March 2014

Perez optioned, Worth sent to minor-league camp

Barring a last-minute move — and remember, the Tigers were looking for more than a shortstop on the trade market this spring — the Tigers positional roster appears to be set, with Tyler Collins on it. And the last roster battle is down to the bullpen.

With Alex Gonzalez now on board as the starting shortstop, the other shoe fell in Tigers camp Tuesday, with the other two right-handed hitting shortstops sent out. Hernan Perez was optioned to Triple-A Toledo, while Danny Worth was assigned to minor-league camp. That leaves Detroit with 13 positional players still in camp.

In a procedural move, the Tigers purchased Gonzalez’s contract from the minors. He was in Orioles camp as a non-roster invite on a minor-league deal, and that contract was transferred over in Monday’s trade.

Brad Ausmus is not saying yet that the positional roster is set.

“We just don’t know,” he said. “There’s still time left in Spring Training.”

Ausmus stated the obvious and called Worth a “tough cut.” He also noted the problem he faced this spring: The Tigers were looking for an experienced shortstop once Jose Iglesias was out long-term, but the only way he can get experience is for somebody to give him a shot in a situation like this.

“He played well, swung the bat extremely well,” Ausmus said. “There’s a very good chance at some point we’ll see Danny Worth.”

Barring something unforeseen, he will not be seen in another organization. Worth was in camp as a non-roster invite, so the Tigers didn’t have to pass him through waivers in order to send him down.

Collins has kept his comments to guarded optimism, but he admitted that when Spring Training began, “I didn’t really think I had a chance.” He was coming off 21 home runs at Double-A Erie, but just a .240 average. He has made a major impression on a new coaching staff.

Ausmus seemed to hint that Rajai Davis will get the start in left field on Opening Day, noting that Royals starter James Shields fares better against left-handed hitters. Still, Collins appears in line to get some playing time. Then again, with roster cuts going on all over Florida and Arizona this week, it wouldn’t be a shock if the Tigers dealt for a left-handed hitting outfielder. Stay tuned.

Tigers trade Steve Lombardozzi for Alex Gonzalez

For the second time in four days, the Tigers have traded for a shortstop. This time, they acquired a veteran one, bringing in Alex Gonzalez from the Orioles in exchange for utilityman Steve Lombardozzi.

The 37-year-old Gonzalez reunites with a Tigers front office that knows him well. He came up with the Marlins in 1998 while Dave Dombrowski was the general manager in Florida, then became the everyday shortstop there from 1999 through 2005. He has bounced around since then, including the last two years as a utilityman with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Gonzalez’s last time as a regular shortstop came in 2011 in Atlanta, where he batted .241 with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs.

Gonzalez joins a Tigers organization that has been scrambling to replace slick-fielding Jose Iglesias since he was diagnosed with stress fractures in both shins that are expected to keep him out for the entire 2013 season. Detroit acquired Andrew Romine on Friday from the Angels, and team officials talked about platooning him with one of the right-handed hitting infielders within camp, either utility infielder Danny Worth or second-base prospect Hernan Perez.

With Gonzalez on board, it remains to be seen whether the right-handed hitting Gonzalez will take over full time or platoon with Romine.

The rest of the Tigers positional roster, meanwhile, will take a different shape without Lombardozzi, who was acquired in November in the Doug Fister trade. The switch-hitter came to camp as a likely superutility player, capable of backing up at second and third base, shortstop and the outfield. Once the severity of the Iglesias injury became clear, however, the idea of a Tigers roster with two superutility players on the bench with Lombardozzi and Don Kelly became less viable.

That said, nobody would’ve expected Lombardozzi to be traded to quickly, let alone for an older fill-in player. If the Tigers were going to make another move at shortstop, speculation centered on free agent Stephen Drew, who reportedly expressed a willingness to sign a one-year deal after Opening Day. The Tigers have shown no signs towards such a move, possibly because of the draft compensation rule that would require them to give up their first-round pick to sign him, possibly for payroll reasons.

Talks break off between Tigers, Scherzer

The contract season for Max Scherzer is about to begin. The Tigers announced Sunday that talks have ended on a contract extension and won’t resume during the season, essentially guaranteeing Scherzer will become a free agent at season’s end.

Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters, and later released in a statement, that the team made what he called a “substantial offer” to Scherzer. Once that offer was declined, the two sides agreed to end talks for the spring.

“It was a very substantial offer that would place him among the highest-paid pitchers in the game,” Dombrowski said.

Scherzer is expected to talk about the situation later today. His situation was one of many topics between Dombrowski and agent Scott Boras, who also represents injured shortstop Jose Iglesias and free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew.

Both sides had said going in that they did not want to negotiate during the season. Dombrowski said they set a soft deadline for this past Wednesday, the lone off-day of camp, to determine whether a deal was realistic. Dombrowski said they did not want to be negotiating a new deal for Scherzer while sorting out the roster at the same time, though they were able to get a deal done for Justin Verlander in the final days of camp last year.

The Tigers’ final offer came about leading up to that point.

The situation puts Scherzer in position to go from a Cy Young award to the open market a year apart. Barring a serious dropoff in the follow-up to his Cy Young season, he’s expected to hit the market as one of the top free agents on the market at any position, and the top pitcher available. Given the recent contracts signed for top starting pitchers, the lure is obvious.

Before the final offer, the odds of a deal getting done were characterized by one source as unlikely.

On Stephen Drew and Opening Day

The Tigers addressed a major void coming out of last year’s Spring Training with a free-agent signing just after Opening Day. Could they do the same for a second consecutive season?

If they end up signing Stephen Drew to play shortstop, that’s the most likely scenario in which they can do it. Whether it’s going to happen might not be completely clear until April 1, the day after the Tigers open the season against the Royals at Comerica Park.

A Detroit Free Press report that Drew would be open to a one-year contract to join the Tigers has been seconded, removing one potential obstacle on his end to a deal. It’s believed to be a change from previous reports which suggested Drew would be willing to sign a two-year contract with a player opt-out after the first season, but not a straight one-year deal.

The different stances are two routes towards the same goal for Drew, to avoid a repeat of the draft compensation rules that have seemingly impacted his market since December. Once the Boston Red Sox, Drew’s 2013 team, made a qualifying offer that was declined, they ensured any other team would have to give up a pick from this summer’s Draft to sign him. In the Tigers’ case, that pick would be a first-rounder, currently the 23rd overall selection.

Whether Drew signs before or after Opening Day does not affect that current rule. The only way for the Tigers to sign him without surrendering a first-round pick would be to wait until after the Draft, scheduled for June 5-7, to sign him. The difference in Drew waiting until after Opening Day is that the signing team wouldn’t be able to make him a qualifying offer after the season. It’s essentially a turn on the rule that says players that change teams in midseason can’t fall under the qualifying offer rules.

The tradeoff amounts to gaining short-term flexibility in exchange for giving up a chance to recoup the draft pick it would take to sign him. Thus, the questions whittle down to financial, finding common ground on a one-year salary (the Red Sox qualifying offer was worth $14.1 million; the Tigers payroll is crossing the $150 million mark this year), and philosophical, whether the draft pick is more or less valuable than one season of the player to fill what is expected to be a one-year void caused by Jose Iglesias’ stress fractures.

The two sides reached a deal shortly after last Opening Day (after much disagreement and similarly mixed signals) on Jose Valverde, who signed about a week after Detroit optioned would-be closer Bruce Rondon to Triple-A Toledo. Drew, obviously, is a different player with different implications and prices filling a different void at shortstop.

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski declined comment on Drew when reporters asked him Thursday, as is his practice with free agents. He said earlier this week he did not anticipate making a big deal to add a shortstop, then swung a minor trade with the Angels on Friday to add left-handed hitting utility infielder Andrew Romine, who would be in line to platoon with either utilityman Danny Worth or middle infield prospect Hernan Perez, barring another addition.

Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, had no comment on any negotiations, but denied a report on twitter that he was telling teams Drew had a three-year, $39 million offer on the table from a club.

“If a GM can’t attribute his name, it’s called darts,” Boras said of the report, which cited an unnamed general manager.

The draft pick compensation seemingly has had a major impact on the 31-year-old Drew, a defensive cog on a Red Sox club that won the World Series last fall. His 3.4 Wins Above Replacement, going by the FanGraphs formula, ranked sixth out of 18 Major League shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances last season, essentially tying him with All-Stars J.J. Hardy and Jean Segura.

Much of that total came from Drew’s defense, though his offensive value in 2013 placed him in the top five among Major League shortstops according to Fangraphs. When he gets close to a full season, his WAR values are fairly good.

If he doesn’t sign until after Opening Day, he obviously wouldn’t get in a full season. His readiness would determine how close he’d get. Drew has been working out with other free agents in South Florida, which is believed to be where any workouts for teams have taken place. The ramp-up to physical readiness is not expected to be an issue. The bigger priority would be to get his timing at the plate against professional level pitchers that have had a full Spring Training, either in simulated games or extended camp.

Iglesias likely out for season with stress fractures

The Tigers finally have a rehab timetable for Jose Iglesias. They also have an idea how long they’ll need to fill his spot at shortstop. In both cases, it’s going to be a while.

The team confirmed Thursday that Iglesias has stress fractures in both shins and will spend the next 4-5 months limited to non-weight bearing activities. Under that timetable, he’s expected to be out all season, and Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters in Viera today that they’re preparing to go through the season without him.

It’s not necessarily the worst-case scenario, if only because it doesn’t sound career-threatening. Still, for a saga that began with Iglesias being sidelined for a week, it’s a crushing blow that arguably changes the discussion on how to fill the void.

For Iglesias, the rehab process finally gives him a road map to rid himself of the shin issues that he says have bothered him since the start of Spring Training last year with the Red Sox.

“It doesn’t get better,” Iglesias said on Monday. “I’ve been doing every kind of treatment, but the pain is still really high. It makes sense now because it’s a fracture. It’s not going to go down until the fracture is better.”

Iglesias’ ailment was originally termed a stress reaction when he was first sidelined at the end of February, similar to shin splints but to a different degree of severity. An adjustment in his orthotics, combined with rest and medication, got Iglesias back on the field for batting practice and infield work, but he still felt the pain when he ran, especially when he tried to stop.

Nothing, not treatment, not orthotics adjustments, alleviated that. Eventually, Iglesias visited another specialist last week in Florida for additional examination, which Iglesias said revealed the fractures.

Iglesias spent Tuesday in Colorado visiting with another foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Thomas Clanton, at the Steadman Clinic, where a CT scan was recommended to look at the shins and the a course of treatment was recommended.

Since the shins are weight-bearing bones, part of the process requires taking weight off and allowing fractures to heal. That will limit Iglesias to non-weight bearing activities such as biking, swimming and upper body work. Yet physical healing is only part of the process. In some cases, diet and metabolism can play an underlying role.

Nate Robertson: New pitcher, same guy, old faces

Nate Robertson was preferring to stay under the radar in his return this spring. At age 36 with a sidearming delivery, groundball tendencies and a low home run rate, he’s not the same pitcher he was back when he was in the Tigers rotation from 2004-2008. Besides, he doesn’t really need to do a reunion tour.

The beard, however, is still there, as is the Midwestern speech patterns. The confidence, while tempered a bit by age, is still there, too.

He has the mileage of that 1998 Chevy Tahoe he still owns, the one Magglio Ordonez and Jeremy Bonderman used to rag him about. But unlike the Tahoe, which is sitting back home in Wichita with 185,000 miles on it after some scary shakes on a cross-country trip, Robertson feels he can still go at game speed.

“I reached out to Detroit,” he said of his minor-league deal signed a couple weeks ago. “I know there’s a lot of factors involved. Just with all being said, I wanted at least these guys here to get their eyes on it, just to look at it. And I’m fortunate and thankful for them just to take a look. And I’m having fun. But I wouldn’t have reached out unless I was confident in it.”

While Rick Porcello got in his work Wednesday pitching in a minor-league intersquad game on the back fields at Tigertown, Nate Robertson was quietly standing around outside the opposite field. Perhaps it was fitting. While Porcello works on finding the next step in his career towards becoming a front-line starter, Robertson is back where his career took off.

“Some guys think I’m a coach,” Robertson joked, noting that ex-teammate Mike Maroth — born the same year — is the pitching coach at Class A Lakeland.

Robertson believes his stuff can play, and his stats from last year at least make it intriguing. He had some respectable numbers in the Pacific Coast League last year, going 4-4 with a 3.04 ERA and allowing 45 hits over 50 1/3 innings for Triple-A Round Rock in the Rangers system. He walked 23, struck out 40 and didn’t allow a single home run. He held left-handed hitters to a .213 average (17-for-80) with eight walks and 23 strikeouts.

“Here’s the thing: Even if you miss your spot, you have enough movement on the ball to just get off that barrel,” he said of the home-run power outage. “These guys are just trying to barrel it up, and if you leave something out over the plate, they can track it and barrel it. But if I have just enough, just a half an inch, to get off that barrel, it keeps it in the ballpark. …

“To do what I did in a very hitter friendly league, it proved well. Those are tough places to pitch.”

The Rangers bullpen, meanwhile, is a tough place to crack. Simply put, as good as his numbers were, there wasn’t a place for an old lefty in Texas.

“They really didn’t need me,” he said. “They had a couple lefties up there, Neal Cotts and Robbie Ross, that threw extremely well all year.”

He might have been hoping for another non-roster invite to Spring Training, but it never came together. The Tigers were looking for lefty relief depth in the system, having just added fellow ex-Tiger Wil Ledezma under similar circumstances, but not a camp invite this late.

If he’s going to try to make it under these circumstances, he might as well do it where he feels comfortable. He said he had goose bumps making the drive in to Tigertown once again, putting him back in Lakeland.

“You have to ask yourself if you think [the stuff] plays with a big-league lineup and a big-league hitter’s approach, and I think so,” Robertson said. “But the biggest thing is I’m back here where it feels like it’s home, and I’m glad to be back. I’m just having fun with it. I’m in a good place with it, and we’ll see where it goes. …

“I’ll tell you this, and it’s no knock, it’s just an acknowledgement from my standpoint: Out of eight organizations I’ve been with, it’s not even close. Now there’s really good baseball people in all these organizations I’ve been in, but as an organization, nothing compares. I just think it’s as good as it gets.”

Either way, he said, he’s going to be fine with it. Even if this is it for him, it’s back where he started.

“I think it’s going to end OK no matter what. That’s how I feel,” he said. “The biggest thing is just how much I appreciate the organization to just take a look.”

Tuesday: Tigers (Davis still out) vs. Blue Jays

The original lineup for today had Rajai Davis leading off and playing left field, which seemed to be a good sign of his return. Then manager Brad Ausmus announced this morning that he had scratched Davis from the lineup as a precaution. The Tigers are off Wednesday, and Davis already was scheduled to be off for Thursday’s game against the Nationals, so the plan is for him to take it easy on his sore right hamstring for a few days before returning to action (hopefully) Friday against the Braves at Disney.

With split squads today, the benches are kind of thin, so Ben Guez gets the chance to walk across the street from minor-league camp and right into the leadoff spot today.

TIGERS

  1. Ben Guez, LF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Alex Avila, C
  6. Austin Jackson, CF
  7. Don Kelly, 1B
  8. Danny Worth, 3B
  9. Hernan Perez, SS

P: Drew Smyly

BLUE JAYS

  1. Jose Reyes, SS
  2. Melky Cabrera, LF
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
  5. Brett Lawrie, 3B
  6. Adam Lind, DH
  7. Dioner Navarro, C
  8. Colby Rasmus, CF
  9. Maicer Izturis, 2B

P: Ricky Romero

Iglesias confirms stress fractures in both shins

Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias confirmed reports Monday morning that he has been diagnosed with stress fractures in both of his legs.

The diagnosis came late last week from a specialist Iglesias visited for additional opinion.

“This is small fractures in the legs,” Iglesias said. “I was able to play through it last year, but that’s not going to happen this year.”

Iglesias said he won’t know how long he’ll be out until he visits another specialist, Dr. Thomas Clanton, on Tuesday in Colorado to determine the best course of treatment. He expects to play at some point this season.

“Absolutely,” Iglesias said. “I’ll get a better idea when I see the doctor in Colorado. But for now, my goal is to get healthy, get rid of this, because the pain is really bad. I just want to get rid of it and come back 100 percent.”

Iglesias said he has been playing through pain in both shins since last Spring Training, when he was a member of the Red Sox. Not until the last few days, however, did he know how severe the issue was.

“I just felt it from the very first moment of [last] Spring Training,” Iglesias said. “I just told myself to play through it, because I never expected something like that. I just feel pain, but Stephen Drew had a concussion at the time and that was an opportunity for me to start with the team. And I was like, ‘You know what, you’ve got to play through it.’ And I did it.”

The pain was severe enough at times that he had to sit occasionally, both before and after his midseason trade to Detroit.

“Last year I played through the pain all year long,” Iglesias said. “Sometimes [Red Sox manager John] Farrell had to give me some days the same as [former Tigers manager] Jim Leyland here. He had to give me some days or take me out of the game because the pain was so bad. And I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know what to do to get rid of it.’ And I never found out until right now that it was a fracture.”

Iglesias missed time at points last year with the Tigers while dealing with shin splints, but returned in time for the postseason. He said an offseason of rest was expected to take care of the issue, but the pain returned this spring.

Iglesias hasn’t played since Feb. 26. He was originally diagnosed with stress reactions in both shins, similar to shin splints but different in severity. He has tried to work his way back, hitting in batting practice and taking ground balls in the field, but continued to feel pain while running.

The Tigers announced Sunday that Iglesias will open the season on the disabled list, but did not announce a diagnosis pending Tuesday’s report from Dr. Clanton.

After a full year of pain, Iglesias said he feels relieved simply to have a diagnosis what’s going on in his legs.

“It’s bad news for me and bad news for the team as well,” Iglesias said, “but at the end of the day, it’s good as well, because I know what’s going on now. It’s something that I’ve got to deal with, but something that will go away with time.”

Monday: Tigers vs. Nationals

spring training 001

The forecast is not very good for this afternoon, and it gets worse as the day goes on. The fact that the tarp was already on the field this morning probably wasn’t a good sign. Still, I would expect they’re going to wait out the forecast to see what the weather is actually like around game time.

Hernan Perez is next up at shortstop, getting the start today. Brad Ausmus invoked an 0ld Leyland phrase yesterday in describing Perez: He’s a baseball player. He likes Perez’s instincts and awareness, and he sees Perez as somebody who can handle the bat. The question will be how well he handle shortstop, which for him is a secondary spot. He was good there at Erie, though not as good as Suarez at his best. If Ausmus does decide to go with two shortstops going into the season, it’s pretty easy to see where Perez fits in.

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, LF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Alex Avila, C
  5. Austin Jackson, CF
  6. Don Kelly, 3B
  7. Tyler Collins, DH
  8. Hernan Perez, SS
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B

P: Anibal Sanchez, Ian Krol, Al Alburquerque, Blaine Hardy, Luke Putkonen

On Jose Iglesias, the next Tigers shortstop, and defense

In the wee hours at Comerica Park on the night of July 30, as Dave Dombrowski put together the deal that brought them Jose Iglesias from Boston in exchange for Avisail Garcia, one of the things he mentioned was the importance of shoring up the position defensively. They had a lot more offense around the lineup at that point, but they also had a much better offensive player they were preparing to replace, and they felt Iglesias fit in with what they wanted to do long term.

“We’ve had some other people throw some names at shortstop for us that we didn’t see fitting in for us,” Dombrowski said.

As Dombrowski talked about the position Sunday morning at Space Coast Stadium, and how to fill the void left by Iglesias’ injury, that emphasis on defense was there again. They’re trying to shore up the void at shortstop, Dombrowski emphasized, not the void at the bottom of the lineup.

“I think we need to keep it in perspective,” Dombrowski said. “There’s no question [Iglesias is] a very fine player but for us, from an offensive perspective, it’s the bottom of our order. It’s not the middle of our order. I think it’s very important that whoever we have catches the ball, plays defense. That’s extremely important for us.”

They were already prepared to go into the season with Iglesias at the bottom of their lineup, producing some offense but not having to be a catalyst. With Iglesias out, that’s the void.

If they go after another shortstop, Dombrowski does not seem inclined to trade defense for offense. With a rookie third baseman still adjusting back to the corner after spending the previous season and a half in the outfield, with a team built around pitching and defense, they can’t afford to comprise fielding there.

“You have to catch the ball at shortstop to play defensively on our club,” Dombrowski said. “We have a good pitching staff, we think we’re going to score enough runs. It’s a very important part, and we think we have some guys that can do that.”

There’s a lot of question whether Eugenio Suarez will hit enough to stick as a Major League shortstop, questions that have followed Danny Worth during his career, questions that have been asked about Hernan Perez as well. Defensively, though, they think a lot of what they have. None are as good as Iglesias, none are likely as good defensively as Stephen Drew for that matter, but there’s enough talent there to try to fill the gap on defense without worrying as much about offense.

When the Tigers look around at the trade market, or if the Tigers do end up making a run at Drew, it’ll be with defense in mind. They’ll have to figure out whether Seattle’s Nick Franklin is a Major League caliber shortstop or, realistically, a second baseman/utility type, as some evaluators say. And they’ll have weigh whether the upgrade on Drew defensively is big enough to make it worth the price in contract or draft compensation. Same goes for Jimmy Rollins in any trade speculation, for that matter, unlikely as that possibility seems.

Drew would not be a major presence offensively. His recent numbers, and especially his numbers away from Fenway Park last year (.222 average, .687 OPS) make that clear. He had a very good 2013 season against right-handers (.284/.377/.498) but under .196 against lefties. If you bring him in, it’s not going to be for offense.

Again, part of the debate hinges on Iglesias’ timetable, as well as how confident they can be that his shins will finally be healthy for good when he returns. Will Carroll of Bleacher Report pointed out that the foot-and-ankle specialist Iglesias has been set up to visit Tuesday — Dr. Thomas Clanton at the Steadman Clinic in Colorado — is an expert in chronic conditions.

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