October 2013

Tigers interviewed Rick Renteria

Padres bench coach Rich Renteria officially joined the list of Tigers managerial candidates on Wednesday Thursday, interviewing with team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski on Thursday in California for the opportunity to replace the recently retired Jim Leyland.

Renteria, who couldn’t travel to Detroit due to recent hip surgery, didn’t come in as a household name, and he brought little recent history with Dombrowski, though the two worked together when Renteria managed in the Marlins farm system in the late 1990s. His extensive experience as a minor-league manager and big-league coach, however, is somewhat Leyland-like.

Renteria actually played for Leyland when he made his Major League debut for the Pirates in 1986, Leyland’s first year in Pittsburgh. Renteria, a former first-round pick, had a couple cups of coffee with the Mariners in the late 80s before playing the 1993 season with the expansion Marlins at age 31.

He found a place with the Marlins in his post-playing career, becoming the first former Florida player to manage in the organization. He was the Midwest League Manager of the Year for Kane County in 1999, moved up to Double-A Portland after that, then moved into the Padres farm 10 years ago as a Class A coach.

Renteria is the fourth person to interview for the job, joining Lloyd McClendon, Tim Wallach and Brad Ausmus. There’s a lot of speculation that the Tigers will interview Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, who until now has been busy with the World Series.

Seven Tigers file for free agency

The day after the World Series ends, free agency filings mark the unofficial start to the offseason. It has always been a formality — I mean, nobody forgets to file for free agency — and now it’s actually an automatic move rather than something players and agents actually have to do.

Thus, the list of Tigers goes as expected. Joaquin Benoit, Jeremy Bonderman, Octavio Dotel, Omar Infante, Brayan Pena, Jhonny Peralta and Ramon Santiago are all now officially among 147 Major League free agents.

The second part to that is the five-day period in which teams hold exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents. Players and agents can talk with other teams during that period, but technically they can’t talk contract parameters. It used to be a longer exclusive period, but was mercifully whittled down in the last few years. We already know the Tigers won’t try to re-sign Pena. We have not heard any direction on the other guys yet, though it’s safe to assume the Tigers are going to make a push to re-sign Benoit and Infante.

The exclusive negotiating period ends at midnight on Monday evening/Tuesday morning. Teams can still re-sign their own free agents  after then, but the players are free to talk contracts and sign anywhere.

The other part of that is the qualifying offer teams can make to players to guarantee draft-pick compensation if they leave. The labor agreement signed a couple years states that the one-year qualifying offer has to equal the average salary of the current 125 biggest contracts. This year, that works out to $14.1 million, which is $800,000 more than last year. Teams have until 5pm ET on Monday to make an offer. Players then have a week to decide whether to accept it.

The risk/reward is obvious. On the one hand, $14.1 million is a lot of money to offer Benoit or Infante, who didn’t even make half of that this past season. On the other hand, a one-year deal allows them to fill a key spot for next season and still keep the role open for prospects to assume in 2015 — Bruce Rondon at closer, Hernan Perez at second base. It would be a surprise if the Tigers made qualifying offers to two guys who don’t figure to make as much in average salary on the open market.

In addition, the Tigers have one player to option to weigh, a $3.25 million option on Jose Veras that can be bought out for just $150,000. The Tigers are believed to have three days to decide on that one. Considering the price on relievers and the lack of depth the Tigers face if they can’t re-sign Benoit, it would be a surprise if Detroit doesn’t pick up this one.

Brayan Pena told he won’t be back with Tigers

When the Tigers were swept out of the World Series last year, Dave Dombrowski had the uncomfortable task of telling pending free agents in the clubhouse after Game 4 whether they would be re-signed or not. Between the Tigers’ abrupt exit from the ALCS this season, and Jim Leyland’s secret postgame farewell to players, that didn’t happen this time around. Now, apparently, the decisions are coming out. Brayan Pena, a pending free agent, appears to be the leadoff man in this one.

Pena’s agent, Paul Kinzer, confirmed that’s what he and Pena were told. Kinzer said they were told the Tigers are going in-house for their backup catcher. That means Bryan Holaday is in line to crack the big league roster and back up Alex Avila, with former top pick James McCann likely getting a look in Spring Training to show whether he could make the jump.

When asked to confirm, a Tigers spokesperson said that the agent reached out to the team and was informed that the Tigers will be going in a different direction.

Tigers officials saw Holaday as a Major League ready catcher defensively last offseason, but had trouble convincing a third catcher to sign a minor-league deal. Instead, they signed Pena to a one-year, $865,000 Major League deal and reaped the benefits this season.

Pena was a boost in the midst of Alex Avila’s first-half offensive abyss, essentially splitting time with Avila for most of May and June. He was the everyday catcher while Avila was on the disabled list in late June, then took over again in August when a foul tip off the mask landed Avila on the DL with a concussion.

Once Avila returned with renewed pop in his bat, however, Pena became sort of a forgotten man, despite batting .397 (25-for-63) in August. He started only one game over the final three weeks of the regular season while the Tigers made their playoff push. Avila’s hitting (.325, 25-for-77, 11 RBIs after return from DL), plus his comfort level with Detroit’s pitchers and recovery on defense, prompted Tigers officials to move him into more of an everyday role, which continued into the postseason.

For the season, Pena batted .297 (68-for-229) with 11 doubles, four home runs and 22 RBIs. He actually fared much better against right-handed pitchers than lefties, which defied the platoon he had with Avila but followed his career splits.

When the season ended a week and a half ago in Boston, Pena made it clear he badly wanted to return.

“I want to be back here,” he said. “Money’s not an issue. I feel like I want to be here. The fans, the way they treated me, it was unbelievable.

Moreover, Pena said he wanted to lose 25 pounds in the offseason so that he could come to Spring Training and prove he’s ready behind the plate.

The question now is whether Avila will be more of an everyday catcher from the outset next season with Holaday as his backup. Holaday’s .260 average and .684 OPS at Triple-A Toledo last season were the highest of his four-year professional career. He was a more aggressive hitter, but his strikeouts also picked up. That said, his promotion would set up a lefty-righty mix on the roster, and would also give the Tigers a strong defensive catcher as a more traditional backup.

McCann made it to the All-Star Futures Game last summer amidst a torrid start at the plate at Double-A Erie. He seemingly tailed off around midseason, then found a second wind in an outstanding August. He finished the season batting .277 with 30 doubles, eight home runs, 54 RBIs and a .731 OPS.

Cabrera undergoes core muscle repair surgery

That didn’t take long. Less than 48 hours after confirmation that Miguel Cabrera would need surgery, the Tigers announced that the AL MVP underwent successful core muscle repair surgery. Dr. William Meyers, the noted specialist in hernia surgery and other groin injuries, performed the procedure this morning in Philadelphia, where he is based.

The timetable calls for Cabrera to rehab for 6-8 weeks, which even at the conservative end should have him at full speed in time for the start of Spring Training.

The home page for Dr. Meyers says that core muscle injuries are often described as a sports hernia, which is technically not a hernia. There was a lot of speculation that Cabrera was playing through a sports hernia during September and into the postseason, based on his symptoms and how little mobility he had. Cabrera’s injury has been described as a Grade 2-3 groin strain, including tears of fiber, just short of a rupture. The press release is all that’s going to be said by the team about the injury, so we’ll have to leave it at that.

Travis, Knebel named to AFL Fall Stars Game

The Tigers will be represented at Saturday night’s Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game with two prospects. Second baseman Devon Travis, who continues to open eyes with his hitting, will be part of the Eastern Division team along with reliever Corey Knebel.

The showcase begins at 8pm ET on MLB Network, with an online simulcast on MLB.com.

Travis, the Tigers’ Minor League Player of the Year after putting on a hitting display at Class A West Michigan and Lakeland, entered Monday batting 7-for-30 with two doubles, a home run, six RBIs and nine runs scored for the Mesa Solar Sox. He went 2-for-3 with a double and three RBIs last Monday after hitting a solo homer four days earlier.

Knebel, a first-round pick by the Tigers in June, has held opponent to a run on three hits in five innings for the Solar Sox, picking up saves in his last two outings. He has six strikeouts and two walks as he continues to make his case for a fast track up the Tigers farm system.

The Fall Stars were selected by scouting and farm directors from every Major League organization in consultation with AFL director Steve Cobb and his baseball personnel staff. Every Major League organization gets at least one player on the rosters.

Tigers interview Ausmus for managerial job

Brad Ausmus has neither managed nor coached in the big leagues in three seasons since his 18-year playing career ended. On Monday, he was at Comerica Park talking about why his first shot should be managing the three-time American League Central champions, a team that had to debate whether falling two wins shy of the World Series constituted a disappointing season.

The fact that the Tigers were listening says a lot about how highly Ausmus is considered among potential managers.

The Tigers made Ausmus the third candidate to interview for their managerial opening on Monday, starting a new week to their search for Jim Leyland’s successor with a new-style candidate. The team interviewed Ausmus after receiving permission from the San Diego Padres, where Ausmus works as a special assistant in baseball operations.

“I enjoyed meeting and discussing the Tigers with Dave and his staff,” Ausmus replied in a text message. “I felt like it went well.”

Surgery set/likely/pending/expected for Cabrera

This much we know: Miguel Cabrera is headed to visit Dr. William Meyers this week. Either surgery is already set, or he’s going to wait for the test results before deciding on surgery on his severe groin strain.

Cabrera indicated to reporters in the media room at Busch Stadium Sunday night that he isn’t sure whether he’ll need surgery: “I don’t know yet. I have to check with the doctor and see what he says, and we’ll go from there.”

However, Cabrera apparently indicated to ESPN’s Enrique Rojas that he’s going to have the surgery, reportedly Tuesday.

“I don’t know anything about the operation, I don’t want to know the details, I just hope it heals fast,” Cabrera told him. “I am trusting that the doctors can fix the problem. I have a lot left in me.”

Peter Gammons of MLB Network also reported that Cabrera will have surgery. The Tigers confirmed to various news outlets that he will have surgery.

Bottom line: Expect some news Tuesday or Wednesday that Cabrera opted for surgery.

Add Brad Ausmus, Rick Renteria to Tigers managerial list

The Tigers have reportedly received permission from the Padres to interview two of their employees for the managerial job. One, Brad Ausmus, has been expected for a while. Another, Rick Renteria, was not, though he probably should have been.

Both are in line to interview with the Tigers this week in Detroit, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported Sunday night.

Ausmus, a special assistant in the Padres front office, has been a hot name in this search since the day the job opened up. He has neither managed nor coached in the big leagues. His only managerial experience at the pro level was Team Israel in the most recent World Baseball Classic. But his 18-year career behind the plate — three of those seasons in Detroit — and his Dartmouth education are seen as a foundation. Those who know him from his playing and post-playing careers rave about his people skills.

“Great mind for the game,” one AL official said, “and an ability to communicate in layman, PHD, management terms. … Low-energy look but a fierce competitor, humorous but tough, all lends to an ability to find everyone’s button that needs to be pushed.”

Ausmus, who will turn 45 next April, goes against Dombrowski’s remarks last week about previous managerial experience being a plus, but others have suggested an experienced bench coach could help him make up for it. Still, he’d be coming into a win-now job where an adjustment year is not really an option.

Renteria, who will turn 52 in December, has been on the Padres coaching staff the past six seasons, the last three of them as Bud Black’s bench coach. He, too, managed in the WBC, leading Mexico. He also managed for five years in the Padres farm system, and four in the Marlins organization while Dave Dombrowski was the general manager there. Renteria has drawn a lot of buzz for the Cubs managerial opening, and he interviewed for the Mariners job last week.

Add Ausmus and Renteria to Lloyd McClendon and Tim Wallach, both of whom interviewed last week, and the Tigers are up to four candidates for Jim Leyland’s old gig. Of those four, McClendon is the only one who has managed in the Majors before.

Miguel Cabrera wins Hank Aaron Award again

Neither a nasty groin injury that sapped some power numbers nor the magical season of Chris Davis could keep Miguel Cabrera from another Hank Aaron Award. The Tigers superstar was on hand to receive his second consecutive honor — given to the top hitter in each league — prior to Game 4 of the World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

By now, you know the numbers and feats. Cabrera is the first right-handed hitter since Rogers Hornsby built a hitting dynasty in the same city where Cabrera received his award Sunday night. His .348 average topped everybody else in the Majors by at least 17 points. His .442 on-base percentage and .636 slugging clip also led the big leagues, resulting in a career-best 1.078 OPS that led baseball by 74 points.

Add in highlight feats like the three-homer game at Texas in May, the game-tying shot to straightaway center off Danny Salazar in August, and the two home runs off Mariano Rivera over three games in the Bronx, and Cabrera had a tough case to top in fan balloting, as well as the vote of a panel of Hall of Famers that included Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Tony Gwynn, Eddie Murray and Robin Yount.

Cabrera won out over 14 other AL team nominees, including Davis, Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, David Ortiz and Robinson Cano.

“It’s a great honor,” Cabrera said at the press conference. “I don’t expect to win any hardware. I expect to win games. My goal is always to go out and win games. We fell short this year, but I know we have a great team. This award is for all my teammates.”

The second half of that hitting, of course, came despite what was revealed last week to be a grade 2-3 groin injury. Hank Aaron acknowledged at the press conference the challenge of what Cabrera was able to play through, calling it remarkable.

“It was hard to talk to the media about how I was feeling,” Cabrera said, “because I was trying to focus on how I could help my team to win games. I was hurt, but I don’t want to open up and try to tell the other team I was hurt. I want to be in the field. …

“It was hard, but i want to play like that. I want to go out and help my team like that. It was my choice.”

Cabrera was not asked whether he’ll need surgery to repair the injury.

Cabrera is the fourth player to win back-to-back Hank Aaron Awards since it began in 1999. Jose Bautista won two in a row in 2010 and 2011 before Cabrera broke his reign last year. Alex Rodriguez won three in a row from 2001-2003. Barry Bonds won the NL honor three times in a four-year span from 2001 to 2004.

Cabrera also talked for the first time about Jim Leyland’s retirement and how he took the news after Game 6 of the ALCS last weekend.

“It was a big surprise for all of us,” he said. “He was an inspiration to us all. I thanked him because thanks to him, I’m a better player. He always makes us believe that we can win every single game. He should have his own reasons and I am very sad that he has retired.”

McClendon will interview for Mariners job next week

Lloyd McClendon has been in line for the Tigers managerial job the past several years. He is now a candidate for the Seattle Mariners managerial opening for the second time in three years.

McClendon will interview for the M’s job next week. He confirmed the reports, including from MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi, via text message.

McClendon reportedly finished runner-up to Wedge for the Seattle job after the 2010 season. Wedge went 213-273 in three seasons with the M’s before parting ways about a month ago. For the M’s to want to interview McClendon again is a pretty good sign of how he interviewed last time.

Last time around, McClendon was one of at least five candidates with prior experience managing in the big leagues to interview for the job. So far this time around, the M’s have taken the opposite approach, interviewing two bench coaches — Oakland’s Chip Hale and San Diego’s Rick Renteria — with no prior Major League managing experience. Whether that works to McClendon’s advantage remains to be seen.

What happens from here, of course, has a lot to do with what happens in Detroit, where McClendon is one of two candidates to interview for the Tigers job. Dave Dombrowski has wasted little time talking with candidates, which should bode well for him reaching a relatively quick conclusion on his choice to succeed Jim Leyland. If, however, the M’s wrap up their search and offer McClendon their job while the Tigers are still interviewing, he’d have a decision to make.

The Tigers’ winning ways are a huge factor in Detroit’s favor. So is the fact that Dombrowski has job security, while Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik is reportedly heading into the final year of his contract.

This might not be the only time the Tigers and Mariners talk to the same candidate. MLB.com’s Mariners beat writer, Greg Johns, reported earlier this week that the M’s are believed to have interest in Brad Ausmus, another potential first-time manager who’s drawing a lot of interest this fall.

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