July 29th, 2013

Tigers front office takes trip to Toledo

In case you haven’t heard this enough over the years, Dave Dombrowski works the trade market as hard as any general manager in baseball. Unless the Tigers are on the road at the trade deadline, it’s rare to see him outside the office unless he’s down in the clubhouse talking with manager Jim Leyland.

So what was Dombrowski — and other Tigers officials — doing at Triple-A Toledo on Monday? That’s an interesting question.

With the Tigers off Monday and the Mud Hens playing a matinee in Toledo, Dombrowski got off the landline, went mobile and headed to Fifth Third Field with assistant Al Avila and pro scouting director Scott Bream (thanks to John Wagner of The Blade in Toledo for the catch).

Whether they were just taking the day to check out their potential late-season options at Triple-A, or whether they were looking at anyone specifically, wasn’t clear. It’s worth noting, though, that Jeremy Bonderman pitched the last two innings, retiring all six batters he faced while striking out two to stretch his shutout run at Toledo to seven innings of one-hit ball with no walks and five strikeouts.

Bonderman has an opt-out date in the minor-league contract he signed two weeks ago, but it’s not clear when it comes up.

Other highlights from the box score: Nick Castellanos had two hits, including a double, to raise his average back to .280. Danny Worth went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Argenis Diaz, starting at shortstop, went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.

One thing that the visit does not seem to suggest is that the Tigers are done talking trades.

When last-place closers go to contenders

Jose Veras found the opportunity of his career in Houston, where the Astros gave him a chance to close. He thrived, going 19-for-22 in save chances with very good secondary stats. Now he’s headed to a first-place team in Detroit, where he’s going to set up while filling in on occasion for Joaquin Benoit in save chances.

Harold Reynolds made an argument on MLB Network that Veras’ job had a ton of pressure. When you know your team’s good enough for a very limited number of wins, saving those games is crucial. Others would argue the opposite.

“The key question,” one Major League talent evaluator said, “is how he’ll do in a tight race.”

It’s hard to throw a blanket evaluation on this situation and use past instances of similar relievers going from worst to first. Still, here are a few instances:

  • The guy who led last year’s Astros in saves, Brett Myers, went to the White Sox last July. He, too, had 19 saves in Houston. Unlike Veras, Myers had been a closer on a contending team before that, saving 21 games for the 2007 Phillies. He took on a setup role in Chicago, won three games, picked up holds on eight others, and pretty much replicated his stats from Houston. He picked up a few costly losses down the stretch.
  • Matt Capps was a great closer on some really bad Pirates teams for a few years, then did the same for the last-place Nationals in 2010 before Washington traded him to the Twins near the deadline. Capps thrived in Minnesota down the stretch, racking up 16 saves over the final couple months to help lead the Twins to another AL Central title. His tenure in the Twin Cities was a little rougher after that, but he was a huge pickup for Minnesota.
  • Jon Rauch graduated from workhorse reliever to closer in Washington in 2008, then went to Arizona at the deadline. Rauch didn’t close with the Diamondbacks, and he had a few good weeks in the setup role before struggling mightily from mid-August on. Ironically, Rauch was closing in 2010 with the Twins before Capps came in and replaced him.

Veras talks about trade to Tigers

Brian McTaggart, MLB.com’s Astros beat writer, talked with Jose Veras today about his trade to the Tigers. His tone basically had two points: He was very sad about leaving the Astros after they gave him a chance to close, but he sounded like he was looking forward to a chance to play a meaningful role in a playoff run.

“I’m the kind of guy I’m happy with anything that happens in my career and my life because God takes care of me. He’s the driver, he’s the guy that’s taking me the place where I’m going to be OK. I’m a guy that’s OK with everything. I live day by day. I’m OK with anything that happens in my life because that’s the way it is.

“This is business and I understand that. I took me a long time to understand, but I understand the last four years this is business and I have to deal with it. There’s nothing I can do.”

On the move to a new team, Veras said, “It’s a good clubhouse and now I have to go to another place where I’m going to meet guys I haven’t been with before. I have some teammates there that I played with before, like Omar Infante. We worked together with Marlins. We’re friends. Ramon Santiago, Brayan Pena, I played with them in the Dominican Winter League.

“The bottom line is I’m not going to be in a stranger’s house. I have some friends over there, too. I can say I’m happy, I can say I’m sad, but I feel Houston’s my home and now I’m going to another place and it’s going to be a little tough. I feel good because it’s a team that has an opportunity to be in the playoffs.”

Tigers trade for Veras from Houston

The Tigers found their relief help from what used to be a familiar trading partner for them, acquiring Jose Veras from the Astros Monday morning for outfield prospect Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later.

The move gives Detroit the experienced right-handed arm they were seeking while adding an option at closer on days Joaquin Benoit is off. 

In a statement, team president/GM Dave Dombrowski said the 32-year-old Veras “can pitch in a variety of roles, provides depth in the bullpen, and complements the roles of Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly.”

In other words, Benoit will retain the closer role, where he has thrived for the past month, will Smyly will continue to see some setup work. Manager Jim Leyland confirmed as much Monday morning, saying Veras will primarily work in the seventh and eighth innings but could close on occasion if situations call for it.

“I like it. I like it a lot,” Leyland said of the move. “I think Dave did a great, great job. It doesn’t surprise me. We think he’s pretty good. We saw him earlier this year.”

Tigers fans might remember Veras for the go-ahead home run Alex Avila hit off of him in the ninth inning May 3 in Houston. Veras has thrived since then, allowing 17 hits over 31 innings with 10 walks, 30 strikeouts and a .162 batting average.

It’s the first trade the Tigers and Astros have pulled off since 2001, when Randy Smith was the GM in Detroit and Tal Smith was an executive in Houston. Yet it’s very much a Dave Dombrowski style of deadline deal. Faced with a glaring need at a position where prices were high, Dombrowski went for the quiet addition for a lower cost over the glamour deal.