October 31st, 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.