January 15th, 2013

Tigers scheduled for two Sunday night games already

Remember when the Tigers were left out of the Sunday Night Baseball schedule when the first-half slate came out last year? Not surprisingly, the American League champions will get some early looks this season.

ESPN announced 10 more Sunday night broadcasts following the March 31 season opener between the Rangers and Astros, welcoming Houston to the American League. The Tigers will take part in two of those 10 — one at home against the Braves on April 28, the other on the road at Texas May 19. Both games will start around 8:05pm ET.

The April 28 game against the Braves comes in the middle of a 10-game homestand. Like most Sunday games, it was originally scheduled for a 1:05 start.

The game against the Rangers will close out a four-game series in Texas, after which the Tigers have an off-day to travel to Cleveland. The other three games in the series are also 8:05 ET starts, so it shouldn’t be a big deal for them.

Seven eligible Tigers file for arbitration

It’s a formality, but still worth noting that the seven Tigers eligible for arbitration all filed on Tuesday. The list includes three members of rotation (Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello), two members of the starting lineup (Alex Avila, Austin Jackson), lefty Phil Coke and outfielder Brennan Boesch.

Basically, what it means is that none of them have apparently reached deals yet to avoid arbitration. There’s still plenty of time for that, but the next big milepost in the process will come on Friday, when they’ll exchange arbitration figures with the team. That’s usually the step that gets both sides moving towards a deal, because it provides a range to use to find a middle ground. From there, the two sides have until at least Feb. 4 to negotiate before hearings begin taking place.

The Tigers have not had to go to an arbitration ruling since Dave Dombrowski took over as GM in 2002. They’ve come close a couple times, but usually they settle soon after the two sides exchange numbers.

Dombrowski: Tigers never made Soriano an offer

As many expected, Scott Boras got another team in on free-agent closer Rafael Soriano for a multi-year deal. As very few expected, it wasn’t the Tigers.

While Soriano’s two-year, $28 million deal with the Nationals made headlines around baseball Tuesday afternoon, the Tigers were left as observers. Whether they were ever actively involved on Soriano is now up for debate.

Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski says they were not.

“We never made him an offer,” Dombrowski told MLB.com in an email Tuesday. “Also, our conversations were exploratory like any other free agent player.”

All along, it was apparent that agent Scott Boras’ best chance at drawing the Tigers into the bidding was to bypass Dombrowski and engage owner Mike Ilitch, the same play he ran to get the Tigers in on Johnny Damon three years ago. Boras also went back to the playbook to try to engage the Tigers in public, strongly hinting that the Tigers shouldn’t trust their ninth-inning leads to a rookie closer.

The exchange through the media, both Boras’ address to reporters and Dombrowski’s response to reporters the next day became one of the better shows of last month’s baseball winter meetings in Nashville.

“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 at the time. “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.”

When asked about the remarks a day later, Dombrowski said, “He’s entitled to his opinion, as everybody else is, but it’s one of those things where we like our situation.”

None of that completely extinguished the speculation that the Tigers would eventually get involved. As recently as this morning, Richard Justice suggested on MLB Network that industry people expected the Tigers to eventually express interest. Maybe, maybe, they eventually would have on a short-term deal, but they weren’t going to make a multi-year offer.

Even that, however, was far from secure, because signing Soriano would’ve required the Tigers to give up their first-round pick. They’ve gone without one for the last three drafts, but with the new draft rules and salary pool implications, they didn’t want to do it now.

Soriano’s deal with Washington pretty much guarantees the Tigers will keep the pick, currently scheduled as the 21st overall selection. Though speedy outfielder Michael Bourn and right-handed starter Kyle Lohse are still free agents requiring draft compensation, the Tigers are not believed to be involved on either one. They have six starting pitchers as it is.

All offseason, Dombrowski has stuck to the same plan. Bruce Rondon and his 102 mph fastball projects as the closer of the very near future, and the Tigers weren’t going to commit long-term to a free agent that blocked his path. Between Rondon, who turned 22 years old last month, and veteran setup man Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel, the Tigers believe they’re covered in the ninth inning. If the bullpen struggles early, they could try to swing a deal at the deadline, much as they did with their rotation the last couple years.