Game 61: When minor-league signings pay off

What do teams look for when they sign minor-league free agents? It depends on the team.

If you’re a rebuilding team, maybe you’re looking for a diamond in the rough.

If you’re a team trying to keep a Triple-A affiliate happy, you’re looking for a player or two to help your farm team win.

If you’re a contending team, maybe you’re looking for a role player.

If you’re a stacked team with a roster that’s pretty well set, you’re usually looking for an insurance policy in case of injury.

The Tigers fell into the latter two categories this past offseason. They ended up filling both. For a contending team with few opportunities to offer minor-league free agents, it’s a pretty big feat.

Add Jose Alvarez’s gem Sunday to the work that Matt Tuiasosopo and Don Kelly have already put in for the Tigers this year, and you have three minor-league free agent signings paying dividends on a team that supposedly didn’t have any opportunities. It won’t win any awards, but so far, it has helped the Tigers win games.

The Tigers essentially put up their sixth starter (seventh if you count Drew Smyly) against an opposing team’s ace and won. The crushing blow came from the guy labeled their 25th man.

“I think the tribute goes to our minor-league manager [Phil Nevin in Toledo] and Al Avila,” manager Jim Leyland said after Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Indians. “You tip your cap to them obviously. I knew Tuiasosopo but I didn’t know much about him, and I didn’t know Alvarez at all.”

Alvarez was a young lefty arm the Tigers thought had some promise. He was a minor-league free agent at age 23, and Tigers evaluators saw more there than the stats showed. There was some early thought he could come to Spring Training and compete for a lefty relief job. When the Tigers had their early list of minor-league signings, he was somebody they were happy about.

Tuiasosopo’s signing has been well-documented from Spring Training, a guy who sent out emails looking for a chance and found an opportunity in Detroit, where the Tigers had tried to sign him a year earlier. It’s doubtful anyone imagined him having the kind of impact two months in that he has.

The Tigers obviously knew what Kelly could do. They weren’t sure they would re-sign him, but the lack of better opportunities elsewhere led him back.

Leyland bristles at the notion that they brought back Kelly because he likes him.

“I’m almost tired of reading that, how I like Don Kelly and I like Jose Valverde,” Leyland said. “I mean, of course I like Jose Valverde. He’s done a terrific job. But that has nothing to do with it. To be honest with you, if Quintin Berry could’ve played the infield and the outfield like Donnie Kelly is, he’d have probably made the team because of his speed. It doesn’t work that way.

“People keep talking about these things. What’s our better option than Valverde? What’s our better option than Donnie Kelly right now for the 25th player? If you had those options, you’d take them. But I do have a soft spot for him as a human being, yes, because he’s a wonderful, wonderful kid, the same as Valverde. But I don’t know what people think these alternatives are. They just throw stuff out there, like I should close with Rick Porcello. I mean, come on. People just talk. They don’t think about it.”

The fact that Avisail Garcia is garnering the bulk of the playing time in center field shows some response to Kelly’s slow start at the plate. But when Leyland looked for left-handed hitters to stack in his lineup against Justin Masterson, who’s holding right-handed batters under .200, Kelly was going to start.

He wasn’t expecting Kelly could take a slider low and in and send it out, but he’s not complaining.

“That was a huge hit for us,” Leyland said. “He’s done that some in the past. His average isn’t good, but that’s a pretty nice 25th player. I can bring him in to second, first, third, center, right, left, throw him in there against a tough righty like I did today. That’s a tough right-hander he hit it off of today.

“That’s not just some donkey he gets to hit. That’s not a fifth starter that he got to play against today. That’s a No. 1 guy. That’s pretty good.”

29 Comments

Hey, it worked out today for JL, Kelly and the Tigers. As JL noted, Kelly’s a 25th player. The problem is, he has not been used accordingly. That said, I frankly thought today’s start was an appropriate one for Kelly given his stats against Masterson.

Until yesterday day Don had 5 at bats in th month of June…..he was hardly getting the bulk of any playing time….and he probably wouldn’t have gotten that much had Austin been around. Like Leyland I just don’t understand all the fuss.

2E:339.480.508.988 last game:6 /4 59 AB . Vs RHP:350.435.750 1.185
The nice guy:198.323.358.681 81 AB vs RHP:172.321.344.664
A no brainer.
Nice guys always finish last unless they play for the Tigers

if this is about yesterday we already discussed kelly has the experience against masterson and playin’ MLB-level OF

We all agree that yesterday was the right choice.We all said it before the game. By friday,, with Jackson back and Garcia gone 2E deserves playing time.
For once fans in both side of the aisle( from BYB to the FP) agree in something:he is the 24 th player, He is not supposed to play everyday, Jackson or not.

dangit you are right. Don Kelly has the 10th most PAs on the team at 96, with pena at 89 and T-soap at 75, garcia at 60 and santiago at 51

My this conversation is like groundhogs …………….

“Groundhogs day!

I guess Beck didn’t get you memo.

“I’m almost tired of reading that, how I like Don Kelly and I like Jose Valverde,” Leyland said.
That’s a curious statement. Where does he read this? And why? Stay away from talk radio and fan sites, Jim. Many fans don’t even watch the games but there’s nothing to stop a person from offering an uneducated opinion in this day and age.
Perhaps a reality show called “How Do You Manage” can be created, where contestants manage a ballgame against a real live professional baseball manager.

“People just talk. They don’t think about it.” That kinda says how much weight JL gives to fan noise.

That is why I like Jim. It’s not that he is the best manager, but I think he is a great human being. Go Tigers!

For those who might be interested, there is an entertaining video on Yardbarker of Miggy throwing his gum at Raburn as he passed by after homering yesterday.

It’s Baseball after all. Everybody (well, almost) loves it and has an opinion on it.
It is a game that is easily understood (as opposed to neutral zone traps, nickel defenses and weak-side zone assistance).
Men, women and children are equally expert on how the game should have been played. It IS the American (and international?) past-time.
I am heartened to see that JL is at least aware of fan opinion. Even managers need accountability and when fan opinion becomes loud and clear a manager will take notice.
JL has done a good job with his personnel this year. I personally think he should be careful when he bats three sub .200 back to back at the bottom of a lineup, but he is keeping his players engaged. Perhaps 2E could get a little more time-share in LF IMO with Dirks not hitting as well as expected though.

Where JL has not done well is the perpetually stubborn idea of how to handle the yearly enigma of what we call a bullpen. Yes he has Valverde and yes Valverde has not been horrible most nights. Yes, Valverde has helped to define Benoit’s role once again. I understand the comfort level he (JL) has with his setup and closer roles.
But the handling of the other guys has been erratic. My sympathies for Smyly and my hope that his abilities aren’t tarnished by his (mis)use. Guys get used too much, other guys don’t get used at all. Guys get relied upon in situations they are certain to fail.

The bigger problem here is Dave Dombrowski. He failed to find a closer in the off season. Pure and simple. The remedy is to find one now, before it is too late. Valverde has had some very excellent years but his time is done. He is not the intimidating and dominating force he once was. JL has no options at this time. It won’t be easy for him to move away from Valverde should DD enter the picture and provide the team what it needs most. JL is a player’s manager and will err on the side of loyalty. That is certainly one of his personality traits that is admirable. He is the kind of guy you would want in your foxhole with you. The problem is that he will dig that foxhole the same way every time regardless of the direction or magnitude of the shrapnel.

I don’t share all your opinions, but that was well said.

well put

Who would have you signed as a closer? There aren’t many out there to choose. Brian Wilson, Soriano were the names tossed about. Wilson hasn’t pitched. And Soriano, last I saw, was making fun of the Nationals franchise player. Not interested, especailly since it would have been expensive and cost a draft pick.
Rondon was the plan, didn’t work out. Valverde is back, working out ok. The best closer out there currently was run out of Detroit by the fans in 2007. (Grilli)
I see that Dotel was transfered to the 60 day DL. That doesn’t sound good.

Evan (nice name!) Reed’s stats since he was sent down to AAA: 11IP, 6Hits, 2ER, 0HR, 8BB, 10KOs

Love the foxhole analogy!
This is an example of the tweets I receive:
Don’t Read Comments‏@AvoidComments27m
Every awesome TV show that ever got canceled lost its way because some executive was spending too much time reading internet comments.

We have a six game road trip and I predict that, no matter who plays, we go 3-3.

My groundhogs day comment was not meant f I r Mr. Beck it was meant for comments here on Leylands horrible lineup choices.

RIch is on the money, we have not been good on the road, we need to hunker down in KC and Min. I would love to see a 4-2 road trip

Minnesota isn’t playing particularly well, however, KC has been albeit they’ve been beating up MInnesota and Houston. 4-2 sounds right. Don’t forget what a losing record on the road, will do for you in the playoffs.

to be more specific: I think we win 2 out of 3 in KC because they aren’t throwing any LHP starters at us — we hit RHP pretty well — and 2 out of 3 in Minn because they don’t have the pitching.

The best available lineup : Dirks 7, Hunter 9, Cabrera 5, Fielder 3, Martinez DH, Peralta 6, Avila 2, Infante 4, Garcia 8. Fister is starting.

gotta try to keep the offense going on the road….

Kauffman is probably the best park for that. It must be the most similar to CoPa.Their best numbers are at Cleveland and Houston. Then CoPa. and Coliseum

Miguel 9 walks in last 45 PA

El Tigre, what does the league hit at Kauffman compared to Comerica?? We scored 3,3,4,8,0,1,6,2,1 there @ Kauffman last season and LOST when we scored the eight runs!!!!

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