January 2013

Three Tigers in World Baseball Classic field

After all the speculation on how many Tigers could be headed to the World Baseball Classic, the list is down to three from the big-league roster. Anibal Sanchez and Octavio Dotel will join Miguel Cabrera on provisional rosters for this year’s event.

Sanchez joins Cabrera on Team Venezuela. Octavio Dotel is on the provisional roster for his native Dominican Republic.

Three Tigers minor leaguers are also taking part. Cale Iorg and Shawn Hill are on the roster for Team Canada, while pitcher Warwick Saupold will join former Tiger Brad Thomas on Team Australia.

That’s it. As mentioned earlier, no Tigers are on the provisional roster for Team USA, though it’s reportedly possible that Justin Verlander could take part depending on how his throwing program progresses in the coming weeks. The deadline for setting rosters is Feb. 20, which would give Verlander about eight days of workouts to see how he feels.

Cabrera has taken part in each of the previous two World Baseball Classics. Statistically, it didn’t seem to hurt his 2006 and 2009 seasons. A report from Lieder en Deportes, a Venezuelan sports publication, quoted Cabrera saying he told Venezuelan manager Luis Sojo that he would be open to playing first or third base, since Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval is also on the team.

Sanchez and Dotel would both be first-time participants. The Marlins held Sanchez out of consideration for the 2009 event after an injury-shortened 2008 season. Dotel was reportedly on the fence about the 2009 World Baseball Classic before pulling out of consideration.

No Tigers on Team USA

The provisional roster for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic is out. No Tigers are on it — no Justin Verlander, no Max Scherzer, no Austin Jackson, nobody who wears the Old English D for a living.

So far, the U.S. and Canada are the only national teams to release their roster. The rest of the teams will be revealed today at 4pm ET on MLB Network. But with the key players mentioned above not taking part, it appears maybe the Tigers’ contingent in the World Baseball Classic won’t be nearly as large as expected, keeping much of the Tigers roster together throughout Spring Training.

So far, the only Tiger known to be committed to the event is Miguel Cabrera, who was among the first handful of superstar players announced as taking part. He’ll be part of Team Venezuela. Other prominent Venezuelans on Detroit’s roster are Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante and Victor Martinez, though the Tigers confirmed last month that they would not give clearance for Martinez to take part while he works his way back from knee surgery.

Reports suggest Verlander could still join the team later if he feels good about his throwing program, but that would be a surprise. For one thing, it would mean taking away a spot from somebody who made an early commitment.

Wait, the Tigers have a baserunning consultant? (update)

fielderIt was easy to overlook with Don Kelly’s return and the full slate of non-roster Spring Training invites, but thanks to those who pointed it out from the press release: The Tigers also announced the hiring of a new baserunning guru, bringing former Major League coach Jeff Cox to camp as a consultant. He’ll spend Spring Training in big-league camp and pop in on the club during homestands over the course of the regular season, according to the press release.

UPDATE: Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday afternoon that Cox will focus on individual instruction. They’re bringing him in to work with Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks and others on basestealing. Third-base coach Tom Brookens will continue to handle the team baserunning drills.

“He’s going to work with Jackson and some of the guys that have the potential to steal bases, Dirks, guys like that,” Leyland said of Cox. “Really, Jackson’s the primary guy obviously. We want him to get a little better at that. That’s always been one of [Cox’s] strong suits.”

Cox spent four years as the White Sox third-base coach under manager Ozzie Guillen before he took last season off and spent time with family. He was a coach with the Pirates and Marlins in previous stops, including the 2003 World Series championship team in Florida.

cabreraIt doesn’t forbode any change on the Tigers coaching staff, but it seemingly signifies an emphasis on baserunning for this club going forward. Leyland has mentioned several times over the years that he’d like the Tigers to become a better team on the basepaths, smarter and more aggressive if not actually faster. Prince Fielder’s out at the plate in Game 2 of the World Series might well be the lingering memory from the Tigers’ sweep out of the Fall Classic. Third-base coach Gene Lamont took much of the blame for it and accepted it after the game, but others suggested a better slide from Fielder would’ve gotten him around the tag.

Presumably, Cox won’t work with guys like Fielder, and he definitely won’t be working on base-to-base stuff. Still, it reflects the general emphasis. If they’re looking to turn basestealing into more of an asset for Jackson, it’s just as big.

“We just think that’s a real nice fit,” Leyland said. “That’s always been his expertise. It’s always been. We just hope he can get some of that across to some of our guys.”

Tigers announce spring roster, confirm Kelly deal

The Tigers announced their spring training invites on Wednesday, and it’s a very familiar list of names. Most of them are prospects within the organization. Most of the minor-league deals and camp invites had already been announced or otherwise confirmed. It was such a familar list that it was easy to look past Don Kelly’s name.

Yes, Don Kelly is back. The well-liked utilityman and left-handed hitter has agreed to a minor-league deal with a non-roster invite to camp.

When last we saw Kelly, Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski was pulling him aside after the World Series and letting him know that they wouldn’t have a spot on the 4o-man roster for him. The Tigers never closed the door on bringing him back, but Kelly was free to look for a big-league deal somewhere else.

Three months later, he’s back. Kelly said he was in talks with another club he was seriously considering, also a potential contender, but couldn’t pass up the chance to return.

“At the end of the day, when you look at it, Detroit, we have a chance to go back to the World Series and win it,” Kelly said. “And to have the chance to be a part of it is huge. … When you play in the role that I’m going to be in, you want to be on a team that wins. You want to play in the big leagues, don’t get me wrong, but ultimately you want to win.”

The deal includes an opt-out clause that allows Kelly to ask for his release if he’s not on the 25-man roster out of spring training. It doesn’t mean the big leagues or bust, but it gives him options if there’s no fit in Detroit but an opportunity opens up somewhere else.

His fit on the 25-man roster in Detroit could be iffy; the Tigers are still looking at a right-handed bat to mix into left field with Andy Dirks. Still, having somebody in the organization who can play just about every position can’t be a bad thing. With Miguel Cabrera set to miss time in March to play for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, Kelly could get some spring starts at third base along with fellow invite Matt Tuiasosopo.

Here’s the full list of non-roster invites:

  • Right-handed pitchers: Trevor Bell, Shawn Hill, Michael Morrison
  • Left-handed pitchers: Jose Alvarez, Kenny Faulk, Ryan Robowski
  • Catchers: Curt Casali, Brad Davis, James McCann
  • Infielders: Argenis Diaz, Eugenio Suarez
  • Outfielders: Tyler Collins, Daniel Fields
  • Infielder/outfielders: Nick Castellanos, Don Kelly, Kevin Russo, Matt Tuiasosopo

The inclusion of Fields and Collins is kind of interesting. Both made an impression in some at-bats last spring when the Tigers needed extra players. Fields made it to Double-A Erie last summer and could benefit from a camp with the big leaguers. Collins’ season at Class A Lakeland caught the eye of Tigers officials, batting .290 with 35 doubles, seven homers and 66 RBIs along with 20 steals out of 23 attempts.

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.

Porcello trade? Maybe, but not for Hardy

Tired of the Hall of Fame debate already? How about another round of Rick Porcello and Tigers shortstop rumors?

OK, maybe not.

I have no doubt the Tigers and Cubs discussed a deal for Porcello. The fit for Porcello in Chicago is too good not to — a National League team with an outstanding infield defense and a rebuilding plan looking at a pitcher with a good track record and lots more room for development at the age of 24. As Tigers-Cubs trade rumors go, and we’ve heard some shaky ones over the last couple years, this one actually made some sense, though the fit reportedly doesn’t work from the Tigers’ standpoint.

A three-team deal for J.J. Hardy, though? Not happening.

Roch Kubatko of MASN pretty well said as much when he floated the rumor last week, noting the O’s would have to be overwhelmed to give up Hardy even with Manny Machado as their shortstop in waiting. Other indications suggest the same. If the idea got floated, it didn’t get far. Nor does a Porcello-Hardy swap with the O’s, either straight up or in a package, appear doable.

That leaves the Tigers in the same spot where they were three weeks ago, when Dave Dombrowski got slightly more definitive statement about their position than he had been at the winter meetings.

“Peralta is our shortstop,” Dombrowski said at the time.

That remains the stance, and the Tigers are now ready to head into the season with Peralta at short. They’ve tracked Cuban defector Aledmys Diaz in the past, and one would expect they’ll watch his workout for clubs whenever it happens, but any interest is nowhere near the level of interest they demonstrated in Yoenis Cespedes last offseason, and not near the interest other clubs (10, according to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez) have shown in Diaz so far. They could still end up getting a shortstop in a trade package for Porcello, but probably not one who’s ready for the big leagues.

FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi reported late last night that the Mariners and Diamondbacks have had contact with the Tigers on Porcello. Seattle is a team that could make sense. Unlike some other teams, the M’s have a middle infield prospect worth watching in former first-round pick Nick Franklin, a switch-hitter who made it to Triple-A last year at age 21. Whether he’s a fit at SS (he split last season between SS and 2B) is a good question, but he’s intriguing at either spot.

Morris on Hall: “It’s the nature of the beast”

Got in touch with Jack Morris yesterday about the Hall of Fame results. The story went up on the site last night, but here’s a roundup of quotes, some of which made the story and some of which didn’t:

  • On initial reaction to vote: “I wasn’t shocked. I actually predicted this. It’s just the nature of the beast. … It’s just a whole bunch of guys [on the ballot].”
  • Disappointed? “I think I have a right to be disappointed. Disappointment’s fine, as long as you don’t dwell on it. … I’ve got so many people pulling for me, it’s hard to get in a whiny mode.”
  • On going into the final year of eligibility: “I have some [arguments], and if I want to expose that, I can. But my whole outlook is, it’s a tough argument for the writers.”
  • “I can argue my case to those who want to listen. I wish I could grab the ball and show the non-believers what I can do, but I can’t. That time is gone. All I can do is show gratitude [for being on the ballot].”
  • On the impact of the steroid era candidates: “It took the wind out of our sails.”
  • On the candidates coming onto the ballot next year: “I think there are Hall of Fame worthy guys, quite a few in my opinion. The question is whether they’re first-ballot guys.”
  • On the ’84 world champions being left out of the Hall: “I think it’ll be a case where they overlooked it. I know what Gibby did. I know what Tram did. I know what Lou and Larry Herndon and Darrell Evans did. …  We were a phenomenal team in an era where everybody had good teams. This wasn’t watered-down baseball. We were good.”
  • On pressure of final year: “All I can say is I have a year left, but I am very much at peace with where I stand in my mind.”

Verlander to golf in Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Justin Verlander spent last offseason learning how to balance the benefits of his newfound fame with the demanding offseason regimen that helped get him that. Most of that had to do with commercial and television opportunities. He’ll close out his offseason with a whole new opportunity, hitting the links with PGA Tour greats for the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

The event takes place over the weekend of Feb. 10, just before pitchers and catchers officially report to camp for Spring Training (first workout is Feb. 12). Knowing Verlander, he’ll be well into his throwing program by then, so he’ll either have to maintaining his throwing schedule between rounds or take a break for a few days.

Verlander wasn’t listed on the event web site as of Thursday night, but Verlander was announced as a participant on the event’s twitter account. Verlander acknowledged it, saying he can’t wait.

Verlander is a notoriously competitive golfer, in more ways than one. He’s generally acknowledged as the best golfer on the team, but he also badly wants to win whenever he plays. Teammates brag every spring training whenever they have a chance to beat him, knowing it gets to him. Rick Porcello is among those to pull it off. With that in mind, don’t expect many kicks and giggles from Verlander. He’s going to try to beat some people, mainly celebrities. No word on which pro he’ll be paired with.

Other celebrities scheduled to take part include actors Josh Duhamel, Andy Garcia, Chris O’Donnell and regular participant Bill Murray. Tony Romo is a regular participant. Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is also scheduled to take part.

The Pebble Beach Pro-Am hasn’t had many active players take part in recent years. Verlander is the second baseball player to commit this year, joined by San Francisco’s Matt Cain, who also took part in the 2011 Pro-Am.

Cain will make a short trip from Pebble Beach to Arizona for camp once the event is over. Verlander will fly cross-country to Florida afterwards, preferably with some hardware.