October 2012

Don Kelly elects free agency after Tigers outright him

That didn’t take long. A day after Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said the club would remove Kelly from the 40-man roster, the team announced the move was complete. After being designated for assignment and clearing waivers, Kelly declined his minor-league assignment and immediately became a free agent, free to sign with any club he chooses.

That’s what Dombrowski expected. He said Tuesday they’d like to bring Kelly back on a minor-league deal with a Spring Training invite, but he expects Kelly to look for a better opportunity.

“We would have interest in signing him to a minor league contract and bringing him to camp to compete for a job,” Dombrowski said. “He knows how well thought of he is here. But I also know that other people are in a position where somebody may offer him a better opportunity. That’s what guys look for when they’re free agents.”

Kelly’s versatility gives him instant value to any club, especially in the National League or clubs that opt for an extra reliever and carry a shorter bench. Whether it’s enough to land him a Major League contract somewhere is the next question.

After back-to-back solid seasons in Detroit, Kelly became the forgotten man on the Tigers roster, batting .186 (21-for-113) with four extra-base hits and seven RBIs. He was designated for assignment in August, accepted a minor-league assignment, came back in September and became a playoff hero with his game-winning sacrifice fly to beat the A’s in Game 2 of the AL Division Series.

Keep in mind, Kelly was supposedly poised to compete for playing time with Brandon Inge at third base last Spring Training until the Tigers signed Prince Fielder and moved Miguel Cabrera to third base. That was one factor that marginalized him on Detroit’s roster. Another was Quintin Berry’s impact, putting another left-handed hitting outfielder on the roster. Most of Kelly’s playing time over the summer was late-inning defensive spots — 127 plate appearances over 75 games reflect that — so he rarely got more than an at-bat in a game. In fact, just 29 of his games featured multiple plate appearances.

Dombrowski’s end-of-season remarks (with notes)

There are few things faster in baseball these days than a Bruce Rondon fastball. It has been clocked as high as 102 mph, including during the Futures Game in July at Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium.

The only thing faster in the Tigers organization than Rondon’s fastball might be the track he’s on.

Dave Dombrowski’s end-of-season remarks are an annual tradition now, painting the roadmap for the Tigers offseason, both for what they might look to do and what their plans are with pending players. It also seems there’s usually a prospect or two that gets some lift out of it.

Three years ago, it was Scott Sizemore. Last year, Drew Smyly got a mention. Today might well go down as the day Dombrowski set the path for Rondon.

Everybody figured him to be a closer of the future with these guys. Tuesday was the day we found just how near that future might be.

“I would not discount Bruce Rondon in the competition for our closer role for next year,” Dombrowski said. “I’m not saying he’s going to be our closer, but I do not discount him in that role.

“He is a guy that throws — and people don’t sometimes believe this, but it is true — he averages 100 miles an hour and topped off at 103, and throws his breaking stuff for consistent strikes.”

Dombrowski confirmed what others had speculated, that Rondon was a serious consideration for a call-up leading into September this year, which would’ve made him eligible for the postseason roster. Had they known that Valverde was going to struggle the way they did, they would’ve done it, which would’ve put a whole different look on Detroit’s closer by committee.

“This guy is a special potential closer with the makeup of a closer,” Dombrowski continued, “and normally you’re not going to thrust that in a young guy’s hands and say automatically, ‘It’s your job.’ But it would not surprise me if he earned that job. With the number of good arms that are out there, there are not many arms like this, and he cherishes that type of role.”

Dombrowski wasn’t the only one touting Rondon. When Leyland was asked about the difference between going with a closer by committee in a postseason and doing that for a full season, he hesitated.

“I’ve handled those situations before, but who’s to say we won’t have a closer,” Leyland countered. “I think we will have a closer. I think it might be a surprise closer, but I think we might have one. And I’m not talking about Phil Coke, by the way. Not that I don’t like Phil Coke.”

Someone then mentioned Rondon.

“Rondon’s a good name. Here’s a kid, who knows? Believe me, I’m not putting my blessing on Rondon as a closer for next year, but I’m just mentioning that name as a possibility. When you’ve got an arm like that, that’s a possibility. Now, could he handle it mentally, could he handle it in a three-tier stadium with the bright lights? I don’t have a clue.”

It’s an interesting contrast. The last Tigers reliever who threw as hard as Bruce Rondon does was Joel Zumaya, who crashed the roster to become a force in a setup relief role in 2006. At no point did Zumaya ever earn the closer’s job, partly because of injuries but not entirely.

The last rookie to have any sort of closing job in Detroit was Franklyn German, who shared the job in 2003. However, a closer’s role on a 43-119 team isn’t exactly like a regular job. German shared the team lead in saves — with five.

If you count Fernando Rodney’s time down the stretch in 2005, the Tigers have had experienced closers in the role every year since 2006.

“You see [Aroldis] Chapman close and there’s been other young guys close for clubs,” Dombrowski said. “I know it hasn’t been our normal situation. People know how good an arm Zumaya had, this guy has every bit and it comes out easier with less effort in his delivery.”

Dombrowski is aware of their track record. He’s also well-aware he has a team that’s expected to win next year, a team that opened as a World Series favorite this week.

“I think you also have to be open-minded and flexible,” Dombrowski said. “It’s just like a couple years ago when in 2006, Verlander and Zumaya jumped up pretty good for us at that point. This guy [Rondon] is a talented guy. He’s a rare talent. You would not believe the number of clubs that called me about Bruce Rondon to trade him. If I had a choice of any young closer in baseball to give an opportunity to in any organization, it would be him. Now would be ready? I don’t know that. But he is that good.”

Here’s a roundup of the other remarks he had:

  • Dombrowski was on the fence on whether Dirks has a full-time starting role for next year: “Dirks is a good player. Is he an every-day player at this point? I don’t know. He might be. I know he’s a real good player. Can he combine with somebody? So I think we’ll just kind of look at that.”
  • Dombrowski poo-poohed the idea that they could non-tender Brennan Boesch. “We’ll tender him a contract,” Dombrowski said. “He’s not where we would like him to be at this point, because if we did he’d have been on our roster for the postseason, so that’s a pretty obvious summation. But I think it’s the case that he still has ability, he can still hit the ball out of the ballpark. We still see some untapped potential, and he has struggled some.”
  • When asked what went wrong in the World Series, Dombrowski cited the offense, and pointed to an article that said they went 1-for-17 when putting pitches in play that were over the middle of the plate (not sure which article, otherwise I’d provide a link). “They pitched well,” Dombrowski said, “but we also didn’t hit the pitches we could handle. Why didn’t they do that? Was the timing a little bit off? Maybe. Did they keep off timing with the layover, did they keep them off-balance with the stuff that they threw, changing speeds? I’m sure that, too. Did they start pressing a little bit, try to do too much? Maybe a combination of all that. But it’s almost hard to believe when you say they went 1-for-17 on balls down the middle of the plate.”
  • Quintin Berry will go into camp with a chance to compete for a spot on the roster. Coincidentally, Leyland said that with Victor Martinez back, they’ll have a use for a pinch-runner on their bench.
  • The Tigers will designate Don Kelly for assignment later on this week, Dombrowski said, to open a spot on the 40-man roster. From there, clubs will have a chance to claim him, just as they did when the Tigers designated him in August. If he isn’t claimed, however, the Tigers would like to bring him back on a minor-league contract to compete for a roster spot. “He knows how well thought of he is here,” Dombrowski said. “But I also know that other people are in a position where somebody may offer him a better opportunity. That’s what guys look for when they’re free agents.”
  • No comment on the status of Ryan Raburn, because Dombrowski hasn’t had a chance to talk with him yet. They still have him under team control for a year, so technically they don’t have to do anything if they want to keep him. If they want to use his roster spot for someone else, well, that’s another matter, and one they would probably want to talk with him about.
  • Dombrowski did not want to get into the possibility of contract talks with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, both two years away from free agency. That’s a matter he still has to discuss with ownership. However, he said they’d like to have both for a long time.
  • Avisail Garcia, Dombrowski said, is a “tough call” on whether he makes the roster next year. “He has star potential,” Dombrowski said. “He’s a five-tool player. I’m not sure that he’s ready as a corner outfielder to give us the contributions that we need on an overall basis at this time, but I’m not sure that he’s not. He is going to play everyday in winter ball for Magglio’s team in Venezuela. I think he’s a guy that we’ll keep a real close eye on in how he develops over the wintertime.”
  • If the Tigers can’t re-sign Sanchez, Dombrowski didn’t sound particularly strong about getting another starter to fill his spot, saying it would have to be a substantial improvement over what they have.
  • Smyly would not be viewed as a full-time reliever.
  • Dombrowski is not concerned about Scherzer going into the offseason. “What happened,” Dombrowski said, “was [his shoulder] got tired like a lot of your muscles get tired, and it’s just more a mater of it needing some rest and then building it back up. So he got some rest and built it back up, but at that time period you don’t have a chance to go out there every five days and build it up. So the feeling is with Scherzer that he’ll be absolutely fine.”
  • A second lefty reliever isn’t a high priority for the Tigers to acquire this winter. Dombrowski believes they can fill the spot in-house, though he didn’t rule out adding an arm.

Tigers pick up options on Peralta, Dotel

For the first time in four years, Octavio Dotel won’t be changing teams. Neither will Jhonny Peralta, whose future in Detroit looked like it was in serious question in September.

On the day the Tigers announced their contract extension with manager Jim Leyland, they also got their lingering contract options out of the way by picking up the option years on Dotel and Peralta.

Dotel had a $3.5 million option or $500,000 buyout on the one-year deal he signed last year. He just ended his best season in at least three years, allowing 50 hits over 58 innings with 62 strikeouts while giving the Tigers a proven arm for setup situations in the seventh and eighth innings. He tossed five hitless innings over six postseason appearances, walking five and striking out six.

Dotel made it clear Sunday night after the World Series closed that he wanted to return.

Dotel’s performance over the course of the season made it a pretty easy decision. The $6 million option on Peralta for next season, on the other hand, looked a lot more complicated until the postseason.

After an All-Star season in 2011, the 30-year-old Peralta played most of 2012 like he was an older shortstop, at the plate and in the field. He batted just .218 after the All-Star break, including .171 in September, resulting in a 60-point drop in his batting average from last year. His OPS plummeted from .825 to .689. Defensively, though he generally made the plays he got to, his range and his arm seemed to suffer. The range made sense a bit with the change of third basemen from Brandon Inge to Miguel Cabrera. The occasionally soft throws were more of a mystery.

Then came the postseason.

Not only did Peralta have a boost at the plate, going 13-for-50 with three home runs, five RBIs and five runs scored, he made one rangy play after another at short. Nobody, not even Peralta, seemed to have an answer why, though some speculated that Peralta’s family situation over the summer — his wife gave birth to twins in June — weighed on his mind.

Though Stephen Drew’s addition to the free-agent market and Yunel Escobar’s move to the trade market created more possibilities for alternatives, in the end, the Tigers liked what they saw from Peralta for the money. Some have speculated the Tigers could still add a shortstop and trade Peralta, but that’s an awful lot of trouble to go through when multiple alternatives are clearly attainable and moving Peralta wouldn’t be a sure bet.

Leyland back for next season, coaching staff intact

The Tigers made it official this morning, announcing that manager Jim Leyland has agreed to a one-year contract extension. His entire coaching staff has been invited back, including Toby Harrah, whose title has officially been changed to assistant hitting coach.

The announcement ends what has been months of speculation about Leyland’s future — first whether team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski would extend his contract, then whether Leyland would retire, then whether there would be changes on the coaching staff. As recently as Sunday night, Leyland was far from committal about his return, even as his players sounded far more confident he’d be back.

World Series Game 4: Tigers vs. Giants

Same lineup from Game 3. Not a huge surprise, but kind of a surprise in the order.

Alex Avila was scratched from the lineup with right forearm soreness, almost like a bone bruise, suffered on a foul tip in Game 1. Gerald Laird takes his place.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Quintin Berry, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Andy Dirks, RF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C Omar Infante, 2B
  9. Omar Infante, 2B Gerald Laird, C

P: Max Scherzer

GIANTS

  1. Angel Pagan, CF
  2. Marco Scutaro, 2B
  3. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
  4. Buster Posey, C
  5. Hunter Pence, RF
  6. Brandon Belt, 1B
  7. Gregor Blanco, LF
  8. Ryan Theriot, DH
  9. Brandon Crawford, SS

P: Matt Cain

Delmon: “We haven’t hit all playoffs”

Say this for Delmon Young: He’s going out with a bang.

When he said earlier in the week that the Tigers’ loss in the World Series opener wasn’t on the offense, that they were out of it by the time they took their second at-bats, he sounded borderline delusional.

When he said after Game 2 that they had no hook to let Madison Bumgarner off of, having gotten just two hits, he sounded more realistic.

What he said after Game 3, following the second straight 2-0 shutout loss, pretty well summed up the Tigers’ postseason run.

“We would love to be swinging the bats great, but all postseason we haven’t really swung the bats,” he said. “We hit at the right time against Oakland, and New York looked like us right now. And so, when they’re not putting up any runs on the board, it’s a little bit easier to win a ballgame if you can score one.”

His answer when asked what the Giants are doing differently was just as pointed.

“They’ve pitched us just like Oakland did, but we haven’t hit all playoffs,” he said. “We’ve just been fortunate enough that the other teams haven’t been hitting either.”

Say what you will about where he’s coming from, but he has a point.

Take away the Tigers’ series-clinching wins, 6-0 over the A’s and 8-1 over the Yankees, and Detroit has scored 25 runs in the other 10 games, including three shutouts. A good number of those runs have come off the bullpen. They’ve topped three runs in just two of those games, and both went to extra innings.

Gene Lamont was undoubtedly aware of those struggles when he waved Prince Fielder home in Game 2.

“It’s the World Series. It’s the postseason. Everybody’s pitching well. That’s why they’re here,” Prince Fielder said.

The Tigers are the first team to be shut out in consecutive World Series games since the 1966 Dodgers, whom the Orioles blanked over the final three games of a four-game sweep. They’re the first American League team shut out in back-to-back games since the 1919 White Sox, a team later determined to be throwing the series.

When the Tigers have scored runs this postseason, they’ve done a fairly good job of manufacturing offense, either through sacrificing runners over or by getting runners in motion. They tried that in Game 2 and paid for it. Now, with their backs against the wall, Jim Leyland has to get creative.

Moving Omar Infante, their best hitter this postseason, to the second spot against Matt Cain would be a start. Infante doesn’t hit Cain as well as he hits Ryan Vogelsong, but at 7-for-21, he hits him pretty well.

After that, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more runners in motion. Leyland’s remark after Saturday’s loss suggested he might try something.

“You always look to see if you miss a trick. We had Jackson run on Lincecum. We probably waited a little bit too long on that one. But you can try to manufacture a little bit. You don’t really manufacture a lot with the big guys in the middle; you let them whack away at it.

“Maybe I need to be a little more creative. Like I said, we talk about us, we don’t talk about individuals. So basically as a team, as manager, coaches and a team, we’ve obviously got to do a little bit better.”

To do that, though, they have to get runners on. And as Young reminded us, that’s not that easy for them now.

“With the way they’re pitching right now, we haven’t been able to do anything,” he said. “We can’t get guys on to be able to move guys over, steal bases, go first to third. It’s hard to go first to third when you get five hits in a ballgame.”

World Series Game 4: Tigers vs. Giants

The designated hitter is back, and so are Quintin Berry and Andy Dirks. In Dirks’ case, he returns to the sixth spot, lining up the batting order so that the Tigers alternate left- and right-handed hitters and the Giants have to play matchups a batter at a time rather than through a stretch.

When you think about the Giants’ three left-handed relievers, you think this is why Jim Leyland was excited as far back as the Prince Fielder press conference in January about the ability to go lefty-righty through the order.

Not a whole lot of history between the Tigers and Ryan Vogelsong, but Omar Infante’s numbers are impressive. Most of that comes from this season, when Infante was 6-for-8 off of him. All those hits were singles, but I imagine the Tigers will take that at this point to set up a baserunner for Austin Jackson.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Quintin Berry, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (1-for-5 off Vogelsong)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (0-for-3 off Vogelsong)
  5. Delmon Young, DH (1-for-3 off Vogelsong)
  6. Andy Dirks, RF (0-for-3, 2 K’s off Vogelsong)
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS (1-for-2, 1 walk off Vogelsong)
  8. Alex Avila, C (0-for-1, 2 walks off Vogelsong)
  9. Omar Infante, 2B (7-for-11 off Vogelsong)

P: Anibal Sanchez

Cabrera has to get Hank Aaron Award today, right?

The winner of MLB’s annual Hank Aaron Award will be announced tonight before Game 3 of the World Series. It would be a shock if Miguel Cabrera isn’t the guy, having won the Triple Crown. But then, as a fan balloting award, nothing is guaranteed.

If Cabrera wins, he’ll be the first Tiger to win the honor, which has been in place since 1999, when MLB created it in recognition of the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking the all-time home run record. The honor is intended to recognize the best offensive performer from each league in a given season — no defensive metrics, no overall Wins Above Replacement (though you could certainly factor in offensive WAR), no debate over a player’s value on a losing team or a contending one.

Prince Fielder has an award, but it came in 2007 as a Milwaukee Brewer. Cabrera has been a candidate more than once over his five seasons as a Tiger, but has never quite won it. Jose Bautista has taken the AL honor the last two years, but didn’t make the cut this time. Edwin Encarnacion is the Blue Jays’ nominee this year.

Voting took place from Oct. 10-16 at MLB.com. A special panel of Hall of Fame players — Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan and Robin Yount — joined fans and Hank Aaron himself in voting on the award.

Here’s the competition Cabrera faces, one nominee from each team:

  • Baltimore: Adam Jones (.287, 32 HR, 82 RBI, .839 OPS)
  • Boston: Dustin Pedroia (.290, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 20 SB, .797 OPS)
  • Chicago: Alex Rios (.304, 25 HR, 91 RBI, 23 SB, .850 OPS)
  • Cleveland: Shin-Soo Choo (.283, 43 2B, 16 HR, 67 RBI, 21 SB, .815 OPS)
  • KC: Billy Butler (.313, 29 HR, 107 RBI, .882 OPS)
  • LA Angels: Mike Trout (.326, 30 HR, 83 RBI, 49 SB, .963 OPS)
  • Minnesota: Joe Mauer (.319, 31 2B, 10 HR, 85 RBI, .861 OPS)
  • NY Yankees: Derek Jeter (.316, 32 2B, 15 HR, 58 RBI, .791 OPS)
  • Oakland: Josh Reddick (.242, 32 HR, 85 RBI, .768 OPS)
  • Seattle: Kyle Seager (.259, 35 2B, 20 HR, 86 RBI, .738 OPS)
  • TB: B.J. Upton (.246, 28 HR, 78 RBI, 31 SB, .752 OPS)
  • Texas: Josh Hamilton (.285, 43 HR, 128 RBI, .930 OPS)
  • Toronto: Edwin Encarnacion (.280, 42 HR, 110 RBI)

Cabrera picked up two honors on Friday. He was named the Sporting News Player of the Year, following Justin Verlander as the second straight Tiger to win the award, and became the first three-time winner of the Luis Aparicio Award as the best Venezuelan Major League player.

Fister seems fine, but will get follow-up exams

The news at this point appears to be positive on Doug Fister after the line drive off his head. He made it through the flight back from San Francisco OK, according to manager Jim Leyland, and he’ll be examined further today.

“I did talk to him on the plane last night, and he seemed fine,” Leyland said. “He’s a little sore, but there didn’t appear to be anything that looked alarming like loss of memory. He looked fine, his eyes looked fine, and the trainers have checked him out, so I think he’s fine.”

The Tigers had their entire training staff on the trip, as well as two team doctors.

Austin Jackson changes agents, and other Scott Boras notes

As noted before the game on Twitter and in the pregame notes, Austin Jackson is the latest Tiger to become a Scott Boras client, joining Max Scherzer and Jose Valverde among others. Jackson, who had been a client of Reynolds Sports since he broke into the big leagues, switched agents sometime near the end of the end of the regular season.

It’s fairly common for players to switch agents right around the time they become eligible for bigger money. And with Jackson eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, he’s in line for a fairly big deal.

The good news for the Tigers is that they’ve had success avoiding arbitration with Boras clients. The question now is whether the move will impact their chances at a longer-term contract. No agent leverages free agency quite like Boras, especially with pitchers, whom he encourages to use the open market to their advantage whether they plan on staying put or not. It’s a somewhat different story with position players, but he has had some big contracts with outfielders in recent years. Jayson Werth comes to mind from a couple years ago.

Whether it makes a difference with Jackson remains to be seen. The Tigers were aggressive with Jackson’s predecessor, Curtis Granderson, signing him to a long-term contract as soon as he became eligible for arbitration. Two years later, however, they traded him to the Yankees, just as his salary began escalating.

Other notes from Boras:

  • Boras lives in southern California, so it was an easy trip for him to San Francisco for the first two games. He said he might fly to Detroit for Game 5. “I want to shake Mike Ilitch’s hand,” if he wins, Boras said.
  • Boras gave no indication there was a long-term deal in the plans for Scherzer and the Tigers, noting that two years away from free agency is a long time. However, two years out is often the time when teams try to sign starting pitchers to long-term contracts, and the Tigers have a track record of pursuing those, having inked Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman to deals at that stage.
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