December 5th, 2012

Boras: Rookie closers a “philosophical cliff” (updated with stats)

While Tigers officials were meeting with the beat writers this afternoon, Scott Boras held his annual Winter Meetings gathering with media members this afternoon at the opposite end of the Opryland Hotel. The location differences might have been fitting.

Boras was asked about the market for top closer Rafael Soriano. He didn’t mention Bruce Rondon by name, but in talking about young closers in general, it wasn’t difficult to make the connection. Thanks to MLB.com’s Matthew Leach for the transcription:

“It’s a philosophical cliff in baseball that you can bring Minor League talent to the big leagues and know what you’ve got,” Boras said. “The evidence says that there are many young players in our game that are 20, 21 that can hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs and they’re extraordinary talents. Or win 15 games. But there’s never been closers that can come in and get 30 saves. I think you count on one hand the number of closers under the age of 23 that have ever gone to the big leagues and at a young age put together 30 saves, let alone pitch in the postseason and be effective.

“Last year there were three or four teams that, if they had a 90 percent save opportunity ratio out of their bullpens, they would have been in the playoffs, and they weren’t: The White Sox, the Brewers, the Angels. So it really is a position in my mind that few men can do. I think there’s only been 13 men in modern times, in baseball history, that have had 40 saves and an above 90 percent save opportunity ratio twice. It’s a very hard thing to do and a very valued commodity. As time spins it out, I think teams have to evaluate.”

When asked if he was then disappointed in the Tigers’ position about Soriano, Boras said, “I think the Tigers’ position is one where they’re trying to put together their best team and they haven’t made those decisions yet.”

Just for the heck of it, I looked up the numbers on baseball-reference.com. Ten pitchers in history have recorded 30 or more saves in their age 23 season or earlier, half of them since 2010. Just three have done it in their first full big-league seasons, but all of them have done it recently: Neftali Feliz (40 saves) in 2010, and Craig Kimbrel (46) and Jordan Walden (32) in 2011.

Tigers trade Oliver to Pirates for Ramon Cabrera

For the second straight Winter Meetings in Nashville, the Tigers have traded for a Cabrera. This time, it’s a minor-league catcher named Ramon Cabrera in a 1-for-1 swap with the Pirates that sends former Detroit starter Andy Oliver to Pittsburgh.

The deal, the Tigers’ first of these Winter Meetings, ends Oliver’s roller-coaster Tiger tenure. It began with a promising first season that saw him spend a month in Detroit’s rotation in his first year as a pro, and ended with Oliver relegated to the bullpen at Triple-A Toledo at the close of last season.

In between, Oliver showed a power arm for a left-hander, but struggled to harness it into consistent command.

“We couldn’t get him to throw strikes on a consistent basis,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “And if he does, with his arm, he has a chance to be a very fine pitcher.”

Oliver went 0-5 with a 7.11 ERA in seven starts for the Tigers in 2010 and 2011. He had solid numbers at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo in 2010, but went 13-22 with a 4.79 ERA over the next two years as a Mud Hen, walking 168 batters over 265 innings with 255 strikeouts.

And yet, with his talent, he put himself in a solid position to compete for the Tigers’ open rotation spot last spring with an impressive opening stretch of camp. That bid fell apart in the second half of camp as his walk total rose, landing him back at Toledo for a third season.

“We thought that perhaps a change of scenery would not be a bad thing,” Dombrowski said.

Oliver would have come to camp to compete for a bullpen spot had he stuck with the club. He’ll go to Spring Training with the Pirates to compete for a starting job.

“He seems capable of doing a lot of roles for us,” Pirates general manager Neil Huntington said. “We like the arm, like the fastball, the breaking ball, like how he does things. And as tough as is to give up young switch-hitting catcher that we like, a lot, we felt Andrew was a good addition to our club.”

The 23-year-old Cabrera was a Florida State League batting champion at Class A Bradenton in 2011 before batting .276 with three home runs and 50 RBIs between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis this past season. The 5-foot-8, 195-pounder owns a .292 batting average in his five-year minor league career, but just a .400 slugging percentage.

Lamont: Bench coach move was mutual decision

Gene Lamont has been a third-base coach for close to two decades in baseball. He couldn’t do it anymore, because the condition of his knees wouldn’t allow it.

Lamont told MLB.com in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon that he went to manager Jim Leyland in August and said he’d welcome a move to bench coach. After getting hit by a foul ball during the season and having several other close calls, he wasn’t sure he had the reactions he needed to dodge them anymore.

“I can’t get out of the way as soon as I could [before],” Lamont said. “I got a knot in my left knee. I just can’t move as well.”

Leyland and the club agreed and made the move after the season. The Tigers announced the move on Tuesday, including Tom Brookens’ move to third base coach and Rafael Belliard’s shift to coach at first base.

Lamont, a former catcher who came up through the Tigers organization after being the Tigers’ first draft pick in 1965, has a history of knee issues. Those concerns, plus his age, have limited his mobility.

“I did it for a long time, 18, 19 years,” he said.

Leyland referenced the knee issues when he talked again about the move with reporters Wednesday afternoon, this time with the national media.

“To be honest with you, he’s had a knee operation before,” Leyland said. “Sometimes it flares up on him a little bit. We just thought we’d take a little stress off that. He’s a great baseball mind.  He’ll be really good for me as well on the bench.

“Brookens [is] a little bit younger.  Put him over at third, make him a little more active.  Gene’s knee gets a little sore.  It bothers him sometimes.  He puts pads on them every night.  So it’s getting where they bone on bone a little bit, and it’s a little bit tough for him.”

 

Winter Meetings: Anything going on shortstop front?

Remember when the Tigers came to Nashville looking for a shortstop? It’s still on their list, but right now, it doesn’t sound like there’s much going.

The word around the lobby here at the Gaylord Opryland hotel is that Stephen Drew is going for at least a two-year deal, and the Tigers are looking short term. Given the state of the shortstop market (there is none), the alternative would probably have to be a trade. Cleveland seems more likely to deal Asdrubal Cabrera out of the AL Central, possibly in a reported three- or four-team trade that would include Arizona, than do something with a team the Indians are trying to beat in the division. As appealing as Dodgers speedster Dee Gordon might be, it’s difficult to see the Tigers giving up the kind of prospect package the Dodgers supposedly want for him, especially when he’s not a proven commodity yet.

If Asdrubal Cabrera does go to Arizona, it would be interesting to see how that might affect the Tigers’ plans, not just from the Cabrera trade. Through all the rumors about the Tigers looking at alternatives to Peralta at shortstop, one assumption has been that the Diamondbacks would be a potential destination for Peralta if it got to that point. Take Arizona off the list, and then you’re generally looking at teams seeking something other than everyday shortstops.

At this point, the Tigers might have a better chance of trading a shortstop by the time they leave town than adding one. Detroit has been checking with teams about Ramon Santiago and finding some potential interest, depending on how much money the Tigers would be willing to pick up. The Tigers have also checked around on Brennan Boesch, and a CBSSports.com report yesterday suggests the Mariners could be interested.

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