Dave Dombrowski called the corner outfield addition the top priority the Tigers had this winter. He did not say it was the last. Not by a long shot.
Actually, he didn’t say much about the rest of the Tigers’ offseason plans. But within his guarded remarks, it was clear the Tigers aren’t done with their offseason dealings.
“I’d say this was our No. 1 priority, finding a bat for the corner outfield,” Dombrowski said. “We’ll see where other things take us. But if we end up with this being our major move of the winter, I would be very happy.”
If they end up with Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly rounding out their rotation, Dombrowski said, “we’d be fine with that.”
That was about all he was willing to say on Sanchez’s situation, other than to emphasize that the outfield was the main offseason priority. But if you remember a couple offseasons ago, he became similarly mum on Magglio Ordonez’s situation as the offseason wore on, before they eventually re-signed him in mid-December.
Dombrowski gave a little more information on left field now that Torii Hunter takes over in right:
“I don’t really know which way we’ll take that,” he said. “We have our own internal debates if [Andy] Dirks is an everyday player. He hit right-handed pitching very well last year, which is the majority of pitching you face. However, we’re also in a spot with the young guys, [Nick] Castellanos and [Avisail] Garcia, you don’t want them to come in here and play 40 games versus left-handed pitching.
“So, as we’ve told both of those guys how we would approach something like that, ‘Hey, it’s up to you. If you win the job in spring training, go win it, but you’re going to have to get a lot of playing time. So where does that leave us if they don’t? Well, we’ll just wait to see what happens as time goes on there, see if we add somebody.”
If you believe that leaves the door open for another move, you’d be right. And it’s not exactly just cracked open.
“My instinct,” Dombrowski continued, “is that we would add somebody that could hit from the right-hand side that, if those guys don’t make it, could go out there and play with Dirks. But we’ll wait and see.”
Dombrowski’s approach on the bullpen was much the same as it was a few weeks ago, sticking to the approach of letting Bruce Rondon compete for the job with other current relievers. He also didn’t rule out a move there, either.
Torii Hunter has long been one of the most personable figures in baseball. For years, he talked with Tigers players, coaches and fans on the opposing side. Friday afternoon’s press conference announcing his two-year, $26 million contract was his first chance to publicly talk about his arrival in Detroit.
His personality was on display, and it immediately put a crowd of media and team officials at ease.
“Al Avila,” Hunter said, looking at the Tigers’ assistant general manager. “Man, I did not know that was your son. That is unbelievable. Your son is one of the nicest catchers in the game. He tells me all the pitches that are coming. That was pretty impressive.”
In between laughs, Hunter also answered the big question: Why does a veteran free-agent right fielder with enough interest to pick his destination target one team from the outset and go there?
“I just looked at the ballclub,” Hunter said. “I was scouting clubs [during the season] just in case the Angels didn’t sign me back. I knew they had contract restraints over there [in Anaheim], so I knew that wasn’t going to happen. But I definitely was scouting. I saw this was the best team in baseball. The early start was just a funk. You always go through a little funk. The early start that the Tigers had, but you saw what they did going down the stretch. They really wanted to win, and every bit of talent that they had came out of them. So I just continued to watch those guys and I saw they might have a spot open over there. …
“I know talent. That’s one thing over my years playing Major League Baseball, I know talent. I know what team wants to win, and I know what team is going to win. And I see the Tigers winning in 2013.”
By the time Hunter was done explaining, this much seemed clear: He recruited the Tigers as much or more than the Tigers recruited him.
“Tuesday, I flew in. I wanted to come here and just look at these guys and get to know these guys too,” Hunter said. “Dave Dombrowski, Mr. I and Al Avila, man, they were sitting down at the table and I told [owner Mike Ilitch] to his face, ‘I want to be a Tiger. I want to win a World Series. I know this is the team I want to be with. Let’s get it done today.’
“I mean, I don’t want to sit around and just wait. I really wanted to get something done that day. I know what team I wanted to play for, and he saw it in my eyes. And we just knocked it out right away. It wasn’t about being greedy or anything like that. We came with something that was fair for us, and I’m excited to be a Tiger. And thank you for allowing me to be that guy.”
More from Torii Hunter …
- On manager Jim Leyland: “Funny old man. He cracks me up, when I was with Minnesota and the Angels we talked to each other during batting practice. He would have me rolling. He would tell some kind of joke and I’d say, man, that dude is crazy, I want to play for him one day.’ So we’re here, we had lunch last Tuesday, we talked about life, about players, about baseball, about WAR, about numbers guys, the way the game is changing. He’s a very good man.”
- On Detroit: “I’ve been here several times. We stayed in Birmingham and Troy, we’d come into the city and I ate at Fishbones for years. For me, I’ve seen growth. I’ve seen the face of Detroit change. It looks better downtown. Ten, fifteen years ago, it was totally different. It’s a lot better, but we’ve still got some work to do. I want to give back to the community, get involved. If there’s investment opportunities out here, I will get involved. We can always get better.”
- On character, leadership: “I try to lead by example. I don’t go around and be that rah-rah guy. I counsel guys. I sit one of my teammates down and fill them up with positive thoughts, positive sayings, try to lift them up. That’s what we should do as veteran players, not sitting there in their locker quiet, not sharing all the wisdom that they have and not being fruitful. I want to give back to those guys and lift them up. Because if you lift your teammates up … as a veteran guy, I’m going to do what I do. For me not to lift my younger guys up, then who’s going to do that? That’s what helps a team win.
- More on lifting guys up: “Baseball is a negative game. Three out of 10 times [succeeding], you’re a hero. Three out of 10 at your job, you’re fired. Three out of 10 in other sports, you’re probably released. Three out of 10 in school, that’s an F. In baseball, you’re succeeding, so I’m able to tell these guys; Three out of 10, you’re a freaking hero. When I give them that, make them see it in a different light, that’s what helps a team.”
- On having his son nearby at Notre Dame next fall: “Honestly, this is a perfect fit. You’re talking about playing in the Central again, a division I know about. I look at the Tigers and see the Tigers winning this division. … And then when I got outside of baseball and look at my family situation, only 2 1/2-3 hours away from my son in South Bend. Not just talking about catching football games, but on a day off I can go out there and hang out with him for a day. We can have lunch, talk, or he can come here when he has time. It’s just a perfect marriage, a perfect fit, and I really think I can win my World Series here in 2013 and ’14.”
- On the American League MVP race: “That’s a hot tamale, that question. I would like for both of those guys to win that.”
- On the impact of making the playoffs on the AL MVP race: “I like Trout and I like Cabrera. Those two totally different players. But the last I checked, since we were kids, MVP was always for the winning side. You talk about Michael Jordan, he’s a winner, the MVP. You talk about when you’re a kid at school, you get an MVP, I’ve never seen a losing guy get MVP. It’s my take on it. I’m a Tiger now.”
The Tigers made it official on their two-year deal with Torii Hunter, formally announcing the contract. He’ll be introduced to Detroit in a press conference at 4pm.
“Torii Hunter is a quality Major League player who is a tremendous addition to the Tigers organization both on and off the field,” team president/general manager David Dombrowski said in a statement. “He continues to be a consistent contributor at the plate, in the outfield and on bases, and we feel Torii is a great fit for our lineup.”
Third base was supposed to be Miguel Cabrera’s downfall in the AL MVP debate. It never got that close.
Then, when Cabrera talked about the award, he turned his position change into a strength.
“I think the most important thing I did this year was defensive,” he said.
He went beyond that. After hearing him talk about it, you wonder if he has this kind of season if he doesn’t make the move.
“I think Leyland made a good decision to move me to third base,” Cabrera said, “because it really pushed me to work hard.”
It takes a little explanation, and it goes back to the stretch run last season, before third base was even a serious consideration. But Jim Leyland agreed.
It was Leyland who challenged Cabrera going into September 2011 to bear down consistently and hit his way to a batting crown. He was in a close race, but Leyland still saw him giving away at-bats, something Leyland has discussed with him since he came over from the Marlins.
“I told him, ‘I want to see you win this batting title,’” Leyland recalled Thursday night after the MVP announcement. “And he went on a concentration mission that’s unbelievable.”
When Cabrera’s comments about moving to third came up, Leyland thought of that run.
“I definitely think that’s true,” Leyland said, “and I’ll tell you why: I think going to third base helped his total concentration in all phases. I think it helped him at the plate. He was always [involved] in the game. I think he really concentrated on third base and he did a great job. He did a great job.
“They’re all making fun of us last winter. Oh, he can’t play third base.”
That concentration, Leyland said, was at its highest down the stretch this season. For some voters who have made their reasoning public, that September stretch was the time when Cabrera won the award. I can’t argue, because when I wrote about Cabrera’s MVP case in early August, I didn’t suggest he was the front-runner. I said he still had time to become that.
“He’s been giving away fewer at-bats away each year,” Leyland said. “And when he doesn’t give at-bats away, you see how good he can be.”
More than once, Miguel Cabrera suggested it would be cool if he and Mike Trout could split AL MVP honors, and he suggested Thursday the debate over who deserved the award was actually good for the game. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Cabrera would have nothing of the debate between traditional stats, specialized stats and sabermetrics.
“I think in the end, the game is going to be the same baseball,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen, but I think that’s good for baseball that we have new stuff. But I always learn how to play old school. They always teach me to get RBIs, try to hit home runs, try to hit over .300. I was fine with that. …
“In the end, the game, it’s going to be the same. You have to play baseball. You have to do things to win games. You have to worry about getting better and working out and trying to play better baseball. I don’t worry about the new stuff and the old stuff, because all I try to do is help my team to win.”
Then he stated the obvious.
“You can use both, you know?”
That won’t quiet the debate, just as this year’s MVP voting won’t end it. I think there’s a very good chance you’ll hear some of the same arguments going on at some point in the next few seasons. Hopefully it won’t include the same tone that this year’s debate took on, because I believe that turned off some people (I know I got sick of it). Saying that any rational thinking person will pick A over B doesn’t win people over. Using an analogy to compare contrary thinkers to a group that’s classified as a terrorist organization kind of tarnishes the argument of supposedly rational thinkers.
It might be more a symptom of society at large, or the internet in general, than of sabermetrics and statistics. But it doesn’t move the debate forward much.
“Give a lot of credit to Trout,” Cabrera continued. “That’s great of baseball to come out and do the kind of season he do. It was exciting. I was like thank God to give me the opportunity to be here.”
After all the debate, all the rhetoric, all the statistical and historical analysis, the result is the same: The American League Most Valuable Player award is staying in Detroit.
Along the way, however, it’s probably taking a side trip through Venezuela.
In the long-anticipated battle of historic seasons, Miguel Cabrera put an exclamation point on his 2012 campaign with the AL MVP award, beating out Angels rookie sensation Mike Trout.
In the end, it wasn’t particularly. Cabrera took 22 of the 28 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
It marked the second straight MVP award for a Tiger, Cabrera following in the footsteps of vocally supportive teammate Justin Verlander, and the first MVP award for a Venezuelan-born player. It’s the first MVP award for a Tigers position player since Hank Greenberg in 1940.
Whether the vote reinforced the historic importance of the Triple Crown, or the emphasis of offensive explosiveness over speed and defense, or the relevance of traditional stats over more recent metrics, will be debated for quite a while. Regardless, the vote breakdown will likely be remembered for a long time as the agonizing balance of two amazing seasons and the catalyst for a statistical debate that’s unlikely to end.
Cabrera and Trout seemed reluctant to be drawn into that argument, complementing one another often since season’s end. Cabrera had hinted more than once that splitting the vote wouldn’t be bad.
These were the words from Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski a few weeks ago when asked whether they’d make a push to keep free agent Gerald Laird:
“We basically told Gerald this situation: I know he’s looking for a little more playing time, he’s looking for a little more finances. That’s not going to come from us.”
As it turned out, it came from the Braves, who just lost their backup catcher and badly needed one with Brian McCann having just undergone shoulder surgery. Atlanta has agreed to terms with Laird on a two-year contract, MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports.
Financial terms haven’t been disclosed, but Atlanta paid David Ross north of $1.6 million in each of the last three seasons before he left for Boston earlier this month. Laird made $1 million with the Tigers this past season.
On a team that just spent big for right fielder Torii Hunter and will have to spend much bigger to try to keep Anibal Sanchez, backup catcher was never going to be a big-ticket item. The only backup catcher in recent years to get a multi-year deal from the Tigers was Vance Wilson, and it was for far less. Subsequent Tommy John surgeries never allowed Wilson to play another game in the big leagues after signing that contract.
As for playing time, McCann’s rehab leaves Laird looking at a potentially heavy workload early in the season, and possibly more if the rehab hits a setback. For what it’s worth, Ross received more playing time than Laird last year through McCann’s injuries, and had a pretty steady workload of 50-60 games and 145-170 plate appearances in the three seasons before that.
Laird played in 63 games with 191 plate appearances this past season, eventually settling in for a good share of starts against left-handed pitchers as the Tigers tried to watch the wear and tear on Alex Avila’s knees. Those are starts and at-bats the Tigers are going to have to fill. Most likely, they’ll make every effort to fill it from within.
“We do feel comfortable with Bryan Holaday as a guy that can step in and be a backup catcher,” Dombrowski said a few weeks ago.
[UPDATE: Dombrowski reiterated that stance in an email to MLB.com on Thursday as MLB's owners meetings were wrapping up in Chicago. However, he also left open the possibility of signing another backup.
"At this time, he would be our backup," Dombrowski wrote of Holaday, "and we would be happy with him performing that role for us. However, we will also continue to keep our options open."]
The Tigers drafted Holaday out of TCU three years ago with the idea he could grow into a useful catcher in the big leagues, certainly defensively. He got his first big league call in June with Avila and Laird both ailing, then returned to Detroit later as a September call-up. In between, he got regular work at Triple-A Toledo, batting .240 on the year as a Mud Hen with two home runs and 25 RBIs.
Holaday threw out 25 of 73 would-be baserunners in Toledo, maintaining the 34-percent rate he posted throwing out runners last year at Double-A Erie. He has earned glowing reviews for his defense and his work with pitchers.
By now, the process is pretty familiar around these parts. When the Tigers add a piece that fits their needs this well and a player who is so well-known and well-respected by his peers, it’s going to get a reaction. Not surprisingly, the reaction among the Tigers to Torii Hunter’s signing has been extremely positive.
“It’s great news,” Alex Avila told MLB.com in a text message Wednesday evening. “I’m really excited to hear about it. He’s a great player, someone that I’ve really enjoyed watching and competing against. I’ve heard he not only is a great competitor but a great person as well and I’m happy someone of his caliber is joining our team.”
Then there’s the reaction on Twitter:
— Drew Smyly (@SmylyD) November 14, 2012
Smyly is a Little Rock native. Hunter grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Both now spend their offseasons in the Dallas area.
— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) November 14, 2012
That didn’t take long. A day after Torii Hunter visited Detroit, the free-agent outfielder and the Tigers reached an agreement on a two-year, $26 million contract, pending a physical. Sources confirmed the deal, first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.
Hunter left Detroit Tuesday night and reportedly did not have an offer. The deal came together quickly Wednesday morning.
Hunter not only fills the corner outfield spot that stood as the lone void in the Tigers lineup, he provides Detroit with the right-handed bat it conspicuously lacked throughout the 2012 season in its struggles against left-handed pitching.
Add in Hunter’s proven tablesetting abilities in the second spot — he goes from batting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to slotting between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera — along with his smart baserunning and still-standout defense, and there’s plenty to like for the Tigers in the deal.
While Hunter gets a multi-year contract that will take him just shy of his 40th birthday, the Tigers get the future flexibility to mix top prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos into their outfield. Garcia was a postseason hero for Detroit at age 21, while Castellanos knocked on the door of a September call-up at age 20.
Both could benefit greatly from working with Hunter, whose impact was credited by AL Rookie of the Year and MVP candidate Mike Trout for helping him adjust so quickly to the big leagues with the Angels.
Torii Hunter has been to Comerica Park and downtown Detroit several times as a visiting player. On Tuesday, he took a visit as a free agent, meeting with members of the Tigers front office as Detroit took its courtship to an in-person level.
A source confirmed what is being characterized as a meet-and-greet visit, first reported by FOXSports.com. The Tigers have an organizational policy of not commenting on free agents.
It is not necessarily a sign of an imminent deal for Hunter, who is weighing a visit with at least one other club and isn’t believed to have an offer from the Tigers yet. Nevertheless, it’s a sign that the courtship has grown serious. It also reinforces Hunter’s prediction on MLB Network Monday that his free-agent recruitment wouldn’t be drawn-out.
Hunter has played in Detroit on the visiting side for years, so long that he played at Tiger Stadium as a rookie for the Minnesota Twins in 1999. Tuesday’s visit allowed him a chance to meet with team officials in a different setting and get an idea about Hunter’s potential fit on the team.