again set to have 161 games on the tube. The only game currently not scheduled to air is the Sept. 17 game at Oakland, a day game out west but a 4 p.m. ET contest that falls within the FOX national broadcast window that precludes local telecasts. Just a guess on my part, but I have a feeling that if the Tigers are in the race at that stage, they might find a way to get it on. If not, you can listen to the game on the radio or online while watching the FOX game or watching college football.

FSN Detroit is set to broadcast 152 games this regular season, plus four Spring Training broadcasts March 16, 22, 24 and 27. All of them are scheduled to be shown in HD, and a lot of them will be replayed at midnight. The season opener at New York will be shown locally on FSN, and nationally on ESPN.

Nine more games will be part of the FOX Saturday afternoon package, starting with the second game of the season April 2 at Yankee Stadium. They’ll have two different stretches in which they’ll have three straight Saturday broadcasts — July 16 (White Sox), 23 (Twins) and 30 (Angels), then Aug. 27 (Twins), Sept. 3 (White Sox) and Sept. 10 (Twins again).

So far, no Tigers games are on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball schedule. But as we explained before, that schedule is only set for a few months so far, so don’t be surprised if a good start from Detroit lands the Tabbies on Sunday night for some midsummer or late season contests.

Michael Young to Tigers? Not happening

Michael Young has asked the Rangers for a trade after shifting positions three times in recent years. The Tigers don’t have a clear-cut starter at second base, one of Young’s old positions, nor do they have a clear No. 2 hitter in the lineup. Sounds like a match, right?

Not happening, for a few very big reasons. Word from the Tigers is that they’re not in on that. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told MLB.com Tuesday morning that their infield is set, the same as it was a couple weeks ago. They’re not pursuing any deals.

Though Dombrowski didn’t go into detail — can’t talk about players from other teams for fear of tampering — several reasons show why it wouldn’t happen. First, Young has veto rights on trades to all but eight teams, and the Tigers aren’t one of those teams, according to MLB.com TR Sullivan. The Rangers are dealing with just teams on that list, Texas GM Jon Daniels told reporters Monday. Young reportedly would consider teams outside that list on a case by case basis, but at the end of the day, there’s a reason for the list.

Second, and just as important, is Young’s contract — $16 million a year for the next three seasons. For any player, that’s a huge obligation, even if the Rangers end up willing to pay part of that. It’s not just about the money, but the years.

For a 34-year-old infielder, it’s especially about the years. The Tigers let Polanco walk as a free agent at the same age two years ago, even declining the chance at arbitration. Granted, the Tigers were looking to trim payroll at that point, but there also wasn’t much of a market for Polanco as a second baseman. He’s now the Phillies third baseman. Young, meanwhile, hasn’t played the middle infield since 2008, when he was still Texas’ starting shortstop.

If the Tigers had the flexibility and the desire to add a veteran second baseman, they likely would’ve done it already. For those contract terms, it would’ve arguably made more sense for them to pursue Dan Uggla — a younger second baseman and a right-handed power hitter — when he was available in the fall.

Some readers have suggested the Tigers could send Carlos Guillen to Texas in the deal to free up salary space, at least for this year (a $13 million year for Guillen in the last season of his contract). But with Guillen coming off microfracture surgery in his knee, not expected to be game ready until mid-March and with a long injury history, his value to other teams just isn’t there. Plus, he has full no-trade rights as a 10-and-5 player (10 years in the Majors, the last five with the same team), and the idea of a part-time DH probably appeals even less to him than it does to Young, especially in a contract year for Guillen.

When it comes down to it, The Tigers are serious about trying to leave room for developing young talent, and second base is one area where they have it between Scott Sizemore, Will Rhymes and Danny Worth, plus Brandon Douglas on the horizon. Doesn’t mean all these guys are going to pan out, or that any of them will approach Young’s production, but they have enough depth to expect somebody to separate themselves from the group. And with Carlos Guillen added in, they have enough candidates to believe they can get some production out of that spot this year. And any deal for Young anywhere would be a deal made for this year; he’ll be 36 for the last year of his contract in 2013.