How Berry’s injury, Kelly’s opt-out might help shape Tigers roster
The note was so minute when Don Kelly signed his minor-league contract with a camp invite, it might have gotten overlooked. Indeed, Kelly came back to his old club to compete for his old job, but he also made sure to get an opt-out clause that would allow him to ask for his release if he doesn’t make the team at the end of camp, just in case there was another opportunity out there for him.
There wasn’t much made of it at the time because you had to consider what the chances were of a positional roster spot coming down to the final days of camp, especially with Kelly. It’s looking like a real chance now, and as the Tigers contemplate how they’re going to shape their Opening Day roster, Kelly’s opt-out clause and Quintin Berry’s lingering knee soreness might get some decisions made on the positional side before the final few games of camp.
Kelly’s opt-out means the Tigers have to let him know of their plans for him next week ahead of the end of camp, if he’s indeed going to be added to the 25-man roster or if they want him to consider a minor league assignment. That way, Kelly can check the landscape and decide whether to opt out with enough time to have a chance to land with another team before Opening Day rosters have to be set. Essentially, that means the Tigers also have to make a decision or two on guys with whom Kelly is competing for a spot on the bench — such as Berry. They’re both left-handed hitters competing for the roster spot not taken up by the right-handed hitting outfielder Jim Leyland wants to carry. Another player in that category could be utility infielder Danny Worth.
Berry left Sunday’s game and missed Monday’s trip with a recurrence of the patellar tendintis that sidelined him for two weeks earlier in camp before he returned to game action about a week ago. If that injury lingers a few days, it’s going to be very difficult to determine with much confidence by early next week whether Berry’s ready to go for the start of the season. Berry, for what it’s worth, has minor-league options left.
Kelly already seems like he has an inside track for a roster spot before the opt-out leverage. The Tigers could keep both Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus and utilityman Matt Tuiasosopo, but they both bat right-handed, which would leave switch-hitting infielder Ramon Santiago and switch-hitting backup catcher Brayan Pena as the only left-handed bats available off the bench. And Leyland isn’t going to pinch-hit with Pena unless he’s coming in to catch, because Leyland dreads being caught having to move Victor Martinez behind the plate and sacrifice his designated hitter if somebody gets injured (yes, Kelly could fill that emergency catcher role, too).
In any case, Kelly finds himself in pretty good position for somebody who came to camp looking like a longer shot to make the team. If camp broke today, he’d have a pretty good shot to make the team. The Tigers don’t have to decide that today, or tomorrow, or this week, but they still have to decide his fate a little sooner than normal.
Other notes from Monday’s win over the Nationals:
- A tweet from somebody Monday afternoon made a very good point: Those who cried panic at closer for the Tigers after three outings from Bruce Rondon and asked whether Detroit could make a move in time for the trip to Port St. Lucie the following week can’t easily dismiss what he has done since. In five outings since pitching coach Jeff Jones’ side session with Rondon to look over his mechanics, Rondon has five scoreless innings on four hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. He didn’t chew up the middle of the Nationals order Monday, but the fact that he maneuvered through it without solid contact from Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman or Adam LaRoche, and with strikeouts for his last two outs, is a pretty significant addition to his body of work this spring. I’m not going to say just yet that he’s going to get the full-time closer’s job out of camp, but if you’re saying he’s not ready for the big leagues at all, your argument is become more detached from the actual pitching.
- Somebody in the comments section on the notebook on the site today hung onto Leyland’s remark that a versatile long reliever is worth his weight in gold, and asked if that was literally possible. That got me thinking about Joaquin Benoit, currently Detroit’s highest-paid reliever at $5.5 million this year. Take his listed weight of 220 pounds and factor in the price of gold at around $1600 per ounce after today’s economic news out of Europe, and Benoit’s weight in gold would be worth $5,632,000. That is amazingly close. And no, I won’t calculate Rondon’s weight in gold.
- The sight of Prince Fielder in an all-out dive through the air to try to tag Jayson Werth before he could scramble back to first base has to terrify some baseball people in spring training. It’s still a tremendous hustle play from one of the highest-paid players in the game.
- The Tigers are on Fox Sports Detroit on Tuesday, but Leyland said he’ll watch his regulars’ innings for that game heading into the off-day. The next FSD broadcast Thursday night, after the off-day Wednesday, is when you’ll see the regulars start playing full games.