Don Kelly signs minor-league deal with Marlins
Sundays usually aren’t this busy during baseball offseasons, aside from the winter meetings. This one was busy for Tigers departures, not additions.
On the same night Tigers fans saw Max Scherzer agree to terms with the Nationals, Don Kelly also headed elsewhere. Detroit’s longtime utlityman and fan favorite agreed to a minor-league contract with the Miami Marlins, a deal that includes a non-roster invite to Major League Spring Training.
The deal gives Kelly a chance to compete for the kind of utility role that kept him in the big leagues in Detroit for the better part of five seasons. He played in 569 games in Detroit, including 24 postseason contests, and played every position in the field at some point.
Kelly became a free agent when the Tigers took him off the 40-man roster at the end of last season. He had talked with the Tigers about a return, but like Andy Dirks, decided he had a better opportunity to make the Major League roster elsewhere.
“There were [talks with the Tigers],” Kelly told MLB.com in a text message Sunday night. “Wasn’t an easy decision, but Miami was a better fit at this rate.”
Kelly, who turns 35 next month, was the last of the Randy Smith era draft picks in Detroit, and had an unlikely Tigers tenure, having left the organization and come back before making the roster.. He never had 300 plate appearances in a season, but he turned a part-time role into a long Tigers career. He had 23 home runs in 570 regular-season games as a Tiger, not including the shot he hit off Ivan Nova in Game 5 of the 2011 AL Division Series. A year later, he hit a game-winning sacrifice fly in Game 2 of the ALDS against Oakland. He started the deciding Game 5 in the 2013 ALDS at Oakland, then played in all six games against Boston in the ALCS. In the process, he became a fan favorite for many.
Once the Tigers traded for Yoenis Cespedes, however, the opportunity for a reserve outfielder in Detroit was limited, with Rajai Davis now thrust into a part-time role. Add in Tyler Collins’ presence, and the picture looked better in Miami, where the Marlins are in need of outfield depth, and the Marlins made sense.