January 2012

Zumaya agrees to deal with Twins

The Tigers could end up seeing a lot of Joel Zumaya this year after all. It’ll just be in a different uniform, albeit an awfully familiar one.

After throwing for teams in December and holding out for a roster spot and the right situation, Zumaya has agreed to terms with the Minnesota Twins, the reliever told MLB.com. The two sides spent Saturday putting together a deal that could pay him anywhere from $800,000 to $1.7 million if he reaches incentives.

Update: Not all of the base salary is guaranteed, a fact first reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. If the Twins decide to part in Spring Training, they’d owe him half of the $800,000 base salary. Thanks to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune for pointing out the partial guarantee.

A Twins official would neither confirm nor deny the deal to MLB.com, but said they’ve been in negotiations since December.

Zumaya weighed what he called “good offers” from three other clubs,  but the Twins included guaranteed money rather than a minor-league deal with a Spring Training invite. If he’s healthy, they’ll bring him to the same mound at Target Field where he last threw a Major League pitch. He fractured his elbow throwing for the Tigers against the Twins on June 28, 2010.

As it turns out, that was his last appearance as a Tiger. Though the Tigers had an offer out to him for a minor-league contract with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, they made it clear they weren’t going to guarantee him a spot. Zumaya told MLB.com in November he was most likely moving on, and in the end, the Tigers were not on his short list.

Zumaya joins a Twins bullpen in transition after Joe Nathan left for the Rangers earlier in the offseason. Minnesota re-signed Matt Capps at closer and returns Glen Perkins coming off an impressive season of middle and late-inning work, but while Perkins blossomed into a high-strikeout lefty last year, the Twins haven’t had a truly overpowering reliever in a while.

If Zumaya’s healthy, he has that potential. Though he hasn’t topped 32 games or 40 innings in a season since his impressive rookie season of 2006, he has been an effective reliever when he hasn’t been hurt. He was showing flashes of his old form in 2010 before he was hurt, striking out 34 batters over 38 1/3 innings while allowing 32 hits and posting a 2.58 ERA.

Zumaya underwent surgery after that July injury to repair a fractured bone at the tip of his elbow, a procedure that included inserting a screw to hold the elbow together. He had to undergo a follow-up surgery to replace the screw after complaining of elbow pain last Spring Training.

The surgery cost Zumaya the entire 2011 season. He threw for reportedly up to 20 interested teams last month and reportedly hit the mid-90s on the radar gun. Since then, Zumaya and his agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks, have been negotiating with clubs, trying to land him a Major League contract in a situation where he could fit into a good bullpen role. The Red Sox made a hard push early on.

The Twins have a Spring Training game against the Tigers in Lakeland on March 21 before they meet for 18 regular-season matchups, beginning with a two-game series at Comerica Park May 16-17.

Yoenis Cespedes lays out his market

Dionisio Soldevila, a reporter in the Dominican Republic, set the Twitterverse aflutter this morning (OK, just the baseball corner) with a quote from Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The teams with more interest in him, Cespedes said, are the Marlins, Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, Detroit and the Indians.

That surely isn’t the extent of the market for him. Expect at least another team or two to emerge from the quiet that has come over the Cespedes market while everybody waits for his Dominican residency to be granted and for Major League Baseball to declare him eligible for free agency after that. It could be Jan. 15, as MLB.com Marlins reporter Joe Frisaro suggested last week. It could be later.

Marlins president David Samson told a Miami radio station that his team would be “aggressive right to the point of stupidity, but not quite there.” Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, meanwhile, has kept his comments limited almost to the point of silence on Cespedes. Essentially, they mean the same thing.

Here’s a story on the site about the Tigers and the waiting game they’re playing on Cespedes. It also gets into the debate over what happens next if the Tigers do sign him.

Tigers winter caravan schedule is out

I wrote a story on the upcoming Tigers winter caravan yesterday. The schedule is now officially out. Here’s a list of the scheduled events that are open to the public:

Thursday, January 19

  • Palladium 12 Theatre, downtown Birmingham, 3-5 pm: Tigers help celebrate the theatre’s 10th anniversary with a fan rally, billed as the largest fan event on the caravan. Admission is free. Doors open at 3pm, with the player portion of the program starting at 4.
  • Hockeytown Authentics, Troy, 5-6pm: Fans will have the chance to take a photo with two Tigers players in exchange for a donation of two nonperishable food items to the Salvation Army.

Friday, January 20

  • The Detroit Shoppe at Somerset Collection, Troy, 1-1:45pm: Tigers players will appear to play Tigers trivia with fans. In addition, the customer who spends the most at the store between 10am and 1pm will win a special grand prize. All proceeds from purchases at the store that day will benefit the Detroit Tigers Foundation.
  • Meijer of Auburn Hills, 1:05-1:40pm: Tigers players and broadcasters will serve as celebrity crew members by working the deli counter, in the bakery or bagging groceries at the checkout lanes. Jose Valverde, Austin Jackson and Doug Fister are expected to attend.
  • North American International Auto Show, Cobo Center, 3:30-4:30pm: Tigers players will take part in a fan rally and parade as well as a question-and-answer session.

Tickets are available to a couple other Tigers-related events next week:

  • Tigers manager Jim Leyland, pitching coach Jeff Jones, hitting coach Lloyd McClendon and third-base coach Gene Lamont will join superutilityman Don Kelly, top prospect Jacob Turner, and swing pitcher Duane Below for the annual Toledo Mud Hens Fandeomium event at Fifth Third Field on Wednesday night. Tickets are $10 and are available at mudhens.com.
  •  Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski will return to his alma mater, Western Michigan University, to give the keynote address at a luncheon at the Bernhard Student Center on Friday, Jan. 20 from noon to 1:30. A selection of Tigers players and coaches will be joining. Tickets cost $10 and are available by phone at 269-387-8746.

Verlander delivers laughs on Conan

Justin Verlander has talked many times about his pregame routine of listening to music blaring through his headphones as he enters a ballpark on days he starts. He saved the story about his pre-gameday meal for the late-night talk show circuit.

When host Conan O’Brien asked Verlander about his pregame rituals during Wednesday night’s show, Verlander talked about his meals the night before he starts.

“The night before, as you can tell by my amazing physique, I eat Taco Bell,” Verlander said. “Every night.”

“You’re welcome, Taco Bell,” Verlander said as he turned to the camera.

(Link is here, since I can’t seem to embed the video on my blog. Also, according to Front Row Analytics and CNBC’s Darren Rovell on Twitter, that Verlander plug was worth $133,000. You’re welcome, indeed, Taco Bell.)

It was a rare relief appearance for Verlander, the Tigers ace who won American League MVP honors to go with the AL Cy Young award. But it was also a rare venue for him to try his hand at comedy. He retold the story of his hotfoot prank on teammate Don Kelly, which they replayed.

“The cup of water is really not enough if things get out of hand,” O’Brien joked.

While Verlander usually begins his mound outings by throwing his fastball at less than full velocity, he came to the set firing as soon as he sat down. He told O’Brien about seeing the giant orange Conan Blimp advertising his show flying over Yankee Stadium during their American League Division Series last fall.

“Here we are in the postseason in New York,” Verlander begins, “and you’ve got your blimp flying up there. It’s supposed to be a night game, and this thing looks like the sun. It’s huge!

“That’s what I had to stare at the whole game, because I’m a pitcher, so when I’m not pitching, I just sit around in the dugout and look around, because we don’t really do much. So every time I look up, I see this thing, and I can’t help it. I’m envisioning your face on the side of this blimp, and it’s just like haunting me the whole series.”

The show was taped in Los Angeles, where Verlander has been spending the week doing a shoot for the upcoming MLB 2K12 video game. Verlander was on Conan to promote the game, which features him on the cover pitching with special effects all around him.

“Do you like how you’re depicted on the cover? You look kind of like a superhero here,” O’Brien asked as he showed off the cover.

“I mean, it’s me. I look great,” Verlander said with a laugh.

Now, to be fair, Verlander isn’t the first Tiger to plug one of his favorite places to eat. Remember Chipotle’s Master Burrito Ambassador, Will Rhymes, last spring? Is there an equivalent title Taco Bell can give Verlander? Maybe an endorsement deal pairing Verlander with Giants closer Brian Wilson?

Tigers-Red Sox opener April 5 on ESPN2

ESPN just announced its Opening Day package, and it again includes the Tigers. The April 5 opener against the Red Sox will be on ESPN2 at 1 p.m. ET, live from Comerica Park.

Last season’s Tigers opener was also on ESPN, but that was from Yankee Stadium. But you get the point: Justin Verlander, plus a big-name opponent, should be a good draw for ratings.

Fox Sports Detroit will still broadcast the game, and has the local broadcast rights. ESPN2’s broadcast will be shown outside of the local area.

After an off-day April 6, the second game of the series is also a network broadcast. It’s on the Fox Saturday Game of the Week schedule released earlier.

Nothing going on with Tigers on Garza

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News “nothing has changed” in regards to his remarks from last week on the Tigers’ approach to starting pitching and their prospects, despite recent rumors. Another source told MLB.com Tuesday that there’s nothing going on with the Tigers in regards to Cubs right-hander Matt Garza.

MLB Network and MLB.com’s Peter Gammons had similar sentiments Tuesday night on Hot Stove.

“I’m told it’s not going to happen,” Gammons said of a potential Garza deal to Detroit. “I mean, the Cubs are interested in talking with the Tigers. I’m told the Tigers have said, ‘We’re not going to do it.'”

Former Reds and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden, now a host on MLB Network Radio, suggested on ESPN.com that the Tigers could get a deal done for Garza if they included top positional prospect Nick Castellanos with Turner, their top pitching prospect. The Tigers were not willing to include them both in a package to the A’s for Gio Gonzalez, on whom they had serious discussions and seemingly valued more.

“Now, they won’t even do Turner for Garza,” Gammons continued. “In fact, the Tigers staff is saying to the front office, you know what, we can open the season with Turner as the fifth starter and see what happens.”

Gonzalez, whom Oakland traded to Washington last month, is four years away from free agency, as well as left-handed. Garza, a right-hander, has just two years left before he can hit the open market. Detroit’s rotation currently has four right-handers: Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.

Tigers sign Niuman Romero to minor league contract

The Tigers’ list of non-roster invites was released earlier (it’s the next entry down on this blog, in fact), but I figured I’d pass along one more signing. Detroit has signed former Indians and Red Sox infielder Niuman Romero to a minor-league contract. The deal does not include an invite to big league camp.

Romero, who turns 27 later this month, spent most of his career with the Indians, having signed as a teenager out of Venezuela in 2002, before Cleveland sold his contract to Boston in 2010. He bounced around three different organizations last year, spending most of his time at the Double-A level with the Phillies and Mets. Add up his stops, and he batted .231 with 23 RBIs over 75 games in 2011.

Romero gives the Tigers insurance on the farm at shortstop, where Cale Iorg is recovering from shoulder surgery last fall. Detroit has a crop of young shortstop prospects generating hope, but not necessarily ready to open the season at Double-A Erie.

Romero has 12 big league games on his resume between the 2009 Indians and 2010 Red Sox. He went 2-for-18 in those games.

Tigers announce spring training invites

The list of non-roster invites to spring training is out, both for minor-league free agents and for Tigers prospects. Most of the names have already been announced, or at least strongly hinted it. Some haven’t. That includes third-base prospect Nick Castellanos.

Castellanos was an extra player at a few games last spring, but he’ll be in camp every day this time around, at least for the first few weeks. So will last year’s first-round top pick, James McCann, who will serve as one of the extra catchers to catch some of the many pitchers in camp. Drew Smyly, reigning Tigers minor-league pitcher of the year, was also announced as a non-roster invite.

Here’s the full list, which actually isn’t a very long list compared with past years:

  • RHP: Chris Bootcheck
  • LHPs: Darin Downs, Drew Smyly
  • Catchers: Rob Brantly, Curt Casali, Bryan Holaday, Patrick Leyland, James McCann, Omir Santos
  • Infielders: Nick Castellanos, Audy Ciriaco, Argenis Diaz, Ryan Strieby
  • Infielders/outfielders: Justin Henry, Eric Patterson
  • Outfielders: Quintin Berry, Jerad Head, Matt Young

The Tigers also made their reporting dates official. Pitchers and catchers report to camp on February 19, with the first workout the next day. Most pitchers, however, will be in camp before that. The first full-squad workout is February 24.

Impemba named Michigan Sportscaster of the Year

Congratulations go out to Tigers television play-by-play man Mario Impemba, who was voted Michigan Sportscaster of the Year by members of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.

It’s been a decade since Impemba came back home to become the TV voice of the Tigers alongside then-analyst Kirk Gibson in the booth after following Josh Lewin. A year later, he teamed up with Rod Allen and watched many of the 119 losses in 2003. The Tigers have changed vastly since then, as have the Tigers broadcasts, with every game on television. Impemba has been the constant, a welcome presence for Tigers fans and a respected voice at the ballpark, making his mark in the rich history of Tigers broadcasts. He jumped over onto a few FOX network broadcasts last summer, and he’s earning some well-deserved kudos as the voice of Oakland University basketball on radio and television.

Congratulations also to Detroit Free Press reporter and occasional Tigers coverage writer Mark Snyder, who was named Michigan Sportswriter of the Year.

The NSSA will recognize its state winners along with National Sportscaster of the Year Dan Shulman and National Sportswriter of the Year Joe Posnanski at the organization’s annual awards banquet on Monday, June 11 in Salisbury, NC. In case you’re wondering, that’s an off-day for the Tigers in the middle of their road trip to the Reds and Cubs.

Huge jump for Morris in Hall voting

UPDATED with quotes from Morris …

The wait for the Hall of Fame goes on for Jack Morris, but with a lot more hope. And like his World Series duel with John Smoltz in 1991, it’s going to come down to the end.

“The older I get, the more I realize the process,” Morris told MLB.com Monday in a phone conversation. “Maybe my day will come, maybe it won’t.”

Morris received 382 votes out of 573 ballots cast for the Hall of Fame this year by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He didn’t get the 75 percent of votes required for induction, but he got his 11th consecutive year with a bump up from the previous ballot. This jump was his biggest yet, from 53.5 percent last year to 66.7 percent this time.

“That’s got to be a good sign for me,” Morris said. “Today, as we talk, that’s an encouraging thing for me. I have to thank the guys who jumped on board and voted for me and the guys who continue to vote for me and help this along.”

He’ll head into next year with the highest vote total of anyone still on the ballot. The challenge will be to try to keep the attention going into next year, when so many prominent players join the ballot for the first time.

Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling, to name a handful, become eligible for consideration next year. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mike Mussina, Frank Thomas and Jeff Kent become eligible the following year.

With just two more years of eligibility on the ballot, the urgency for Morris kicks in now. But at just over eight percent shy of induction, the goal is in sight.

“It’s like life: Every day, there’s a new set of circumstances,” Morris said. “Obviously the steroid [era] guys are coming in and the big controversy, and you guys are going to have more conversations amongst each other than ever before.

“The truth is, I don’t assume a thing. Trust me, I don’t assume that since my numbers have come to this level that I’m going to get in.”

Percentagewise, Morris’ jump was the third largest of anyone on this year’s ballot, trailing just Larkin’s 20 percent leap and Jeff Bagwell bump. Morris’ Tigers teammate, Alan Trammell, had the next-highest jump, from 24.3 percent last year to 36.8 percent now, a carryover from the momentum on Larkin.

Former Tiger Juan Gonzalez was selected on just 23 ballots (four percent), seven short of the five-percent total he needed to remain on the ballot. The other ex-Tigers on the ballot, Phil Nevin and Ruben Sierra, did not receive a vote.

More quotes from Morris …

On the debate surrounding his career: “It’s not necessarily an easy vote. Obviously the guys that are into the number thing and the ERA got their point to make. It is what it is, and the process does what it does. I’m just grateful for the process because if it was just a one-year deal, and you either got in or you didn’t, it would be over.”

On Larkin: “It’s his day, and he deserves it. He’s a class guy and he had a great career. He’s endured a little bit being in his third year, but at least he’s been through a little bit of the process. I met Barry years and years ago when I was working out at the University of Michigan when I was playing for Detroit in the early years and he was a freshman at Michigan. I knew early on watching him and hearing the guys talk about him that he was a Major Leaguer.”