October 30th, 2012

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.

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