The Tigers spent a week reacting to Victor Martinez’s season-ending left knee injury. Their eventual reaction was big enough to be worthy of a Prince.
After supposedly looking for a short-term solution to the void in the middle of their order, the Tigers went big, physically and financially, with All-Star slugger Prince Fielder. On Tuesday, the two sides agreed to terms on a nine-year contract worth $214 million.
Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports and Jon Heyman of MLB Network and CBSSports.com first reported the talks and ensuing agreement. A source confirmed the terms to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez.
The Tigers have not commented on the reports. The team has a policy of not commenting on reported deals until the players involved have passed physicals.
The move caught the rest of baseball by surprise, not so much regarding the Tigers’ interest but by the lengths they pursued Fielder to get a deal done. What was expected to be a short-term replacement became a cornerstone acquisition, reuniting Fielder with the team he followed as a child.
With a nine-year deal, Fielder would be under contract with Detroit through 2020. Even then, however, he’ll be 36 years old, which made a long-term deal for the 27-year-old an intriguing one. That intrigue just wasn’t expected to include the Tigers.
Until Martinez tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in a training mishap a week and a half ago, the Tigers were set at designated hitter. Martinez hit .330 with 103 RBIs last year to help lead Detroit to its first division title in 24 years and protect Miguel Cabrera in the lineup on the first baseman’s way to his first American League batting crown.
Though the Tigers supposedly had contact last week with Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, in the wake of Martinez’s injury, the fit didn’t look realistic. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski downplayed the chances of a Fielder deal just last Thursday, telling MLive.com’s Angela Wittrock that they probably would be focused on a short-term deal.
“Of course we’d consider it,” Dombrowski said of Fielder at the time, “but realistically, it’s probably not a good fit. … We anticipate Victor Martinez coming back in 2013 and playing at the level he was at last season.”
Dombrowski wouldn’t completely put the Fielder speculation to rest but stuck to his statement that the “fit really is not there at this point.”
As recently as Monday, Dombrowski told the Detroit News, “We’ve got a lot of names to consider.”
However, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has a history of putting together deals with Boras late in the offseason. In 2004, Ivan Rodriguez surprised many with a four-year contract to join a Tigers team coming off a 119-loss season. A year later, Magglio Ordonez signed what ended up being a six-year deal with the Tigers.
Both deals came together late in the offseason with pursuers dwindling. So did Johnny Damon’s one-year contract with the Tigers two years ago. That decision was strongly believed to have come directly from Ilitch, who, at the age of 82, has made his drive to win a World Series well known.
Ilitch’s push is believed to have been the driving factor behind the Fielder deal as well. The owner remembers Fielder from the first baseman’s childhood days tagging along with his father, former Tigers slugger Cecil Fielder, around Tiger Stadium and the Tigers clubhouse during the early 1990s.
Defensively, the fit also seemed unlikely. Fielder has played his entire Major League career with the National League at first base in Milwaukee, having played just 17 career games at DH during Interleague Play. The Tigers have installed Cabrera as a cornerstone player at first base, where his defense has improved markedly over the last two years.
A source close to Cabrera said the Tigers front office approached the slugger to see if he would be all right with the club adding Fielder and possibly pushing Cabrera away from first base. Cabrera, according to the source, told the team he was fine with it, and that he’s looking forward to playing alongside Fielder.
Cabrera told the Venezuelan newspaper <i>Lieder in Deportes</i> that he’s moving back to third base. Whether that’s on a full-time basis or part-time remains to be seen. At the very least, the Tigers are expected to use a rotation that makes sure neither is relegated to a being a full-time DH, including some games at third. Cabrera manned the hot corner for several seasons with the Florida Marlins before the Tigers moved him to first early in 2008.
What the Tigers will do a year from now, when Martinez is expected to be back at full strength, will be another challenge. Martinez spent most of last season at DH while filling in at catcher on some days as essentially a backup to All-Star Alex Avila. An August knee sprain, however, limited Martinez to DH down the stretch, and manager Jim Leyland said at season’s end he planned not to catch the 33-year-old Martinez again for the rest of his contract.
In the end, however, the Tigers had an offensive hole that Ilitch and management felt they needed to fill. They’ll deal with the roster impacts later, certainly next year.
The move caught even Cecil Fielder by surprise, the former slugger told MLB Network Radio. The father and son have had an estranged relationship in recent years stemming from debts the elder Fielder accumulated in retirement, reportedly costing the family their home. However, they have kept in touch in recent years.
“I didn’t see Detroit in the picture,” Cecil Fielder said.
Very few people did. But one big financial swing, it happened.
“I know Mr. Ilitch is probably excited,” Cecil Fielder said. “He’s been wanting that kid since he was a little kid, so he finally got his wish.”
Around this time two years ago, the Tigers were about midway through the six-week saga of signing Johnny Damon to be their left fielder and designated hitter. He had a good, not great season in Detroit, good for a .756 OPS and a .355 on-base percentage, then was told by the Tigers near season’s end they weren’t interested in re-signing him. Detroit was already plotting a pursuit of free-agent Victor Martinez.
So with Martinez likely out for the season, why would the Tigers have interest in going back to Damon?
Well, they have a few pretty good reasons. But the big picture is that this is a much different team, and a much better offense, than the one that split with Damon last offseason. Delmon Young is the veteran, run producing corner outfielder the Tigers lacked in 2010. Brennan Boesch isn’t a rookie anymore, and Alex Avila is an RBI guy.
The Tigers are searching for a bat to fill the opening left by Martinez, but if they can help it, they’d rather do it with an outfielder. They’d rather keep Miguel Cabrera at first base than have to move him in and out of the DH slot, and an outfielder would allow them some flexibility with Delmon Young in the DH role if they want. Granted, Damon has had just 46 starts in the outfield over the last two seasons, but he at least provides the capability.
Juan Pierre, another free agent linked to the Tigers, kind of falls in the same category, though he has been an everyday outfielder the last couple years in Chicago. Both have declining skills showing, especially in the field, but both can be productive near the top of the order.
Neither would likely be as expensive as a middle-of-the-order hitter, which is a factor. Though the Tigers did have an insurance policy on Victor Martinez, it isn’t believed to be for nearly as much as many have speculated (including myself).
Damon or Pierre would allow them to move either Young or Boesch down while (in theory) improving the percentages of Cabrera coming up with runners on base. They also add a left-handed bat in the top third of the order, something both manager Jim Leyland and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski have referenced in recent days. Leyland, of course, has also referenced the appeal of adding a top-third order hitter and a better baserunner.
The idea, of course, hinges on somebody else batting behind Cabrera. Young thrived last year batting in front of Cabrera in part because he saw a lot of strikes; nobody’s going to pitch around the guy batting in front of Cabrera. Boesch struggled mightily batting behind Cabrera down the stretch in 2010, but he’s a more mature hitter now. Leyland never wanted to bat Jhonny Peralta above sixth last year, and he didn’t want to put a whole lot of RBI pressure on Alex Avila either.
Interest in Damon appears to be in the early stages at this point. The Tigers haven’t had any direct contact with Damon, according to a source. But then, with the Yoenis Cespedes pursuit on hold pending his residency clearance in the Dominican Republic, the Tigers aren’t likely to add an outfielder until the Cespedes courtship gets resolved, or at least becomes clearer.
Everybody on the Tigers feels the loss of Victor Martinez, likely out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. But nobody is more likely to feel the aftereffects than Miguel Cabrera, the reigning AL batting champion and Tigers cleanup hitter. After all, the Tigers signed Martinez last winter to support Cabrera.
Cabrera, though, isn’t feeling the loss. Martinez won’t be in the lineup, Cabrera said, but he’ll still be a presence.
Apparently, Cabrera talked with Martinez this week, after the extent of the injury became clear.
“He told me, ‘Don’t get down. I’m going to work hard to get past the injuries,’” Cabrera said. “‘I’m going to do a lot of things to stay with the team. I’m going to support you a lot. I’m going to stay with you and hopefully get back on the field soon.’”
The field part is a question mark. Though the timetable from doctors and others have been through ACL surgery suggest anywhere from 8-10 months of recovery, Cabrera holds out hope Martinez could return by year’s end and be ready for the postseason.
The leadership aspect, the energy, seemed to be the biggest thing on Cabrera’s mind for Martinez. He saw the difference last year that Martinez brought. Even if Martinez isn’t physically around for most, if not all of the season, Cabrera still expects him to be a presence.
“I think even if he’s out for three months, four months, whatever he’s out, I think he’s going to be part of the team,” Cabrera said. “I think he’s going to be with us, he’s goinig to call everybody and we can call him. I think we’re going to be the same family.”
The bigger question on many minds, the question of how Martinez’s physical absence in the lineup affects Cabrera, wasn’t quite as big of a concern for him. When asked about the potential of how pressure on him, Cabrera politely shook his head.
“No, no, I don’t see it,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of things about putting more pressure on yourself, and that’s no good. You have to go out there and do what you can control and do what can you do to lead to wins. We’re going to keep focused the whole year.”
He definitely didn’t look worried Thursday; he looked pretty relaxed at the Tigers’ winter caravan stops. While some Tigers took part in movie trivia at a fan rally at Birmingham’s Palladium 12 Theater, Cabrera caught a ball and a pen from a kid in the seats and signed.
Delmon not distracted by batting order: Delmon Young isn’t really worried about where he’s going to bat in the order with Victor Martinez. Whether he hits third, fifth or eighth, he knows his job is to drive in a runner in scoring position.
No, what matters more to Young is knowing that his name’s going to be in the lineup.
After 3 1/2 years in Minnesota, Young knows about dealing with injury-depleted lineups. Losing Martinez hurts, but it isn’t new territory for him, whether it impacts his spot in the order or not.
“I learned a lot in Minnesota in 2008 when [Michael] Cuddyer missed [a half] season,” he said. “And in 2009, when we went to game 163, we had [Justin] Morneau down the second half of the season, and guys just had to step up. In 2010, Morneau missed the second half of the season.
“So when guys are MVP-caliber players and you lose them, you can’t try to do too much. You just have to have everyone come in and play their own game. And whoever is the guy that comes in for them has to play their own game. Because if you try to put up the .330, 100 RBI type numbers Victor puts up, that’s rare. There’s only six or seven guys in Major League Baseball that batted .330-plus last year. You can’t go in and try to replace Victor, because you’re not going to do that.”
Young’s best numbers, coincidentally, came in 2010, when Morneau suffered a concussion around the midway point that cost him the rest of the year. Pressure wasn’t the factor, he said.
“No, I just knew I didn’t have to check the lineup anymore,” he said, “just like when I got here. Jim [Leyland] said, ‘You’re playing every day. If you need a day off, come talk to me.’ So I never had to go check the lineup and have a daily tryout to see if I could make the lineup the next day.”
Credit Angela Wittrock of MLive.com for getting Dave Dombrowski to mention Prince Fielder by name during the Tigers’ winter caravan stop Thursday afternoon at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing. He normally doesn’t do that with free agents.
Dombrowski’s answer on the subject went about as expected.
“Of course we’d consider Prince Fielder,” Dombrowski is quoted as saying. “But realistically, it’s probably not a good fit.”
Agent Scott Boras, Dombrowski reportedly said, probably wouldn’t agree to a one-year contract, and that’s the kind of deal the Tigers are seeking to replace Martinez.
“We anticipate Victor Martinez coming back in 2013 and playing at the level he was at last season,” Dombrowski said.
Now, as many of us learned from the Johnny Damon saga two years ago, Boras has a talent for negotiating directly with owners. Dombrowski, you may remember, denied interest in Damon shortly after that rumor popped up, only to have that situation develop after that. But given that experience, it’s hard to imagine Dombrowski making his remarks today without feeling highly confident that’s the universal opinion in the organization.
“I would just say the fit is really not there at this point,” Dombrowski said.
Realistically, if Fielder can get a long-term deal somewhere else, it’s hard to envision him passing it up. And if Boras can take the Tigers’ desire for a one-year fix and tie it to another of his many free-agent hitters, Boras could be in better shape.
The Mud Hens’ annual Fandemonium event isn’t officially part of the Tigers’ winter caravan, but it’s really the unofficial start for the media, since it usually features manager Jim Leyland and some players in a less formal setting than the larger-scale rallies and interviews that go on later in the week. Not surprisingly, Leyland was the highlight in wake of Tuesday’s news about Victor Martinez’s season-ending knee injury.
Leyland touched on a lot of topics, the vast majority of them revolving around the Martinez situation and what the Tigers do now. The overriding theme was that Leyland is trying to stay positive, as he did earlier in the day in an interview with MLB Network Radio on Sirius/XM.
“I don’t want to downplay it, but I’m positive,” he said later at Fandemonium. “I feel good about our team, and this is something where we have to make the adjustment and go forward. We have a good team.”
If the logistics allow, he plans on talking with the team at some point during this caravan about it.
“It’s always a catch-22 when you’re management. You don’t want to downplay the loss of Victor Martinez, but you don’t want to prey on that either all the time,” Leyland said. “I was thinking coming down here, during this caravan, I don’t know how it’s all going to work out, but just having a meeting: ‘Look, we’re going to discuss this today, and after this, I don’t want to discuss this anymore. And I don’t want to downplay Victor, but I want to get the message across: Look, fellas, this is the way it is. We can take a punch.
I wrote a lengthy article here, but couldn’t get to everything, so here’s the roundup:
- On how he found out: “I got a call a couple days ago from Dave [Dombrowski]. He said, ‘How are you doing,’ and I could tell something wasn’t right. I said I’m fine, and he said, ‘Well, you’re not going to be doing too good. Are you sitting down?’ … I was in my car with my duahgter and my wife at Kent State.”
- On his reaction: “To me, I think Dave put it well: It’s a punch in the gut. But if you want to stay in the fight, you take a punch. We can take a punch. We took the Delmon punch last year, the Magglio punch last year, the Victor punch last year. We had guys hurt. If you can’t take a punch, then you don’t belong in the fight.”
- On moving on from it: “It’s something you just do the best you can with. I think you don’t beat around the bushes when you comment on it. Most likely, it’s a total shot in the dark you’re going to find somebody as good as Victor Martinez. Let’s face it. So if you say it’s not gonna hurt us, you’re lying. This guy’s one of the best clutch hitters in baseball, one of the best two-strike hitters in baseball, he’s one of the best run producers in baseball really without the big-time home run power. So you’re most likely not going to replace that.”
- On filling the spot: “I don’t know. This is so, so fresh, this hasn’t really set in yet. so I don’t know what’s going to happen. You think about it, there are some options probably outside [the organization], and there are some options that would be possibly hitter-type still not a lot of speed. There might be some speed out there that you might make adjustments with some personnel on your team and put them into that role or fool with that role. But I think we just want to look at it internally first.”
- On the abundance of hitters on the market: “There are a lot of names out there. I’ll say that. How good they produce anymore, I don’t know. And I always ultimately leave that up to Dave. We’ve already had some discussions, I won’t say who they are, of some guys internally. We’ve had some discussions about some guys outside the organization. … I imagine there are a lot of agents that called Dave Dombrowski yesterday. All of a sudden there were a lot of guys that wanted to play in Detroit.”
- On agents: “I did have an agent call me today about a player, which is rare. That’s not really my area, and I basically told him that. I was very respectful, but I told him I’ll pass that name along to Dave and I’m sure we’ll discuss it.”
- On whether it’s easier to fill void at DH: “I don’t know that it’s a DH spot we’re trying to fill. I think that’s part of the puzzle here. Do you take something you already have and put them in that role and pick up a position player to play more? That’s what I’m saying. It’s all premature right now. If we were saying, hey, we’re just going after a DH-type guy, then that’s one thing. But that’s not necessarily the way it could end up. It might, but it might not.”
- Are they focusing on short-term options: “If you’re asking me if we’re going to go out and sign some guy for three years, I would doubt that. But I don’t want to speak for Dave on that. That’s his area. Dave, he’s smart. He talked about some names already, but he’s not going to panic. He’s going to do his homework. When this happens, you just don’t go out the next day and sign some guy. There’s all kinds of things that are involved in that, what kind of physical condition [players are in]. You just have to be patient, and that’s one thing about Dave, he’s relentless when it comes to this kind of stuff. And we’ll come up with something. Maybe we do have something internally, I don’t know. Maybe we do. I’m not saying we don’t. We’ll look at that. But everybody has to remember, you’re not going to sign Victor Martinez, and you’re not going to find him internally, most likely. I mean, you’re kidding yourself. I think I would make myself look dumb to say, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ve got another Victor.’ We’re not going to find another Victor, most likely. That’s a total shot in the dark.”
I wrote all about Victor Martinez’s injury on the site, followed by an article chronicling some of the Tigers’ options on replacing him. But I figured I’d go over some of the options here in a more organized form — because, basically, the options break down into a few categories.
The crazy idea: Sign Prince Fielder (at all costs)
There’s a category for free-agent hitters, and then there’s a category for Fielder all by himself. He’s one of the best hitters in baseball, and he’s the guy who got left stranded without a lifeboat this winter once Albert Pujols signed. After all, there were too many first basemen on the market for this offseason when the big-market teams had their guys already. But other than Pujols, nobody hits like Fielder, a classic power hitter with low strikeout totals and a good average.
By no means would agent Scott Boras wish ill upon Martinez, but for him, Detroit is a blessing. With the market stagnant on Fielder between Washington and Texas, there’s suddenly a team with a desperate need for offense at a position (DH) where Fielder can fit. And no agent uses a team with a desperate need like Boras, who has a talent for negotiating directly with an owner and bypassing the front office. If the Tigers do end up signing Fielder, there’s a good chance it’ll involve Boras negotating straight with Mike Ilitch and appealing to his competitive nature like he did two years ago with Johnny Damon.
But there are a few significant reasons why the Tigers wouldn’t be a fit, no matter how desperate they look. Boras is rumored to be looking for a long-term deal for Fielder, along the lines of Pujols’ 10-year deal, and that’s just not going to come from Detroit. They can’t shuffle guys around to make room for everybody in the lineup once Martinez comes back next season (Dombrowski ruled out any idea of shifting Miguel Cabrera to third base), so any first baseman the Tigers might sign (and there are a slew of them out there) would have to be a short-term deal. Fielder would have to want to sign short-term and bounce back on the market maybe next winter, when the Dodgers might have an owner looking for a franchise player.
Then, of course, there’s the Cecil factor, as mentioned before. The relationship between father and son is not particularly strong after some bad history, and if Prince Fielder were to come to Detroit, it’s hard to imagine the comparisons to Cecil not coming up, whether from media or from fans. I have no information how big of a factor that might be, if at all. But it’s hard to dispute, playing in Detroit would be different than playing somewhere else, or anywhere else.
The less crazy idea: Sign Yoenis Cespedes (at all costs)
By every indication, this was a goal a while ago. Now, Martinez’s injury puts a lot more urgency on it. Even if the five-tool Cuban outfielder isn’t ready to start the season in the big leagues, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t be far off. Whenever Cespedes arrives in the big leagues, Delmon Young can shift to designated hitter, with Cespedes taking over in left field. Simple, right?
Two other factors come into play. First, it’s difficult to envision Cespedes hitting behind Miguel Cabrera in the order. More realistic is the idea of Cespedes batting somewhere else, with a more experienced hitter (maybe Young, despite his free swinging ways) moving behind Cabrera.
Second, of course, is the large list of suitors Cespedes has. The Marlins are widely expected to make a huge push to sign him, lured by the potential of a Cuban star in the South Florida market that could change the course of the franchise. Then suddenly, Cespedes told an AP reporter in the Dominican Republic that the Cubs have shown the most interest. Even if the Tigers want to pay the most money, will it matter?
The rental idea: Sign another free agent to a one-year deal
The one silver lining about Martinez’s injury, as I wrote earlier, is that it leaves an opening at DH, rather than at a specialty position like shortstop or catcher. Even this late in the offseason, the market is full of hitters who can fill the role. They all have flaws, but the vast majority have their strengths as well, experience among them.
Carlos Pena is a pure power option. Casey Kotchman is more of an all-around hitter who had an underrated season in Tampa Bay. Both are left-handed hitters. Vladimir Guerrero has a right-handed bat, but still a quick one with enough to turn on a fastball and send it somewhere for a quality hit. Derrek Lee is another right-handed hitter who got his first everyday job with the Marlins under Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland in 1998, and still has some power left. Hideki Matsui is a classic left-handed hitter with a solid track record of run production, even with Oakland’s miserable offense last year. Johnny Damon is another left-handed hitter with a history in Detroit, though not really a fifth hitter. Raul Ibanez has a slowing bat with his 40th birthday coming up in June, but still has left-handed power. J.D. Drew remains a respectable left-handed hitter with power when he’s healthy. Magglio Ordonez is still out there, though he has to convince clubs he’ll be ready for Opening Day. Another former Tiger, Cody Ross, is still available, though he’s coming off a subpar year in San Francisco.
That pretty much covers the list. None of them will come anywhere close to matching the production or intimidation of Martinez, but there are some productive bats in there.
The trade route: Acquire an expensive bat from somebody looking for salary relief
The Astros have Carlos Lee entering the final year of his lucrative deal, and an express desire to shed payroll and quicken the youth movement. The Cubs have a really bad contract with Alfonso Soriano, three more years at $18 million each, and a strong motivation to move him, especially if they sign Yoenis Cespedes. The Angels have more hitters than they have spots, which could make Bobby Abreu expendable with $9 million in his final year. Get the picture?
The Tigers have been mindful of their finances this winter, knowing arbitration raises were going to bump up the payroll before a potential Cespedes pursuit. But assuming insurance covers part of Victor Martinez’s $13 million salary this year, they’ll have the financial wiggle room to pay a replacement — an extra $6.5 million if insurance covers even half of Martinez’s salary.
Carlos Lee, a right-handed hitter, draws positive reviews. One National League scout says he could drive in 100 runs on a good team. Plus, he’ll be in a contract year. He would have to waive his no-trade rights to go anywhere, but some believe he’d do that for a chance to win.
The other trade route: Give up top talent for a good young player
Here’s where the road goes off somewhere, because there aren’t many obvious candidates left. The Angels, again, could have an extra bat, but Kendrys Morales or Mark Trumbo would command a high price, since the Halos are planning on hanging onto them going into camp. Reports suggest the Braves have decided to hang onto Martin Prado, who can play left field or second base. David Wright’s price isn’t getting any lower from the Mets regardless.
Any prospect-type trade would almost surely cost the Tigers at least one of their top pitching prospects, possible Jacob Turner. The problem is that if the Tigers trade Turner, in a way, they swap one void for another. Detroit has other young pitchers, but none as highly regarded as Turner. It would be a major leap of faith that some combination of Duane Below, Adam Wilk, Drew Smyly and/or Andy Oliver could fill the role. Or, it would be a void that the Tigers would have to fill with one of the remaining free-agent starters and hope for the best.
So much for that quiet Tigers offseason. The team announced today that Victor Martinez suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during offseason workouts. If surgery is required, it’ll likely sideline him for the entire 2012 season.
Dave Dombrowski and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand are scheduled to talk about the injury later this afternoon, so we’ll know more about what the Tigers do from here after that. It paints the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes in an entirely different light, and it could put the Tigers in the market for another bat, though likely not on a long-term deal.
For a 10th consecutive year, the Tigers have avoided going to arbitration. This time, they didn’t get past the day numbers were exchanged.
On the day arbitration-eligible players and teams exchange numbers, the Tigers found a middle ground with their remaining three eligible players and settled. They agreed to one-year deals with right-hander Max Scherzer, outfielder Delmon Young and utilityman Don Kelly.
Kelly will earn $900,000 this coming season. Young and the Tigers settled for $6.75 million, according to CBSSports.com, which also reported Scherzer’s salary $3.75 million plus bonuses.
Kelly’s contract shows the value of versatility on the market. He made his case with two years of solid utility work, playing in 231 games combined over the last two seasons. He batted .245 (63-for-257) last year with eight doubles, three triples, seven home runs, 28 RBIs and a .672 OPS. He also pitched in one game and caught in another during the same week in late June and early July.
Kelly was eligible for arbitration for the first time after 11 years in pro baseball. The 27-year-old Scherzer had to wait a little less after his Major League debut in 2008 and three seasons in a rotation after that, the last two with the Tigers.
In terms of victories, last season was the best for Scherzer, who went 15-9 despite a career-high 4.43 ERA. He struck out 174 batters over 195 innings while allowing 207 hits and 29 home runs. He has 94 starts over the last three years, including a career-high 33 in 2011.
Young was expected to be the most challenging case, partly because he’s a year away from free agency, partly because he had what seemed like two different seasons — an early-season struggle with Minnesota before a late-season surge in Detroit.
The 26-year-old ended up with a .268 average with 12 home runs and 64 RBIs in 124 games before hitting five postseason runs in the Tigers’ run to the American League Championship Series.
The Tigers haven’t faced an arbitration ruling since Dave Dombrowski took over as general manager in 2002.
Today’s the day when arbitration-eligible players are scheduled to exchange figures with their teams, which makes it the day a lot of deals get done to avoid arbitration. You can add Don Kelly to the list.
A source confirms that the Tigers have avoided arbitration with Kelly, settling on a one-year deal worth $900,000. Credit Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and MLB Network with the scoop.
Kelly made his case with two years of solid utility work, playing in 231 games combined over the last two seasons. He batted .245 (63-for-257) last year with eight doubles, three triples, seven home runs, 28 RBIs and a .672 OPS. He also pitched in a game, as you may have heard.
Kelly’s contract shows the value of versatility on the market. For comparison’s sake, Ramon Santiago received $825,000 his first season after becoming arbitration-eligible.
Kelly’s deal leaves Max Scherzer and Delmon Young as the remaining arbitration-eligible Tigers who have yet to reach a deal. Once the figures are released, we should get an idea how far apart they are.
Expect most of the Tigers’ arbitration cases to get settled this week, and Rick Porcello and Phil Coke are the first, agreeing to terms on one-year deals.
Porcello will be paid $3.1 million. Coke gets $1.1 million, with another $50,000 possible in bonuses — $25,000 each for 65 or 70 games pitched, or $25,000 each for 15 or 25 games started. Don’t read anything into the starting bonuses.
Porcello was eligible for arbitration for the first time as a super-2 player, not getting the three full seasons to be eligible under traditional rules but having enough time short of three seasons to qualify. He has four more seasons before he’s eligible for free agency, so the motivation to sign him to a long-term deal was minimal. Recent history shows those deals usually get done when a pitcher is two years away from free agency, though Gio Gonzalez’s recent deal with the Nationals makes you wonder if the Tigers would’ve done the same thing with him had they pulled off a trade for him.
The Tigers have four arbitration cases left with Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Delmon Young and Don Kelly. Young’s case figures to be the most intriguing, being eligible for a third time and coming off a season that had a rough start but a strong finish, with a trade in between.