November 2012

Tigers emerge as suitor (front-runner?) for Torii Hunter

Torii Hunter’s play as a Minnesota Twins outfielder early in his career earned him the title as a Tiger killer around these parts. After all these years, it’s now realistic for Detroit fans to consider the possibility of Hunter becoming a Tiger.

It might not take long to figure out, one way or the other.

The Tigers are interested in Hunter, as reported earlier Monday by CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler, and as has been expected since team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski laid out their needs for a corner outfielder two weeks ago. Between Detroit’s season-long struggles against left-handed pitching, its desire to become more athletic, its lack of a proven second hitter between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera, and Delmon Young’s departure as a free agent taking away one of Detroit’s key right-handed hitters, the Tigers’ needs fit Hunter’s strengths.

Just as encouraging, there are signs the interest is mutual, and strong. Whether the Tigers should be considered the front-runners for Hunter, as MLB Network Radio’s Jim Bowden put it, is a matter of perception, one that could change if another of his suitors (Knobler mentioned Texas, while the Rays, Phillies and Red Sox have also been mentioned in reports for possible one-year offers) steps up in the coming days. But signs point towards a logical match between Hunter and Detroit.

Hunter, moreover, sounded like he already has a team or teams in mind.

“It’s going to be quick,” Hunter told MLB Network’s Hot Stove morning show with Harold Reynolds. “I’m not going to wait it out. I know who I want to play for.”

Hunter didn’t mention which teams, but he said he’s looking to win, not simply get paid.

“Everybody knows I want to win,” Hunter told MLB Network, “so whatever team’s out there that wants to win and can use me and let me be a part of it, that’s who I want to be playing with.”

Hunter just finished a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels. He has plenty of money, and he has a son who just committed to a football scholarship at Notre Dame.

That said, it’s expected to take a multi-year deal to sign Hunter, a fact which impacts his market at age 37. If he were to settle on a one-year deal, his field expands.

It leaves the Tigers with an intriguing decision. Detroit has two highly regarded, right-handed hitting outfield prospects with postseason hero Avisail Garcia and Futures Game MVP Nick Castellanos. Both are expected to have a chance to compete for a job in Spring Training, possibly a timeshare with Andy Dirks or Brennan Boesch in one corner outfield spot.

The other corner spot is open, and that’s where Hunter fits in. Add in Hunter’s clubhouse presence and track record of working with young outfielders — Mike Trout credited Hunter’s help as an impact on him during his Rookie of the Year interview Monday night on MLB Network — and he’s one potential signing that could improve two spots, not to mention his potential impact on center fielder Austin Jackson.

However, a two-year deal for Hunter likely would mean a longer wait for Castellanos or Garcia. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, an extra year or two of development, but it’s something the win-now Tigers have to weigh.

Bonderman still watching market for comeback

If the Tigers have offered a formal contract to Jeremy Bonderman, it seems to be a new development to Bonderman. He told MLB.com in a phone conversation Friday that he has left contract matters to his agent.

“I’m just seeing what all is out there right now,” Bonderman said. “But I have talked to Detroit.”

FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi cited sources Friday saying the Tigers have offered Bonderman a contract. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if they did. When Bonderman became a free agent two offseasons ago, president/GM Dave Dombrowski had a standing offer on the table for a minor-league contract with a Spring Training invite. Bonderman was looking for a Major League contract at that time, and ended up simply staying home.

Bonderman admitted this past spring that he blew out his elbow while working out that offseason. He underwent Tommy John surgery this spring and has worked out ever since then in preparation for a comeback attempt. He said Friday he’s on schedule to be ready for full workouts for Spring Training.

He’s willing to accept a minor-league deal with a camp invite now, which could pave the way for a reunion with the Tigers. At this point however, it would make sense for him to watch the market and see what develops. If he can find a team with a rotation opening, it would give him a better shot at making the team than he might have in Detroit, where the Tigers already have enough established starters to fill out a rotation regardless whether they re-sign Anibal Sanchez.

Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in an email Friday that he can’t comment on specific free agents, citing current Major League rules.

Dombrowski said last week that the Tigers could look for a starter to compete for the fifth spot if they don’t re-sign Sanchez. Most likely, though, that signing would be an insurance option in case Drew Smyly struggles or somebody gets hurt. The Tigers don’t have the same starter depth in the upper levels of their farm system that they had the past couple years, having traded Jacob Turner and watched Andy Oliver struggle mightily this past season. Duane Below and Adam Wilk are among the depth options they have right now.

Let the Justin Upton rumors begin anew

Those on-again, off-again trade rumors regarding Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton are on again, this time with Arizona GM talking with reporters about it at baseball’s GM meetings. He’s telling reporters they aren’t shopping Upton, according to reports, but they’re listening. This time, maybe the Tigers have a better reason (and a better case) to try for him than they did before.

Nick Piecoro, who covers the Diamondbacks for the Arizona Republic, reports Towers saying there’s “a lot of interest” in Upton. He also relays word on twitter that the Tigers were doing their “due diligence” and “background work” on Upton, though it isn’t clear whether the two sides have had any talks.

On the surface, there’s a fit for Upton in Detroit. The Tigers are looking for an upgrade in one of their corner outfield spots, they’d like to have another right-handed hitter to improve their lineup against left-handed pitchers, and they’d like to add some athleticism to their offense. Upton, who has posted at least 17 home runs and 18 stolen bases in each of the last four seasons, fits the mold. He’s just 25 years old and he has still has three years before he’s eligible for free agency.

Those same reasons why Upton would appeal to Detroit, of course, are reasons for him to appeal to a lot of teams. They’re prime reasons why Towers would listen on him, because he can demand a lot in return and still shed a contract that will pay Upton $38.5 million over the next three seasons.

It’s not hard to see how Upton would fit in Detroit. It’s how the Tigers would obtain him that’s the tricky part. They have talent they can offer, but it’s whether they have better talent to offer than other clubs (remember how many clubs are reportedly looking for outfield help, including the Rangers, Yankees and Red Sox) do.

Whether the Tigers have a lot to offer depends on how untouchable their minor-league prospects are. It would be a shock if Arizona didn’t ask for Nick Castellanos as part of a package in return, given the look of their lineup. Avisail Garcia could be another prospect of interest coming off his impressive postseason. Detroit’s sudden drop in top pitching prospects could be a factor unless the Tigers could be a factor, though the Tigers will have six candidates for five rotation spots (with Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly at the end) if they re-sign Anibal Sanchez.

Re-signing Sanchez and trading for Upton brings the team payroll to an unprecedented (for this club) level. It would also be a rare win-now move that would actually not make the team any older.

Cabrera, Verlander named finalists for AL awards

Justin Verlander won’t get a chance to repeat for American League MVP, but Miguel Cabrera will get his chance to keep the award in Detroit. Verlander will settle for a shot at another AL Cy Young award.

MLB Network announced the finalists for baseball’s major end-of-season awards Wednesday night, and to no surprise, Cabrera and Verlander were in the middle of them. Cabrera was announced as one of five finalists for AL MVP, while Verlander was named among the three finalists for Cy Young.

Neither was a surprise, though Verlander actually wasn’t among the three finalists for AL Outstanding Pitcher honor at last week’s Players Choice awards. Unless you spent the last three months outside the country, you know that the AL MVP debate basically an argument over Cabrera’s Triple Crown and Mike Trout’s strength in metrics. The other three MVP finalists announced were Texas’ Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton, and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.

The Cy Young field is more open. Verlander’s 17 wins marked his lowest total since 2008, but he again led the league in innings and strikeouts while ranking second in ERA. He again led all AL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement. Whether that’s enough to put him on top 0f a field that includes 20-game winners David Price (also the ERA champ) and Jered Weaver is difficult to answer.

The Cy Young award winner will be announced next Wednesday at 6 p.m., also on MLB Network. The league MVP honors will be announced the next night.

Delmon Young pleads guilty in New York

The legal case against former Tiger Delmon Young reached its expected settlement. Young pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment today and was ordered to 10 days of community service, including reportedly a program at New York City’s Museum of Tolerance.

If he completes the program, he’ll be able to plead down to a lesser charge.

The case, of course, stems from his April 27 incident outside the Tigers’ team hotel in the city, where Young reportedly started yelling at a homeless man and got into a resulting altercation with a group of visitors.

It was a national story, and the initial charges included a hate-crime accusation that made the potential penalties stronger. Young stayed away from the team during their entire series against the Yankees over the next few days, and was eventually suspended by Major League Baseball for seven days.

Young, whom a police report said was highly intoxicated when the incident happened — despite the team not arriving in New York until maybe four hours earlier — agreed to an alcohol counseling program and underwent a community service program.

Young eventually turned his season around on the field, including another strong postseason, and the off-field issues amazingly didn’t become a bigger story when the Tigers went back to New York to face the Yankees in the ALCS. Off the field, not surprisingly, the damage to his image was another issue.

He’s a free agent now, and for someone coming off back-to-back productive Octobers, he’s going to have to deal with the character question. His plea deal should help.

Cabrera wins two Players Choice awards

Whether Miguel Cabrera won the nod from BBWAA members for AL MVP is still more than a week away from being revealed. Players, though, gave him the nod for two honors, voting him both the Major League Player of the Year and the AL’s Outstanding Player as part of the Players Choice Awards, announced Monday night on MLB Network.

Cabrera is the second Tiger in as many years to win Player of the Year honors, following in Justin Verlander’s footsteps. Like Verlander, Cabrera also pulled off the double awards.

Cabrera and Angels rookie phenom Mike Trout were up for both awards. Trout settled for AL Outstanding Rookie honors.

Next two weeks are awards season

The parade of awards starts up this week, including tonight with the MLB Players Choice Awards, shown in an 8pm 6pm special on MLB Network. Justin Verlander, last year’s Player of the Year, isn’t even a finalist for Pitcher of the Year this time, losing out to David Price, Chris Sale and Jered Weaver. However, Miguel Cabrera is an outstanding favorite to give the Tigers their second straight Player of the Year winner.

Voting was conducted among Major League players in the final week or two of the season. The Sporting News bases its awards off player voting, and Cabrera won Player of the Year in that group last week.

After that, the next honors come Thursday with the Silver Slugger awards. Cabrera will obviously be a favorite at third. Prince Fielder, who won an NL Silver Slugger at first base last year, could take the AL version home. Austin Jackson’s chances in center field could be interesting, but Adam Jones and Mike Trout would seem to have an edge there.

The heart of the awards season comes next week, when the Baseball Writers Association of America chimes in with its annual honors — Rookie of the Year on Monday, Manager of the Year on Tuesday, Cy Young on Wednesday, MVP on Thursday. Those, too, will be shown on MLB Network starting at 6pm.

The Tigers don’t have a serious rookie candidate (not that anybody does in comparison to Mike Trout), and while Jim Leyland might get a Manager of the Year vote or two, he isn’t going to beat out Bob Melvin, Robin Ventura and Buck Showalter. But Wednesday and Thursday will obviously be interesting.

For all the debate over how Verlander’s season compared to his MVP campaign last year, there’s still serious reason to believe it was good enough to win him a second straight Cy Young award and make him just the 17th two-time winner in the award’s history.

As for the Cabrera/Trout MVP debate, it has another week and a half to go before wrapping up next Thursday.

Castellanos singles twice in AFL Rising Stars game

It has been a learning experience for Nick Castellanos in the Arizona Fall League, but the Tigers top prospect represented himself well in the league’s annual Rising Stars game, singling in each of his first two at-bats in a 2-for-5 effort Saturday night in Scottsdale.

Castellanos, batting cleanup as the East team’s DH, had an opposite-field single in the opening inning before hitting a hard ground ball to left in the third. He grounded out to third base a couple times the rest of the night, including a double play later.

Castellanos, who shifted from right field to left in Arizona as the Tigers try to find another position where he could compete for a job in the near future, is batting 17-for-71 (.239) in Arizona with four doubles, a home run and three RBIs, walking eight times with 24 strikeouts.

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