March 28th, 2013

Would Tigers sniff at second helping of Big Potato?

Scott Boras called it a “philosophical cliff” for a team to put a minor-league prospect in a prominent big-league position and know what to expect. That phrase came during the Winter Meetings, and though Boras didn’t mention Bruce Rondon or the Tigers by name, he sure alluded to the situation.

“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 have never been closers that can come in and get 30 saves,” Boras told reporters back then. “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.”

Now that Rondon is headed to Triple-A Toledo to open the season, Boras isn’t gloating, at least not publicly. He still has a closer he’s trying to line up with a job. It isn’t the closer Boras was trying to market when he made those remarks (that was Rafael Soriano), but it’s the same closer the Tigers let walk as a free agent to give Rondon a chance to compete for the closer’s job in Spring Training.

“Our plan was to wait and see what closer options availed themselves at this time,” Boras said of Jose Valverde, who is currently throwing bullpen sessions for teams in his native Dominican Republic.

Would the Tigers now be one of those options? Boras isn’t mentioning specific teams, and the Tigers aren’t talking about options outside the organization.

At this point, a match is looking unlikely, even with Detroit staring at a closer by committee that does not include the closer of the future. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Boras tried to re-engage Tigers officials and maybe ownership, given the history both Valverde and Boras have with the organization.

Boras said Thursday that Valverde has thrown for multiple teams so far, and has a couple more teams lined up in the coming days. He would not say which teams, but he said he has had more contact with teams as roster decisions have unfolded.

Boras said Valverde’s fastball is registering at 93-94 mph, according to scouts’ radar guns. That echoes what Boras has told others over the past couple weeks. He also said Valverde is open to a one-year contract. Once Valverde wraps up these workouts, Boras said he expects a decision and a deal to come together with a team fairly soon.

Meanwhile, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Thursday morning that the Rondon decision doesn’t change the Tigers’ approach to the market. He also said he had nothing going on as of Thursday morning.

Though the Tigers have been rumored to be interested in potential trades for relievers, such as San Diego’s Huston Street and Luke Gregerson, Dombrowski told the Detroit News last week he has not made a trade proposal.

Dombrowski has said all spring that he believes they have options in camp to fill the closer role, whether Rondon made the team or not. Now that Rondon isn’t on the team, Dombrowski said they have options to close games, even if they don’t have a closer.

“We have guys that we feel very comfortable can close games,” Dombrowski said. “We may not have a closer anointed, but we have many guys that we think can close games. And so [manager] Jim [Leyland] will, kind of like he did in the postseason at times last year, mix and match.”

Even if Valverde does sign somewhere in the next few days, he would not be ready to open the season in the big leagues. He’ll need some appearances against live hitting, either in extended Spring Training or the minor leagues. He probably wouldn’t be far off.

Worth optioned to Toledo, Tigers roster set

The final roster move to set the Tigers roster was the move everyone was kind of expecting: Infielder Danny Worth will open the season at Triple-A Toledo.

The Tigers announced the move after Thursday’s loss to the Astros at Osceola County Stadium. Worth, who finished the game at third base, headed back on the team bus and will head over to minor-league camp on Friday.

Worth shuttled five different times between Detroit and Toledo last year alone, so no one knows better than him that this isn’t a long-term banishment. Still, the fact that the move was the last of camp, and it came at almost the very end, had to have hurt.

“It was a good conversation, because he’s such a respectful kid. It wasn’t a fun conversation,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not going to elaborate, but I can tell you that in reality, we had 27 guy this year that we tried to fit on a 25-man squad, and we just couldn’t do it. Because he deserves to be on the team. But at this time, that did not work out. With [Quintin Berry] and Danny Worth, we had two guys that probably deserved to be on the team.

“He played great. He’s hitting better than I’ve ever seen him. He’s playing better than I’ve seen him. He looked like a big leaguer and he is a big leaguer, but that’s not much consolation for him today.”

Though Worth was initially thought to be in competition for the final spot on the 25-man roster, he stuck around on the chance of winning the utility infield spot held by Ramon Santiago for the past several years. Santiago signed a two-year contract before last season to fill it, but the Tigers were by all indications checking the market to see if there was trade interest. Santiago will make $2.1 million guaranteed this season, so the Tigers would’ve had to eat a bulk of that salary to facilitate a deal.

Much like last year’s Winter Meetings, when Santiago’s name first popped up in trade rumors, any interest was limited by the contract. Thus, Worth is a Mud Hen again.

Thursday: Tigers at Astros

Andy Dirks returns to the starting lineup in left field, which pretty much rules out what was left of the possibility he would open the year on the disabled list. Prince Fielder is the DH for a second consecutive day.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, DH
  5. Victor Martinez, 1B
  6. Andy Dirks, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Anibal Sanchez

Tigers option Rondon, go with closer by committee

The Tigers will open the season with a closer by committee. It just won’t include their closer of the future.

Detroit set its pitching staff Thursday morning by optioning hard-throwing closer prospect Bruce Rondon to Triple-A Toledo along with long reliever Luis Marte. With that, the seven-man bullpen is set for Opening Day, with lefty Darin Downs and high-strikeout middle relievers Al Alburquerque and Brayan Villarreal joining long reliever Drew Smyly and veterans Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel.

Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who announced the moves, said manager Jim Leyland will mix and match relievers in the ninth inning according to matchups. He didn’t announce the key members in the committee, but Coke, Benoit and Dotel would be most likely to get the bulk of the save opportunities.

“There’ll be a guy out there in the ninth to close games for us,” Dombrowski said. “We have guys that we feel very comfortable can close games. We may not have a closer anointed, but we have many guys that we think can close games. And so Jim will, kind of like he did in the postseason at times last year, mix and match.”

As for Rondon, he’ll be the closer for the Mud Hens as he tries to find the consistency that eluded him at enough points this spring to leave Tigers officials uneasy about opening the season with him in the big leagues.

“As you know, we like him a lot,” Dombrowski said. “He has thrown the ball very well at times this spring. All the times, you can see his arm strength and all that’s attached. But we just thought he would benefit a little bit more by some more development time. Very similar to guys like, say, [Avisail] Garcia or [Nick] Castellanos, premium prospects that we just think would benefit by more time at Triple-A.

“At times, he has been very, very good, and at other times, he’s been very inconsistent.”

Rondon had a rough start to the spring as he worked through some mechanical issues. A tweak in his delivery from pitching coach Jeff Jones seemed to get him into a dominant form, but he struggled in a couple outings down the stretch, including a rough appearance Wednesday in which he walked two batters and let in a walk on a balk after he and catcher Alex Avila had a mix-up on signs.

All the while, those struggles took place under the scrutiny of team officials, talent evaluators and media alike.

“Obviously [Tuesday] he was lights-out, but I think everybody has unrealistic expectations,” Avila said Wednesday. “I mean, every time he pitches, you guys ask how he did. It seems like everybody expects him to have a 1-2-3 inning with three strikeouts every inning. That’s never going to be the case.

Rondon finishes his spring with eight runs allowed on 17 hits over 12 1/3 innings. He struck out 19 batters, but walked nine.

Dombrowski left open the possibility of bringing Rondon up, maybe even relatively quickly. However, he said, “I don’t want to put a time frame on it.”

The decision, Dombrowski said, does not change his approach on the trade market. He said they do not have anything in the works, reliever or otherwise, to bring in anybody at this point.

“You still don’t leave any stone unturned,” Dombrowski said. “but I don’t have anything I’m on the verge of. If anything happened right now, it would be completely something that I’m not [currently] working on.

“It’s happened. that’s why I don’t want to discount it. But the way I look at it is, you keep talking to people, you keeping looking, you see what happens. I notice who’s on waiver wires. I’ve talked to different clubs. Our scouts have talked to different clubs. I mean, it would really come out of the blue. And I would think that tomorrow, when we’re heading out, I would think we’d be settled unless something totally unexpected happens.”

 

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