November 2012

Tigers non-tender Daniel Schlereth (updated)

Turns out the Tigers did have a non-tender decision to make Friday, but it wasn’t an arbitration-eligible player. Instead, it was Daniel Schlereth, who’s a year away from arbitration but also a year separated from his healthy pitching form.

The left-handed reliever, who was part of the Tigers’ return in the Edwin Jackson trade at the winter meetings three years ago, missed most of this past season with shoulder tendinitis. He spent most of the summer trying to rehab his way back to pitching health and avoid surgery, and he got back in time for a rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo in August. He had some decent results, but his velocity was down, and he wasn’t activated from the DL when rosters expanded in September.

Team president/GM Dave Dombrowski said this afternoon that the health wasn’t an issue in the decision.

“I think he was fine at the end of the year,” Dombrowski said.

Indeed, Schlereth confirmed he’s in better shape now, and ready to start his offseason throwing program in preparation for Spring Training. Now he has to find a camp.

“Everything is good now,” Schlereth said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “I actually have to start throwing this week or next week. If there was still something wrong by this time, I’d be having surgery, and I don’t plan to.”

So if it wasn’t a question of health, what was it?

“It’s just a situation where today you have to make final decisions,” Dombrowski said. “We just felt at this time the roster space was more appealing to us than having that spot tied up with his tender.”

The move caught Schlereth by surprise. He wasn’t angry, but he was definitely caught off-guard.

“I just never thought this would happen. This blindsided me,” he said.

At the same time, he had no hard feelings for the Tigers.

“I love the team,” he said. “It’s a great organization. Its’ going to hurt a little bit, but that’s life. They want to move on and I really can’t do that. I just have to go out and prove myself somewhere else.”

In the end, Schlereth does think the injury had something to do with it, at least the way it unfolded. He admits to trying to pitch through shoulder soreness in April, not saying anything about it until the Tigers tried to option him to Triple-A Toledo.

“At the end of the day, it’s my career, my doing. They did all they could do,” Schlereth said. “They recognized I was hurt in the big leagues and [the injury] didn’t happen in the minor leagues. And I’m actually thankful they did that, because being on the DL in the minor leagues would be brutal. I’m really thankful they did that. But there’s really nothing that could’ve changed. It was probably bound to happen.”

Dombrowski said the move doesn’t lead the Tigers into a search for another lefty reliever. Duane Below, Darin Downs, Matt Hoffman and Andy Oliver are currently on the roster with a chance to take the second lefty job in the bullpen (if Detroit carries a second lefty reliever). Casey Crosby also could end up being a factor, though he’s expected to work as a starter.

The Tigers tendered contracts to all their other players without long-term contracts. That includes outfielder Brennan Boesch, whom Dombrowski said last month they would tender a contract.

The Schlereth move brings the Tigers’ 40-man roster to 38 players and two open spots. They already had an open spot from releasing Ryan Raburn last week. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have multiple moves coming at next week’s Winter Meetings. It means Raburn and Schlereth weren’t going to be part of this team no matter what moves are coming this winter.

Tigers spring schedule is out

Seems like every Tigers spring training schedule takes on a different theme, usually a lot of games against a particular club or two, sometimes a stretch of games at some point instead. This year, two themes stand out: They get started early, and they play the National League a lot.

The Nationals and Tigers will meet four times in a 13-day stretch of mid-March, including back-to-back Sundays in Lakeland March 10 and 17. The Braves and Tigers meet four times in the first 14 days of Grapefruit League play, and another time later on. The Phillies, who had been facing the Tigers just a couple times a year the last few years, have four games with the Tigers this spring. The Mets and Tigers, who have become more frequent opponents each spring, will meet five times.

Add in a March 2 visit from the Pirates to Lakeland, a March 16 visit to the Cardinals in Jupiter, a March 25 visit to the Marlins and four games against the Astros, and you have a heavy National League slate for the Tigers. By contrast, the American League portion of the schedule consists of four games with the Rays, Astros and Jays, and two with the Yankees. Detroit won’t face Baltimore, Boston or Minnesota at all.

The schedule starts off March 22 with the Braves at Disney World. Usually, the Tigers try to get in about 11 days of workouts, including days with just pitchers and catchers, before they start playing games. Do the math, and you can guess that the Tigers will report to camp as the second week in February gets underway.

Another note is that the Tigers have added an exhibition game, albeit with their minor-leaguers. Tigers farmhands will face Western Michigan University at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 5, which is one of two off-days on the Tigers’ spring schedule. The annual exhbition with the big club against Florida Southern College, which usually starts off the spring schedule, has been moved back to March 13, which worked out better for both sides.

Here’s the full schedule (home games in caps, all games at 1:05 unless otherwise noted):

  • Feb. 22: Braves at Disney World
  • Feb. 23: BLUE JAYS
  • Feb. 24: PHILLIES
  • Feb. 25: Phillies at Clearwater
  • Feb. 26: Astros at Kissimmee, time TBA
  • Feb. 27: BRAVES
  • Feb. 28: Rays at Port Charlotte
  • March 1: Mets at Port St. Lucie, 1:10
  • March 2 (split squad): PIRATES, Yankees at Tampa
  • March 3: Braves at Disney World
  • March 4: ASTROS
  • March 5: Off-day, minor-league squad plays WMU at Marchant Stadium
  • March 6: BLUE JAYS
  • March 7: Braves at Disney World, 6:05
  • March 8: METS
  • March 9: Blue Jays at Dunedin
  • March 10: NATIONALS
  • March 11: METS
  • March 12: Phillies at Clearwater
  • March 14: Mets at Port St. Lucie, 1:10
  • March 15: BLUE JAYS
  • March 16: Cardinals at Jupiter
  • March 17: NATIONALS
  • March 18: Nationals at Viera
  • March 19: RAYS
  • March 20: Off-day
  • March 21: ASTROS, 6:05
  • March 22: Nationals at Viera
  • March 23: YANKEES
  • March 24: Mets at Port St. Lucie, 1:10
  • March 25: Marlins at Jupiter
  • March 26: BRAVES
  • March 27: PHILLIES
  • March 28: Astros at Kissimmee, time TBA
  • March 29: RAYS
  • March 30: Rays at Tropicana Field

Torii Hunter contract slightly backloaded

Really minor note, but worth noting for payroll purposes as the Tigers continue their offseason shopping: Torii Hunter’s two-year, $26 million contract is actually slightly backloaded. He’ll make $12 million in 2013, then $14 million in 2014. He’ll get a $100,000 bonus each for an All-Star selection, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, LCS or World Series MVP.

Again, not a big deal, but it gives them a little bit more money to work with this year as they try to fill a couple short-term needs — definitely a right-handed hitting outfield to throw into the mix, possibly a closer.

Is Soriano the next Johnny Damon saga? (Updated)

Does this sound like a familiar scenario: The Tigers say they’re set at a particular position, one where prominent agent Scott Boras has a well-known free agent looking for a market. Boras bypasses team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and talks with owner Mike Ilitch. The Tigers abruptly change course and get involved.

It happened three winters ago with Johnny Damon. Could it be happening right now with Rafael Soriano? With Tuesday’s report from MLB Network’s Peter Gammons that Boras talked with Ilitch about Soriano on Monday, you have to wonder.

[UPDATE: Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski does not talk about specific free agents. However, he affirmed his team’s stance in response to a question Tuesday afternoon. They still plan to give hard-throwing rookie Bruce Rondon a chance to win the closer’s job, and it would have to be the right scenario for the Tigers to add a closer.

“Our outlook has not changed,” Dombrowski replied in an email.]

The fact that both Ryan Madson and Jonathan Broxton — two big names on the secondary segment of the market — are reportedly close to deals with other clubs back up the Tigers’ stance that they’re not going to pay big for a closer.

Neither Broxton nor Madson have the resume or the arsenal of Soriano, who has topped 40 saves twice in the last three seasons and might have done the same in 2011 if he wasn’t a setup man in New York. With Joakim Soria coming off surgery and likely not back until midseason, Soriano is the sure thing among free-agent closers.

That makes it curious that there is so little buzz about Soriano on the market. Simply put, the appetite for gigantic closers seems tempered. It happened three years ago with Jose Valverde, who was the last closer left on the market when the Tigers swooped in and signed him for better terms than anybody expected.

Valverde wasn’t a Boras client then. He is now, but Valverde’s departure from the Tigers is certain. And clearly, Boras has another client in mind for Detroit.

All along, the expectation was that Boras would try to get the Tigers — and especially Ilitch — involved on Soriano. The question has always been whether Ilitch would listen. Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reported a couple weeks ago that it already happened, and that Ilitch said no. Others have reported that it hadn’t happened yet but they expected it to come. ESPN’s Buster Olney cited executives from other teams expecting it to happen. Now comes Gammons’ report, and you can’t help but think back to Ilitch’s quote from the Prince Fielder press conference last winter:

“As far as Scott Boras, boy, I’ll tell you something: He knows this team better than I do,” Ilitch said at that press conference. “I mean, he knows every player, what their averages are, where they’re from, what they’ve done during their career, who leads the team, what areas are necessary. He just knows everything about the Detroit Tigers. I was flabbergasted. I mean, utility players, everybody, we went through a big discussion and pointed out to me that some of the things that he thought were necessary to win a World Series. He explained why and so on and so forth. There was great salesmanship involved with that, but the guy is an encyclopedia when it comes to knowing the teams and knowing the people that are associated with the organization.

“I got a lot of good information from him. I put the sales aside and I listened to the common-sense approach that he has and the knowledge he has about the game.”

That doesn’t mean Soriano will get the kind of massive deal that he wants, one that torpedoes the Tigers’ long-term plans for Rondon. Time will tell if there’s a compromise to be found somewhere in there. And if it turns out anything like the Johnny Damon saga (six weeks to work out a one-year contract), it won’t be quick.

Tigers announce 19 minor-league contracts

The Tigers formally announced their first batch of minor-league contracts, 19 of them, on Monday. Most of the bigger ones were already reported, including Matt Tuiasosopo, Shawn Hill and Kevin Russo. Some are simple re-signings of guys already in the system who became minor-league free agents, such as Argenis Diaz. Some are new, notably former Dodgers reliever Carlos Monasterios and former Angels pitcher Trevor Bell.

For the most part, the deals provide some depth in the Tigers farm system and protection against injuries. Think about where the Tigers might have been without Quintin Berry this past summer, or what Darin Downs meant in a few key games, and you get the idea how moves like this sometimes end up making a huge difference.

Here’s the list so far ….

  • RHPs: Trevor Bell, Cesar Carrillo, Shane Dyer, Shawn Hill, Micah Kellogg, David Kopp, Victor Larez, Carlos Monasterios, Jesse Todd.
  • LHPs: Jose Alvarez, Ramon Garcia, Efrain Nieves
  • Catcher: Brad Davis
  • Infielders: Argenis Diaz, Lance Durham, John Lindsey
  • Utility: Marcus Lemon, Kevin Russo, Matt Tuiasosopo

Monasterios is an interesting deal. The 26-year-old right-hander made 13 starts and 19 relief appearances for the Dodgers as a Rule 5 pick in 2010, tossing 88 1/3 innings before losing the last two seasons to injuries. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011, then needed another season-ending surgery on his ulna nerve last spring. The Dodgers released him in April. If he can make it, he could be a decent depth option for the Tigers in the bullpen.

Monasterios has been pitching as a starter in winter ball in Venezuela, allowing 11 runs on 18 hits over 12 innings.

The deal for Tuiasosopo includes an invite to Spring Training. It’s worth $525,000 if he makes the big-league club. He can ask for his release if he’s not on the big league roster by June 1.

Kellogg, too, is an interesting story, signed out of a tryout at Tigertown in September after going undrafted out of Flagler College last summer. The right-hander will report to minor-league camp this spring.

Tigers get $284,274.50 for each postseason share

As consolation prizes go, this isn’t bad. It’s not all about the money, but they’ll take it.

Major League Baseball released the numbers on postseason shares Monday, from the World Series champion San Francisco Giants to the teams that lost in the Wild Card round. For the American League champion Tigers, the numbers work out to $284,275.50 for each full postseason share.

How does that number work out? It takes a lot of calculation.

The players get a pool of money from postseason gate receipts: 50 percent of the gate from the Wild Card games, then 60 percent of the gate from the first three games of each Division Series, the first four games of each LCS, and the four games of the World Series. That total, according to MLB’s release, worked out to $65,363,469.22.

The Tigers’ share of the players pool works out to 24 percent, totaling $15,687,232.61.

How teams divide up their share comes down to players’ vote. Each team’s players decide how many shares to give, both full and partial depending on how many players were around and for how long. They’ll also give out cash awards to some non-playing personnel.

The Tigers voted to give out 48 full shares, 7.06 partials and seven cash awards. The world champion Giants awarded 50 full shares, 11.10 partial shares and 12 cash awards. Each Giants share was worth $377,002.64, a new record.

For comparison, each Tigers share is actually worth less than they were when Detroit made it to the World Series in 2006. Those were worth $291,667.68, but that team gave out far fewer shares: 39 full ones and 6.67 partials. The total money the Tigers receive from this year’s pool is actually well more than they received in 2006 ($13,344,490.54).

Garcia begins winter ball in Venezuela

The most anticipated winter ball stint by a Tigers prospect in years is underway. Avisail Garcia made his Venezuelan League debut Saturday for Caribes de Anzoategui, going 0-for-3 with a walk, before singling for his first hit on Sunday.

Both games, Garcia started in right field, batting sixth in a Caribes lineup that currently includes another former Tigers hotshot outfield prospect, Gorkys Hernandez.

The plan is for Garcia to spend December with the club leading into the holidays, giving him a pretty long look against good competition while trying to ward off the fatigue factor after his first truly long season (remember, he hadn’t been a September call-up before this year) and a soon-approaching Spring Training (it starts earlier to accommodate the World Baseball Classic).

Garcia has spent past winters playing in Venezuela in their minor league, the Liga Paralela, but hasn’t had extended time up at the top level. This is his year to break through on that level, having established himself as at least someone on the verge of a big league role.

How well Garcia performs in Venezuela will likely play a big part in how soon he can stick in the big leagues. Tigers officials are leaving the door open for him and fellow outfield prospect Nick Castellanos to compete for a roster spot this coming spring, but team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski cautioned earlier this month that they won’t be able to stick just filling the short role of a platoon situation in left field. They’ll have to get enough playing time to justify the promotion, whether it’s an everyday job or more of a true split platoon.

It’s official: Raburn released, Rondon’s contract purchased

The Tigers didn’t wait until next week’s non-tender deadline, knowing it would eventually come to this. They released Ryan Raburn on Tuesday, parting ways with the enigmatic right-handed hitter after more than a decade in the organization.

The release was one of a handful of moves to set up the 40-man roster ahead of next month’s Rule 5 Draft. Detroit also outrighted Tyler Stohr to Triple-A Toledo and purchased the contracts of prospects Bruce Rondon, Melvin Mercedes and Dixon Machado.

Of those, Rondon is the one with a real chance (likelihood) to spend time in the big leagues next year. As a talented, hard-throwing reliever playing at a level below his age, however, Mercedes had a chance to get snagged in the Rule 5 had Detroit not protected him.

Decision time on Raburn has arrived

The Tigers have spent the last few weeks without an answer for Ryan Raburn’s situation. When team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski was asked about Raburn during his season-ending press conference a few weeks ago, he said he hadn’t talked with Raburn yet. Nor was there an answer during Friday’s Torii Hunter press conference, though Dombrowski’s remarks about potentially adding a right-handed hitting outfielder as at least a platoon option alongside Andy Dirks seemed to hint Raburn was a player without a role.

Well, Raburn’s fate as a Tiger is about to be answered. It could come as soon as Tuesday, when the team has to set its 40-man roster. If not Tuesday, it could be answered Nov. 30, the deadline for teams to offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players. (Given Dombrowski’s track record, I’d expect the answer to come Tuesday. Remember, he released Marcus Thames a few years ago soon after the offseason began, rather than wait for the non-tender date.)

Raburn avoided arbitration the last couple years with a two-year, $3.4 million contract he signed after the 2010 season. That contract is now up, but Raburn has a year to go before free agency.

If the Tigers designate him for assignment Tuesday, Detroit can try to trade him, or it can wait to see if another team claims him on waivers. Neither seems likely. The Tigers have had a few weeks to try to work out a trade, and Raburn’s arbitration eligibility would carry over to any team that claimed him.

Technically, Raburn still has an option left, but it’s a moot point. The Tigers seemingly used it up when they sent him to Triple-A Toledo at the end of May, but since he was called up less than 20 days later, so it wasn’t. With more than five years of service time, however, Raburn has the right to decline a minor-league assignment.

Cross out those options, and the other choice is releasing him, parting ways with a versatile player who showed promise for years but has never put a full productive season together. It would be a tough choice for the Tigers to make. If Raburn doesn’t have a role, however, Detroit might not have another choice.

Porcello sells 48 to Hunter for hurricane relief

You had to figure once the Tigers had a deal with Torii Hunter, he would end up getting his number 48 from Rick Porcello. This probably wasn’t the expected way.

As it turned out, Porcello turned the usual jersey number exchange into a very positive turn for his home state.

Hunter and Porcello had met and talked once in another offseason when both were in Las Vegas, so there was already a familiarity.

“I called Rick Porcello, and I told him that I wanted to [buy the number],” Hunter said Friday. “You know, veteran guys usually give a nice dollar amount for a number, so I offered him a nice dollar amount. And he said no. I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with him.'”

Then Porcello came at him with another idea.

“You know what, he’s from New Jersey,” Hunter continued, “and Hurricane Sandy came and destroyed some parts of New Jersey, and he knows some people that were affected by it. He said, ‘The money that you offered me, could you donate it to this organization for Hurricane Sandy?’

“That’s the kind of guy Rick Porcello is. And he really gave me number 48. I’m like, ‘Are you sure you don’t want anything? You’re OK?’ He’s like, ‘Yes, I’m straight.'”

Porcello lives in northern New Jersey, close enough that he can see New York from his hometown. He went to high school at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, which was reportedly hit hard by the storm. There was a YouTube video that circulated around showing what looked like an endless line for gas at a station in West Orange that hadn’t opened yet.

Porcello had worn number 48 since he made the Tigers rotation out of spring training in 2009. He wore 21 in high school, but Dontrelle Willis had that number in 2009. Delmon Young wore 21 the last season and a half. Porcello will wear it now.

Hunter was glad to help.

“Thank you, Rick. You the man,” Hunter said.