December 2013

Danny Worth designated for assignment

Danny Worth spent several years waiting in the wings for a utility infield role with the Tigers, blocked by veteran Ramon Santiago. With Santiago’s contract up, 2014 was going to be Worth’s best and last chance. Instead, Worth’s opportunity is likely going to have to come someplace else.

With the Tigers needing a spot on the 40-man roster for Joba Chamberlain, they designated Worth’s contract for assignment on Friday. Detroit has 10 days to outright, trade or release him, and teams will get two days to put in a waiver claim on him.

The move completes a nightmare year for Worth, which began with him making his best case yet for the utility infield role. He was the final cut of camp, losing out to Santiago for the job, then added injury to his troubles when he injured his heel lunging at first base on a ground ball at Triple-A Toledo.

Worth made it back after more than a month out, but never regained his standing. Hernan Perez got the opportunity to fill in at second base when Omar Infante went on the disabled list in early July, and Worth didn’t make it back to Detroit until September. He played in just three games as a fill-in before a separated shoulder ended his season.

Worth might have had a chance to fit into the roster picture for 2014 in a utility role had Perez taken over the starting job at second base. The two big trades, though, brought over two crushing blows to Worth’s standing: Ian Kinsler arrived from Texas to take over at second base, and Steve Lombardozzi came over from Washington with the capability to play second base and some shortstop.

From that point on, Worth’s days were numbered. In some ways, he might be better off having the outright come now instead of at the end of Spring Training.

The 28-year-old Worth is a .242 (53-for-219) lifetime hitter in the Majors with 10 doubles, two home runs and 14 RBIs. His strength is his defense, notably at shortstop but effectively all over the infield thanks to a strong arm and relatively sure glove.

On Joba Chamberlain and Jose Veras

The Tigers’ one-year contract with Joba Chamberlain became official on Friday, with a $2.5 million base salary and another $500,000 in performance bonuses based on appearances. The story on the site addresses the project ahead for Chamberlain and Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones as they try to get the former Yankees star back to his old form.

It’s an upside attempt, no doubt. Given the short-term status and salary, however, the deal raised the question whether the Tigers actually preferred a potential $3 million deal with Chamberlain over their $4 million option on Jose Veras, for whom the Tigers traded two prospects to acquire on July 30.

It’s a tricky comparison, given that the Tigers declined Veras’ option more than a month before signing Chamberlain. The way Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers front office plans out offseason moves, however, it was worth wondering.

Credit Mike Stone of 97.1 FM for raising the question to Dombrowski on the conference call announcing the trade, and credit Dombrowski for answering it.

“Yes, we did,” Dombrowski said. “No offense to Jose Veras, because he’s a solid guy and we liked him and we had a chance to bring him back. We like Joba. We like his abilities. We had our choice with a lot of guys out there on one-year deals, maybe even a two-year deal in a few cases. We’ve liked him in the past. Our scouts like him.”

For what it’s worth, it does not appear the Tigers pursued Veras for a lower salary after declining his option.

If you go by career numbers, there are similarities. The earned-run averages are almost identical — 3.84 for Veras, 3.85 for Chamberlain. Veras has way lower ratios on hits and walks per nine innings, and a higher strikeout rate.

For these two players, though, it’s not a straight statistical comparison. It’s a comparison of situation. Chamberlain’s peak is/was better than Veras’ peak, but Veras’ last 3-4 seasons have obviously been better than Chamberlain’s injury-shortened recent work. The Tigers clearly are taking their chance on getting close to the peak, whatever the odds, rather than the recent and not the average. That would seemingly back up Dombrowski’s notion that he was seeking a support reliever to back up Rondon as the primary setup man, not displace him.

Tigers agree to terms with Joba Chamberlain

When Dave Dombrowski talked Thursday morning about looking to add another reliever before the offseason was done, he downplayed the chances of going out and getting a big-name setup man from the group of would-be closers. More likely, he said, they’d be looking down the market.

“I’m not talking about big-time bullpen arm, but somebody else that may fit in that could give us a little depth out there just in case something would happen from an injury perspective,” Dombrowski said. “Really, it’s more of a protection from the Rondon [injury comeback] case.”

Enter Joba Chamberlain on a one-year deal. ESPN’s Buster Olney put the base value at $2.5 million with incentives that could push it a little higher.

He fits the Tigers’ desire for a short-term deal. Whether he’s healthy and effective enough to fit the hope of a proven arm behind Rondon remains to be seen. It’s a relatively low risk for the money, though it’s also not far off from the $4 million option the Tigers declined on Jose Veras at season’s end.

The 28-year-old Chamberlain has spent the last three years working through injuries while trying to regain the form that allowed him to overpower hitters in his early years. He was a revelation in the Yankee bullpen late in the 2007 season, then tossed 100 quality innings split between starting and relieving in 2008.

After rotator cuff tendinitis near the end of that season and a nine-win season in the Yankees rotation in 2009, however, Chamberlain’s power arm showed signs of mortality. He moved back to the Yankee bullpen with some success in 2010 and had a statistically strong start in 2011, but elbow trouble led to Tommy John surgery that summer.

While working his way back from that surgery, Chamberlain suffered a potentially career-ending left ankle dislocation while playing with his son at a rec center. He recovered in time to pitch in 22 games down the stretch that season, but suffered through a nightmaring 2013 campaign that included a right oblique strain and

Chamberlain went 2-1 with a 4.93 ERA in 2013, allowing 47 hits over 42 innings with 26 walks and 38 strikeouts. His fastball, which averaged 97 mph as a rookie in 2007 while frequently approaching triple digits, has averaged more around 94-95 mph the last few years.

For Chamberlain, Detroit represents a fresh start outside of the New York spotlight. For the Tigers, Chamberlain represents a bounceback project who will be working with pitching coach Jeff Jones, who once made his living trying to help similar pitchers regroup while serving as pitching coach at Triple-A Toledo.

Wednesday morning Winter Meetings roundup

Winter Meetings Day 3 003

Expect a newsy day from the Winter Meetings one way or another. Brad Ausmus has his first managerial presser this afternoon here in the media workroom, which should attract a crowd, and Major League GMs and managers are meeting today about potential rules changes, including what can be done about home plate collisions. Last but not least, we’re still waiting for agent Scott Boras’ annual impromptu interview session, which always draws a crowd and could draw a question or two about Max Scherzer.

As far as moves go, however, all we have are rumors at this point.

Not surprisingly, news that the Tigers were among the teams to check in with the Dodgers about Matt Kemp this week drew some buzz, as well as several tweets suggesting video-game type of trade packages the Tigers could offer. Before this goes overboard (ok, it’s too late for that), a few things to keep in mind:

  1. The Tigers check in with pretty much every team about trade possibilities at the Winter Meetings. It’s a big part of what they do Sunday evening and Monday morning, sending out scouts and assistants to work the lobby and talk with scouts and assistants from other clubs to see what’s out there. Checking in with a team and having trade talks with a team are two entirely different things.
  2. If the Tigers were unwilling to dive into contract talks for Shin-Soo Choo, as sources said last night, it’s hard to see them picking up Kemp’s contract, which has six years and $128 million left on it.
  3. If the Dodgers are willing to eat some of Kemp’s remaining contract, it’s hard to see the Tigers having prospects to entice them to do so. The Tigers have some quality talent at the top, but to put together a package to make it worth the Dodgers’ while would create more holes than Detroit would fill with Kemp.

Bottom line, I’d be shocked if the Tigers could do much on Kemp. Between the contract and the recent injuries, it’s the type of deal that gets a GM superstar status if it works out, and gets him fired if it doesn’t. Andre Ethier arguably would be a better fit for them, both financially and talentwise.

The other rumor reported this morning came from Peter Gammons and later Pete Caldera of the Bergen Record, saying the Tigers and Yankees talked about an Austin Jackson for Brett Gardner trade. The speedy left-handed hitting Gardner is a year away from free agency, while Jackson has two years left, but Gardner is coming off a better year and has parlayed his speed into more offense than Jackson has. It’s not hard to see a plus from Detroit’s standpoint, but it’s difficult to see the motivation for the Yankees, who actually have too many outfielders at the moment and have been expected to use any potential Gardner trade to try to fill some holes at second base, third base or the rotation.

Lastly, a tweet from ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark cited a source saying the Tigers have told other teams they don’t plan on trading Max Scherzer even though they’re not optimistic about signing him.

And then came a tweet from Yahoo’s Jeff Passan:

It’s pretty much a reinforcement of what we’ve come to expect, though it doesn’t mean the Tigers won’t try to offer an extension to him this offseason.

Tigers finalizing 2-year deal with Rajai Davis

The Tigers have found their answer in left field, and it’s not the much-rumored, oft-speculated pursuit of Shin-Soo Choo. Instead, they’re prepared to go with a platoon of Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis.

The Tigers spent Tuesday working to complete an agreement with Davis on what is expected to be a two-year contract, according to sources. The team has not confirmed the agreement, as is their policy when a contract is pending a physical. Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, who first reported an agreement, said the contract will be worth $10 million.

It’s a role signing for a team that was looking to upgrade its offense and saw left field as the one place it could do so. It’ll happen situationally, plugging in the speedy Davis as the right-handed hitting half of a platoon with Dirks, as well as a basestealing option in the late innings of games he doesn’t start. His .294 career average and .354 on-base percentage against lefties, including .319 and .383 last season in a part-time role with the Blue Jays, fits what the Tigers were seeking, though the production often came in streaks.

By contrast, Davis is a .255 career hitter against right-handers, including just .228 (49-for-215) with 48 strikeouts this past season.

At the same time, it’s a philosophical shift for a team that has been short on speed and wary of speedsters in their thirties. Detroit has been neither a basestealing team nor a manufactured offense type of club for several seasons, increasingly focusing their baserunning efforts on hit-and-run and first-to-third plays. The Tigers wouldn’t be signing the 33-year-old Davis for multiple seasons if they didn’t plan to use his greatest asset.

Despite just 108 games and 360 plate appearances, Davis stole 45 bases in 51 attempts in 2013, and he has racked up at least 40 steals in four of the last five seasons. Meanwhile, the Tigers stole 35 bases as a team last season, led by Austin Jackson’s eight.

The deal rules out the Tigers on Choo, if they were ever in it. Though his combination of speed, on-base percentage and arm presented potentially an ideal fit for Detroit, he’s also an ideal fit for a lot of teams. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Robinson Cano off the market, moreover, Choo stands as the top position player left, making him a hot commodity.

Winter Meetings Day 1: LF mystery continues, bullpen waiting game begins

Winter Meetings Day 1 017The Tigers’ first day at baseball’s Winter Meetings was busy, Dave Dombrowski said, with talks with teams and free-agent discussions galore. None of the free-agent talks, he cautioned, were at the top of the market.

“When I say free agents, I’m not talking about the big, big ones,” Dombrowski said late Monday afternoon, “but we’ve talked about some other people.”

By category, that would seem to rule out Shin-Soo Choo, whose agent (Scott Boras) reportedly had the Jacoby Ellsbury contract (which Boras negotiated last week) as a guidepost. By name, of course, nobody has ruled out Choo. Add in the payroll space the Tigers created by trading Prince Fielder and Doug Fister, and therein lies the mystery behind the Tigers wafting through the lobby of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort.

Could the Tigers be involved with Choo? Could they be involved at the level of competing with the other interested clubs? Dombrowski’s words at this point would suggest not. But the Prince Fielder signing a couple offseasons ago showed how sentiments can change on an owner’s decision.

If the Tigers don’t sign Choo, they have two options: They can try to swing a trade for a left fielder good enough to play everyday (preferably left-handed to balance out the lineup), or they can look for a right-handed hitter to platoon with Andy Dirks. They’re two vastly different markets.

“We’ll just see what ends up happening,” Dombrowski said. “Sometimes you have to be careful that everybody doesn’t always think there’s going to be an All-Star at every position. I mean, there are some clubs doing pretty darn well with some platoons at different spots too. So they do work at times. Just because it’s not per se an All-Star somewhere doesn’t mean that you can’t get the production that you’re looking to have out of certain spots. Sometimes they’re more productive for you.”

Of course, the Tigers had a platoon in left field this past season, and while it was productive at times, the .708 OPS Detroit’s left fielders posted ranked 11th in the 15-team American League, and last out of the playoff teams. If they’re going to have a better offense, no matter what fashion, they have to get better production out of left.

Other notes from Day 1:

  • Fortifying the bullpen might end up being a waiting game. Dombrowski said they’re not in on the top end of the bullpen market right now, because those guys are looking for closer jobs, and the Tigers have already filled theirs. He has not eliminated the idea of revisiting that market once the closer jobs are filled and others are left looking for setup work. He also floated the possibility of taking a flyer on a reliever as insurance if Bruce Rondon isn’t ready.
  • Nick Castellanos is taking ground balls at third base, but he’s going to get a visit from new first-base and infield coach Omar Vizquel. Manager Brad Ausmus confirmed they’re trying to set up Vizquel to travel to Castellanos’ South Florida home and work with him sometime after the holidays.
  • Casey Crosby will go to Spring Training to compete for a bullpen job, rather than simply work as an insurance starter. “We can always switch him back if we think it’s best,” Dombrowski said, “but we think right now he’s in a spot where he’s developed some. A lot of our people think he’s cut out for a bullpen role, and so that’s how we’ll bring him in.” Assistant GM Al Avila believes Crosby could be a standout reliever.
  • One guy who doesn’t appear to be in line to compete for a bullpen job is Melvin Mercedes, who ended last season closing at Double-A Erie. He’s expected to open the season back there, possibly alongside promising relief prospect Corey Knebel in Knebel’s first full pro season.
  • Robbie Ray, the lefty starter prospect the Tigers acquired for Doug Fister, will start next season at Triple-A Toledo. He split last season between high-A and Double-A in the Nationals system, so he’ll get a bump. If Jose Alvarez and Kyle Lobstein open the season there as expected, then the Mud Hens will have three left-handed starters, which might explain the timing behind Crosby getting a look as a reliever.

How Robinson Cano’s deal affects Tigers

No, the Tigers were never going to sign Robinson Cano. They never had a meeting with Cano, despite the speculative story that came out a couple weeks ago. They hadn’t even been talking with Cano’s agents, centered around Brodie Van Wagenen and Jay-Z, on the phone since the offseason got rolling. They weren’t going to take on that contract.

With that part out of the way, Cano’s reported 10-year, $240 million deal to go to Seattle is about to have ripple effects in Detroit with what the Tigers are trying to do.

For one, it throws the Yankees headfirst into the remaining free-agent market with money to spend and needs to fill. It’s not just about replacing Cano at second base, but filling his spot in the middle of the order. They can fill the void with some of the remaining outfielders on the market, with Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo around the top of the list.

Speculation already had New York among the top targets for Beltran, and a potential suitor for Choo. The Yankees can now go in with no shortage of money to offer. If they want to price teams out of the market and leverage their financial flexibility to get who they want, they can. If they want to move the market to the point where teams like the Tigers worry whether they’re adding another megacontract, they can.

That’s the immediate impact. The bigger impact might be down the road whenever the Tigers enter talks on a contract extension for Miguel Cabrera, the potentially the next guy that could move the market. If a 31-year-old Cano can match Albert Pujols for the largest contract signed by a baseball player not named Alex Rodriguez, what can Cabrera — six months younger and a two-time MVP, playing a position with more longevity — command? How will Cabrera age through his 30s? And can the Tigers create enough flexibility to afford Cabrera and Max Scherzer? That’s how the market works — the latest megadeal often sets the standard for the next one.

So to recap: Even with the flexibility gained by shedding Prince Fielder’s contract and saving money in the rotation by trading Doug Fister, keeping the core of this team together is not going to be easy. And with the Tigers and Yankees now potentially looking for the same help, trying to upgrade for a World Series run now just got tougher. It might be a crazy week at the Winter Meetings after all, at least on the latter.

TigerFest set for Saturday, Jan. 25

Get your schedule out for the last weekend in January. TigerFest returns in its usual spot near the end of the offseason. The Tigers’ annual winter warmup event is set for Saturday, Jan. 25 from 11am to 5pm at Comerica Park.

The schedule of events is familiar. Players and coaches will sign autographs in several booths set up around the park, including a kids-only line. The visiting clubhouse will feature a player photo area for fans to have their picture taken with their favorite Tigers stars. Self-guided tours will take fans into the Tigers executive offices, Ernie Harwell Media Center, luxury suite area and Champions Club. The undergoing batting tunnel will open for fans to take a few swings.

The main stage returns, including question-and-answer sessions with manager Brad Ausmus and the new coaching staff as well as members of the front office. The session with team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has become an annual state-of-the-franchise type of session, answering fan questions about offseason moves, but the highlight this year will be one of the first chances for fans to ask questions of Ausmus.

Activities for kids include a miniature Comerica Park stage featuring Tigers player book readings, games and activities, as well as free face-painting, baseball-themed games and a video game bullpen.

The Tigers have tried to take away some of the winter chill by covering and heating access areas inside Comerica Park, but fans are always encouraged to dress for the weather.

Tickets for TigerFest cost $25 for adults and $14 for kids ages 12 and under. They’ll go on sale Friday, Dec. 13 at 10am online at tigers.com/tigerfest and by phone at 866-66-TIGER.

On Shin-Soo Choo, payroll and trail mix

Let’s agree on this: No matter what limitations the Tigers may or may not face, they’ll be busy at the Winter Meetings. In an era when teams can rival the Winter Meetings a week early with phone calls, emails and texts, Dave Dombrowski thrives at old-school, in-person gatherings.

They’ll be talking, Dombrowski and his front-office team. It’s just a question of what kind of market they’ll be talking about.

“It’s never boring,” Dombrowski said. “It may not be as active as it’s been the last couple weeks, just how things have happened. It’s been a very active time period. …

“What I have always found at the winter meetings is anytime you put 30 clubs together and you start talking, your scouts start talking and I’m looking at my board every single day and coming up with ideas, you try to get better. Again, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It won’t be like it has been the last couple weeks, but I know I won’t be bored.”

Those talks may or may not involve Shin-Soo Choo. Dombrowski’s statements about not being involved at the top end of the market, and the fact that so much of the market reportedly has interest in Choo, would suggest the Tigers won’t be involved there. Having just traded away a massive contract, they’re not inclined to add one back. They were not involved in the bidding on Jacoby Ellsbury, Dombrowski said.

“We’re on December 5,” Dombrowski cautioned, “but I don’t anticipate any of the major names that are being thrown out there with names attached. I don’t anticipate those being our signing.”

But they still need a left fielder. They’re looking for help, even if it isn’t necessarily top-end help.

“I’m sure we’ll have to do something in some regards, because we don’t have anybody else,” Dombrowski said. “We’re sort of limited in our outfielders at this time on our roster, because we’ve got Torii [Hunter] and Austin [Jackson] and Andy [Dirks] with Donnie Kelly being able to play out there, but we’ll have to look at something to assist us in left field, and we’ll see what that is.”

There’s a huge difference in an assistance in left field and a left fielder. If the Tigers are looking for somebody to assist Dirks, the assistance is going to be a right-handed hitter. If the Tigers look for a full-time left fielder, the preference would almost surely be a left-handed hitter to balance out of the lineup. While the Tigers starting lineup itself is heavy on right-handed hitters, the outfield options are predominantly lefty. Nick Castellanos would’ve been the right-handed hitting option in left field, but he’s now in line to be the third baseman.

Between the desire against a massive contract and the batting needs, you can make the case that the better free-agent fit for the Tigers is Carlos Beltran and not Choo. He’s a switch-hitter, and with his 37th birthday coming up next April, he’s not going to command a five- or six-year contract. At this point, the stretch will be to get him three years. But with the Royals, his original team, and the Yankees reportedly heavily involved, wooing him might not be doable.

If the Tigers can’t go into that market, the middle market of outfielders has its options too, with Michigan native Nate McLouth among them. But he’s a left-handed hitter with a history of struggles against left-handed pitching, and again, the Tigers don’t have a right-handed hitting option to mix with him. You can see where the goals might drastically change depending on what the Tigers are looking for.

I’ve developed a tradition the last few years of bringing trail mix to the Winter Meetings. It’s an easy, cheap way to keep going during long days without having to sit down and eat overpriced resort food. At first read, the Joe Nathan signing and Dombrowski’s quotes about staying out of the top end of the market would’ve suggested there shouldn’t be long days. The more you think about it, though, the more of a mystery the market becomes.

Long story short, I bought a second bag of trail mix for this year’s meetings. Probably going to need it.

Tigers reach 2-year deal with Joe Nathan

Hours after the Tigers freed up more money on their payroll and promised they weren’t done dealing, they went about spending some of it on a closer. The reigning American League Central champions have an agreement with Joe Nathan on a reported two-year contract worth $20 million, and will introduce their new closer at a 3:30pm press conference at Comerica Park.

Jon Heyman of MLB Network and CBSSports.com reported a two-year deal in the works Tuesday after FOXSports.com reported the two sides nearing an agreement. The move addresses the top priority Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski took into the offseason, and kept at the top after trading Prince Fielder to Texas two weeks ago and Doug Fister to Washington Monday night.

“We hope to get a closer and we’re still trying to do that,” Dombrowski said Monday night, “so that will be our number one need and it’ll continue to be until we find someone.”

That didn’t take long. The Tigers had their share of candidates on the open market, topped by Nathan and Brian Wilson, but a slow-moving segment of free agency. The market finally came together Tuesday, with Wilson reportedly in talks to re-sign with the Dodgers. The Tigers had been in discussions with Wilson, MLB.com learned, before those talks broke off Monday.

Interest in Nathan included a recruiting pitch from Torii Hunter, his Twins teammate from 2004 to 2007. Hunter, not surprisingly, was ecstatic about the news.

“We needed him,” Hunter wrote Tuesday in a text message to MLB.com. “I had to sell the vision of winning it all to him.”

If a proven closer was the goal, Nathan is the guy. He has saved 340 games over the last 10 years and owns 341 saves over s 13-year Major League career. The vast majority of those saves came with the Minnesota Twins during their reign over the Tigers atop the AL Central.

Nathan has never blown a save against the Tigers, going 36-for-36 in his opportunities while allowing just 33 hits over 62 2/3 innings with 23 walks and 75 strikeouts. For that matter, Nathan has converted 90 percent of his save chances over his career, the highest conversion rate of any Major League pitcher with at least 200 career saves, just ahead of Mariano Rivera.

Just as important, at age 38, his statistics remained strong. He allowed 10 runs on 36 hits over 64 2/3 innings with 22 walks and 73 strikeouts for the Texas Rangers this past season, racking up 43 saves in the process.

Nathan pitched three consecutive days on four different occasions this past season, and pitched four days in a row twice down the stretch. The one restriction the Rangers had on him was that he rarely pitched multiple innings in a game.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 23,998 other followers