November 11th, 2013

And the Joe Nathan courtship begins

The Tigers have declared their interest in a closer, and Joe Nathan is the most successful closer on the free-agent market this winter. Nathan is looking for a chance at a World Series ring, and the Tigers might be the closest contending team that’s looking for a closer.

The pieces are there for mutual interest. And according to Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com, the interest has already developed.

Nathan’s agent, Dave Pepe, isn’t commenting on teams’ inquiries or interest, and intends to keep negotiations in general as quiet as possible. He did, however, say it’s very early in the process with any team and nowhere close to a deal. If there are talks, they aren’t serious yet.

That said, the expectation is that these two sides are going to try. Morosi cited sources saying Nathan has the Tigers high on his list of teams. And Tigers manager Brad Ausmus’ comments on local radio a few days ago seemingly reflected interest on Detroit’s part.

“I am a Joe Nathan fan for sure,” Ausmus told Detroit Sports 105.1 FM last week. “But where Joe Nathan ends up is a little out of my control.”

The Tigers know Nathan well from his days with the Minnesota Twins, where he and Torii Hunter were teammates from 2004 to 2007. Nathan is 36-for-36 in save chances for his career against Detroit, allowing just 10 runs on 33 hits over 62 2/3 innings with 23 walks and 75 strikeouts. His only loss against the Tigers came on July 19, 2007, when Brandon Inge doubled in Neifi Perez in the 10th inning at the Metrodome.

He posted some of his best numbers this past season at age 38, going 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves in 46 chances. The stats sound a lot like his career against Detroit: 64 2/3 innings pitched, 36 hits, 10 runs, 22 walks, 73 strikeouts.

“We’re going to have a closer,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said last week. “We’re going to pursue somebody to pitch at the back end of the bullpen. Joaquin [Benoit] is in that group, but there are a lot of closers out there. It’s the one area where there’s a lot of guys. That is one area I think we need to address, with him or someone else, and then we’ll look at the rest of our club.”

Iglesias finishes 2nd in AL Rookie of the Year voting

A Rookie of the Year award would have been Jose Iglesias’ biggest grab of the season. Instead, awards season glory proved just out of his reach.

The slick-fielding Tigers shortstop ended up losing out to Tampa Bay’s Wil Myers for Rookie of the Year honors amidst a field of two highly-touted Tampa Bay Rays. It was not a surprise, but it eliminates the possibility of a Tigers sweep of the end-of-season player awards.

While Myers took 23 out of 30 first-place votes to run away with the award, Iglesias captured five first-place votes, 17 for second and four for third. He was left off of four ballots, but that didn’t really make a difference.

Iglesias, who impacted two division winning teams thanks to a midseason trade from to Boston to Detroit, was vying to become the first Tiger to win the writers vote for Rookie of the Year honors since Justin Verlander in 2006. No Tigers position player has won it since Lou Whitaker in 1978.

Tigers listening on Scherzer, Porcello interest

From the day the Tigers introduced manager Brad Ausmus and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski talked about his pitching staff in terms of six starters, not five, you figured this was coming.

“We have some pieces we need to fit together,” Dombrowski said last week, unprompted. “I mean, we do have six starters at this point. People are aware of that, with [former fifth starter turned reliever Drew] Smyly being available to start.”

Once front office members gather for MLB’s General Managers Meetings, it usually becomes apparent how things like that get solved. That came Monday from CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, who reported that the Tigers have told teams they’re open to listening to trade offers for Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello.

The Tigers listening on prominent players is nothing new. Dombrowski has said for years he’ll listen on most any player on the roster. The only players who have been labeled untouchable in that regard over the years are Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. It would not be a shock for the Tigers to listen to offers on Doug Fister, either.

That being said, the GM meetings are the same spot where rumors picked up about Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson being available for trade four years ago. Both were dealt a month later at the Winter Meetings in a deal that brought a youth infusion and helped open up some payroll space for other moves that offseason, such as Jose Valverde’s signing and the season of Johnny Damon.

Scherzer and Porcello are in vastly different situations. While Scherzer will head into his contract year as likely the reigning Cy Young award winner and potentially the top free agent on the market next winter, his high-strikeout form refined for consistency, Porcello has two years left ahead of free agency and a vast amount of room for growth at age 24.

Just what the Tigers can draw for either is the question that will mark the difference between listening and acting. Any team that entertains the idea of trading for Scherzer has to determine its chances for re-signing him when free agency is just a year away. On the flip side, trading him this offseason would allow the acquiring team to get a compensatory draft pick if he does sign elsewhere in a year.

The Tigers had six starters this past spring and were widely believed to be open to trading Porcello, but never drew the kind of interest that would spark serious talks. That was before a refined curveball and more consistent fastball command meant a big step forward in Porcello’s development, from a jump in his strikeout rate to a drop in his batting average allowed. His 3.53 Fielding Independent Pitching was easily the best of his five-year career.

If the Tigers can address some immediate needs, such as bullpen or middle infield, and help add some young talent, it might take them beyond the listening stage.

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