The Tigers had been preparing themselves for the likelihood that Miguel Cabrera would need surgery to remove bone spurs in his right ankle, which would take out a chunk of his offseason workouts. They were not expecting that an exam would reveal a stress fracture in his right foot, too.
“It was a surprise, I’d say, for all of us at that point,” team president/general manager Dombrowski said Friday morning. “We were not aware it was there. I’m not sure how long it was there. He did have a couple of screws inserted.”
It’s the navicular bone at the top of his foot, and according to research online, it’s not rare among athletes, and there’s a history of it with basketball players. Joel Embiid, the highly-touted center out of Kansas, slid in the NBA Draft this offseason reportedly because of a navicular fracture. Michael Jordan, Kevin McHale, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Yao Ming all had navicular fractures in their careers, with Ming’s situation serving as a worst-case scenario.
The injury is less common in baseball. Dustin Pedroia had a nondisplaced navicular fracture in midseason 2010, tried to rehab it and avoid surgery, underwent the procedure, played the 2011 season with a screw in his foot and has been fine with the foot since. Cody Ross had a similar injury that did not require surgery, and ended up missing a month. Jacoby Ellsbury had a compression fracture of the bone in 2013, rested for a few weeks and played in the postseason.
In Cabrera’s case, it was severe enough that rest-and-rehab wasn’t an option.
Cabrera is built more like an undersized forward than a center, and he has taken steps to watch his weight the last few years. For the vast majority of athletes, this is a surgery that shouldn’t present long-term issues. However, it’s also an injury that deals with pressure on the foot.
Recovery seems relatively safe. Cabrera’s offseason workout plans, however, appear to be scratched for the second straight year. He might be able to do upper-body workouts, but he’s expected to keep weight off his surgically repaired foot. Thus, even if Cabrera checks out fine during his follow-up exam in January, he’s going to have some catching up to do to get back to where he wants and expects.
The injury, meanwhile, leaves the Tigers with some immediate concerns:
1. The Tigers have to be prepared at first base, under any scenario, when the season starts.
Detroit is familiar with this scenario from this past summer, when manager Brad Ausmus was juggling Cabrera and Victor Martinez at first base according to whether Cabrera felt strong enough to play in the field. Ausmus did not want to play Martinez every day at first base for fear of tweaking an injury with him.
Detroit’s other first base option this season was Don Kelly. J.D. Martinez played a couple minor league games at first base in 2009 and hasn’t played there since. Mike Hessman’s prodigious minor-league power is legendary, but he hasn’t hit above .250 since 2010. Jordan Lennerton went from Futures Game participant in 2013 to a .249 hitter at Toledo this season, though he batted .333 from June 23 on. Aaron Westlake batted .236 at Double-A Erie this season. It would behoove the Tigers to have a plan at first base in case Cabrera needs more time or has to DH.
2. The Victor Martinez talks just got trickier.
The recent buzz that Martinez is looking for a four-year contract on the upcoming free-agent market, as Jon Heyman reported today for CBSSports.com, potentially puts the Tigers in a bind. On one hand, if Cabrera isn’t ready for Opening Day, or even if he’s playing while his foot and ankle regain strength, getting production out of somebody else is huge, just as Martinez’s early-season production was for them this season. On the other hand, a four-year deal for Martinez puts him under contract through his age 39 season, and puts the Tigers at risk for a bad situation in a few years if injuries leave Cabrera better suited for DH work as he approaches his mid-30s, let alone if Cabrera is deemed better off DHing a little more often next year.
If Cabrera is slowed, it’s hard to see how the Tigers lineup works next season without Martinez. And yet, if Cabrera is slowing, it’s hard to see how the Tigers can succeed long-term with him and Martinez. There are other DH options headed for the market, from Billy Butler to Kendrys Morales, but the only free-agent hitter in the same neighborhood is Nelson Cruz.
And no, the free-agent market for first basemen isn’t better than the market for DHs. Adam LaRoche could hit the market if either he or the Nationals decline the $15 million mutual option in his contract, but there’s a question too of how many years he’ll want in a new deal at age 35. Mike Morse has played first base off and on during his career. Adam Lind is a potential trade candidate, according to the Toronto Sun, but he does not hit lefties well.
As expected, Miguel Cabrera underwent surgery to remove the bone spurs in his right ankle that had been bothering him for months. He also had a procedure to repair a stress fracture in the navicular bone near the top of his right foot, an injury that hadn’t been known and which requires a longer rehab.
Dr. Robert Anderson performed the surgery in Charlotte, N.C., including the insertion of screws in the foot.
“It was a surprise, I’d say, for all of us,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Friday morning. “We were not aware [the stress fracture] was there. I’m not sure how long it was there. He did have a couple of screws inserted.”
Cabrera will be re-evaluated in three months, or a few weeks before Spring Training. He’s expected to avoid weight-bearing activities on the foot, which greatly limits his offseason workouts.
“He’ll probably be pretty much inactive,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski avoided any prognostications about Cabrera’s potential readiness for Spring Training, preferring to wait for the follow-up exam in January.
Cabrera’s ankle began to bother him soon after he seemed regain some of his strength from the core muscle surgery that he underwent last year around this time. Cabrera recovered from that surgery in time to have a full Spring Training, but admitted later to a reporter for USA Today that the core muscles tightened on him at times during the season.
The ankle injury hobbled Cabrera for much of the summer, but as with the core muscle issue last year, he played through. In this case, he seemed to improve as he kept playing.
Cabrera’s September performance — including a .379 (39-for-103) average, eight home runs and 18 RBIs — earned him American League Player of the Month honors. He wasn’t moving anywhere near full speed, but he was moving better than he had been in July and August.
“There’s no question that that ankle started to bother him at times, based upon a couple of instances, probably more sliding at more various times, in which he was affected,” Dombrowski said during his season-wrapup press conference last week. “But I think the difference was, where in 2013, where [the core muscle injury] hurt him all the time, in 2014 here at times … it hurt him at times, worse than others. Because it was there, and he would do something to jar it, and it would hurt him.
“There’s no question that that did bother him, but you saw in the postseason he still swung the bat well, the first couple of games in particular.”
Dombrowski said at that point that it wasn’t clear whether Cabrera would need surgery, because he was still being evaluated. The surgery to remove the bone spur, he said, is relative easy. The stress fracture complicates matters.
Now that the extent of the injury is clear, Cabrera’s ability to play through it becomes all the more impressive.
“It’s amazing that he was able to do that,” Dombrowski said. “It was much more involved [than expected] with the fracture there being in a position — and again, I don’t know when that happened. It’s amazing he was able to function with the foot and the ankle the way it is. He really is as tough as can be.”
The Tigers haven’t had a Gold Glove winner since Placido Polanco in 2009. They might have their best chance in the five years since to break the drought.
Catcher Alex Avila, first baseman Miguel Cabrera and second baseman Ian Kinsler were named finalists at their respective positions for the American League Gold Glove awards. The winners will be revealed at 7 p.m. ET on Nov. 4 on ESPN2. None has won a Gold Glove in their careers, though Avila has been nominated two other times since the award went to a finalist format in 2011.
Gold Glove Award nominations are based 75 percent on voting by AL coaches and managers and 25 percent on defensive metrics, specifically a formula developed by SABR last year to help the process. The SABR Defensive Index takes into account Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating and Runs Effectively Defended.
For the Tigers, whose defense has been a perennial question each offseason, this year marks the highest number of finalists they’ve had under the current system, but their chances aren’t simply about the quantity of candidates. Especially with Kinsler’s season at second base, Detroit has a legitimate chance to end their search for gold.
While Detroit’s infield defense was a frequent point of scrutiny during the season, Kinsler not only stabilized his position, he put up the best metrics the Tigers have seen at second since Polanco left town. Under Defensive Runs Saved, a statistic created by The Fielding Bible to measure plays a defender makes compared to plays his peers would make, Kinsler’s plus-20 rating this year not only topped all Major League second baseman, but all AL infielders as well.
Under the better-known Ultimate Zone Rating, an effort to measure the number of plays a defender makes within his defensive zone, Kinsler’s 13 UZR ranked second at his spot behind three-time AL Gold Glove winner Dustin Pedroia.
Pedroia and Robinson Cano, who have alternated Gold Gloves for the past four years, are the other two finalists at second base. Polanco is the last AL second baseman other than those two to win, though Kinsler has been nominated once before.
Avila has been a frequent candidate based in large part on his success at throwing out would-be basestealers, and this season was no exception. After a down year last season, his caught-stealing rate of 34 percent (36-of-107) ranked fourth-best among Major League catchers with at least 100 starts behind the plate, and second in the AL to Brian McCann.
This year, however, Avila bolstered his case with a better all-around performance. Despite topping 1000 innings caught for the first time since 2011, he set career bests with just three passed balls and 23 wild pitches. His five defensive runs saved ranked second among AL catchers behind defending AL Gold Glove winner Salvador Perez.
Perez, not surprisingly, joins Avila among the finalists, as does Cleveland’s Yan Gomes.
The surprise among the group is Cabrera, who went from one of the worst-rated third baseman in the game to a relatively effective first baseman. His 4.3 UZR ranked fourth among AL players at his position, while his minus-one rating on defensive runs saved ranked sixth. His competition includes Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer, who won last year’s Gold Glove at first, and the Angels’ Albert Pujols, a two-time winner in the National League. No Tigers first baseman has ever won a Gold Glove.
The Tigers made no changes on Brad Ausmus’ coaching staff after the season, but they’re going to need a new assistant hitting coach. Darnell Coles, who made a good impression as the assistant hitting coach, was hired by the Brewers on Thursday to be their head hitting coach.
“It’s tough leaving a great organization like the Tigers,” Coles said. “I was content and loved my job working with some of the best hitters in baseball — in Miguel Cabrera’s case, the best hitter in baseball. It was a great experience. It’s sad to leave, but you get an opportunity to get one of 30 jobs in the game, and a great group of hitters.”
For Coles, it’s a return to the organization from which the Tigers hired him. He spent four years in the Brewers farm system, serving as manager at Double-A Huntsville in 2012 and 2013 after he spent two years as the organization’s minor-league hitting coordinator. He had just been promoted to manage at Triple-A Nashville when Ausmus and the Tigers came calling.
The Tigers offered him his first shot at coaching in the big leagues, and he was superb at it. While the Tigers led the Majors in batting average and RBIs, topped the American League in OPS and finished second in the big leagues in runs scored, Coles provided a boundless amount of positive energy and a steady source of constructive critiques in support of primary hitting coach Wally Joyner.
“You watch how those guys work and prepare, and you get an understanding how those guys are as good as they are,” Coles said. “It’s a great group of hitters, a great group of guys, and you take that knowledge with you as you move on.”
Yet coaching Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler and Torii Hunter was a smaller part of the job. What filled out the Tigers lineup was the spark from J.D. Martinez, who went from Spring Training casualty in Astros camp to All-Star caliber run producer in Detroit.
“Darnell did a great job in working with Wally and our hitters,” Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “Knowledgeable and hard working. He is ready to become the main hitting coach for a Major League team.”
What made Coles such a fit in Detroit, Ausmus said, was “great energy and detail oriented.”
Ausmus said they’ll look internally and search outside the organization for a replacement. Longtime Mud Hens hitting coach Leon Durham would be a logical choice if the team opts to promote from within. So, too, could Bruce Fields, Detroit’s hitting coach from 2003 to 2005 and currently the organization’s minor-league hitting coordinator.
Comeback player of the year awards have always been kind of quirky, because there’s no definition of what a player is supposed to be coming back from, or what they originally were. Some guys who have won these awards come back from season-ending or career-threatening injuries. Others just come back from a bad year. In the case of J.D. Martinez, his comeback was from a Spring Training release. He had been a nice player in past years, but never had broken out.
Still, with 23 homers, 76 RBIs, a .315 batting average and a .912 OPS, he had a good enough case that a panel of fellow American League players landed him second in AL Comeback Player of the Year balloting among the Sporting News end-of-season awards. Mariners pitcher Chris Young won the award after spending 2013 struggling to come back from thoracic outlet syndrome, the same issue that derailed Jeremy Bonderman’s career.
Martinez earned 22 votes to Young’s 49. A’s lefty Scott Kazmir finished third, followed by Derek Jeter and Melky Cabrera.
Thanks to the commenters for pointing out that Martinez is also a candidate for the Players Choice version of this award, along with Young and Victor Martinez. That award is also based on player balloting, but leaguewide instead of just a panel.
The last Tiger to win Comeback Player of the Year was Alan Trammell in 1983. In his case, he was coming back from consecutive down years offensively.
Tigers top scout Mike Russell joins Diamondbacks as special assistant (updated with likely replacement)
One of the remarkable notes about Dave Dombrowski’s reign running the Tigers is the continuity in the front office and player personnel. He has been able to keep his inner circle of trusted advisors together, more or less, for more than a decade in an era when even top evaluators often bounce around and success usually leads to bigger things for assistants.
That said, the Tigers just lost someone from their core group. In the case of veteran scout Mike Russell, he’s leaving for a new opportunity and an old friend, heading to the Arizona Diamondbacks as a special assistant for pro scouting.
Russell will serve as a special assistant to new Diamondbacks senior VP of baseball operations De Jon Watson, whom he has known since they worked together with the Florida Marlins in the mid-1990s, both working under Dombrowski. He’ll help coordinate the extensive pro scouting staff the Diamondbacks have put together.
“I’m really excited about it,” Russell said. “It was nothing negative. It was just a promotion and a chance to go help a friend.”
Russell’s ties with Dombrowski date back to 1996, when he joined the Marlins as an area supervisor and a special assignment scout. When Dombrowski left Florida for the Tigers, Russell was one of his earliest hires, coming on board as a Major League scout in 2002. He had been in that role ever since, making him the longest-tenured member of the Tigers scouting staff, and one of Detroit’s longest-tenured evaluators.
Russell’s primary role was scouting Eastern Division teams and players. However, he also went out on several special assignments to evaluate Tigers prospects. Russell has scouted for four World Series teams, signed seven Major League players and provided the background work that led to franchise-changing trades such as the Miguel Cabrera deal.
Along with assistant GM Al Avila, VP of player personnel Scott Reid and VP/special assistant David Chadd, Russell was part of the core group on the scouting side.
“Our pro scouting department was very successful in what we did,” Russell said. “I’m proud of it. I’m proud to be able to say I helped Dave and played a small part.”
Russell was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame last summer. He also made his impact on the charitable side, including a donation to pay for the funeral for James Van Horn, better known for his Eat ‘Em Up Tigers chant around Comerica Park, after Van Horn was killed in a hit-and-run accident last summer.
Russell thanked Dombrowski for the opportunity. He also thanked Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who helped Russell and his family rebuild their Florida home when Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf Coast in 2004.
“I benefited by being a part of his organization,” Russell said.
As for filling the void, the Tigers are still working that out, Dombrowski said in an email Saturday morning, but he appears likely to turn to an ex-member of his core group. Former Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield, who served as assistant GM under Dombrowski with the Marlins from 1999 to 2001, is expected to join the Tigers scouting staff. Littlefield spent the past seven seasons with the Cubs, most recently as a Major League scout.
Dave Dombrowski spent a good portion of his hour-long session Tuesday talking about the Tigers bullpen, from its failure in the AL Division Series to its struggles during the season to its individual members. One guy who wasn’t part of it, of course, was Andrew Miller, a rumored deal that came close to happening, never did and came back to haunt them in the Division Series.
The prevailing thought for a long while was that the Tigers pulled out of talks with the Red Sox involving Miller once they closed in on a deal with the Rays for David Price. A report from the New York Post’s Joel Sherman earlier this month countered that, saying the Tigers had met Boston’s asking price but were outbid at the last minute by Baltimore.
Dombrowski’s characterization of the talks was somewhere in between, but trended towards the latter.
“We really did make a good run at him,” Dombrowski said. “It was a situation where we thought they were going to call us back, and they didn’t call us back, and they just decided to go in another direction.”
That direction was to Baltimore, where the Orioles offered up a young left-handed pitcher named Eduardo Rodriguez, rated in the 60s on each of the major top 100 prospect lists going into the season. Whatever the Tigers were offering has never gotten out.
That led to another would-be deal Dombrowski brought up on his own.
“I wouldn’t tell you the player, but last year, there was a reliever that we almost acquired who ended up being a very good reliever,” Dombrowski said. “I thought we were getting him. It never got out like this. We thought we made a tremendous offer. We thought we offered more than the other organization, but they went with the other player. Well I can tell you that organization wishes they didn’t go in that direction. They wish they taken our player.”
Dombrowski did not give any hints who that player was. It might have been Francisco Rodriguez, who had been rumored to have drawn Tigers interest at various points in July. The Brewers had him, then dealt him on July 23 to the Orioles for an infielder named Nick Delmonico. He had shown some power in the O’s farm system putting up back-to-back double figures in home runs. He hit just four homers in 37 games with Milwaukee’s Class A Florida State League team.
Rodriguez ended up returning to MIlwaukee this year and saved 44 games for the Brewers. The Tigers traded for Jose Veras shortly after the Brewers traded Rodriguez, then let him go at season’s end by not picking up his option.
“Sometimes you don’t have total control of those things,” Dombrowski said. “Sometimes organizations, it’s just not in your control. They decide what direction they’re going to go, and sometimes they don’t always choose the right direction.”
For a press conference that didn’t include a lot of firm answers, Dave Dombrowski touched on a ton of topics during his hour-long session with reporters. Of course, he has a ton of issues to address this offseason.
He did not have answers on their chances of re-signing Victor Martinez, Max Scherzer or Torii Hunter. And while Dombrowski said they have a way they’re leaning on Joakim Soria’s contract option, and strongly hinted at the direction, he did not have a firm answer on it.
“Really, that has to be done after, really it’s more appropriate after the World Series,” Dombrowski said. “Major League Baseball [doesn't] want us making announcements at this time of the year.”
Even with that out, Dombrowski had a lot to say about this year’s team and their approach heading towards next year, enough that it’s probably easiest to just roll with the quotes by topic. Here’s Dombrowski …
- On offseason priorities besides their own guys: “I guess I’d really probably say three things that would really kind of fit for us at this time. One is solidifying our center field situation … either a left-handed hitter to go with Rajai or somebody to be a full-time center fielder. Secondly, our bullpen to be improved, production from our bullpen. Some of that can come from internal. Thirdly, somehow we’d like to mix another left-handed hitter in there somewhere … and I don’t have a specific answer where that person is going to play at this time because I think a lot of that is determined upon conversations with clubs, who we may re-sign, who may be available in trades, so that’s kind of preliminary and I don’t really know which position that would be. It might even be an extra guy off the bench that would be more of a threat from the offensive perspective than we’ve had in the past that could step in there and do that for us.”
- On window closing: “I don’t buy that, and I think there’s a couple of reasons. First of all, we have a good team and we have a good foundation coming back for sure. I don’t think there’s many clubs in baseball that would take their starting four going into their offseason over our starting four, that we know we have. When you look at our situation and you have Price and Sanchez and Verlander — who I think will bounce back, I think he’s really driven to bounce back, and that core injury probably bothered him a little bit more, particularly for preparation into the year — and you have Porcello, that’s a pretty good place to start with those four. For sure we have Miguel Cabrera back in the middle of our lineup and we have other guys too that will be good.”
- On Alex Avila’s concussion concerns and future planning: “I don’t think it weighs on my mind from a planning process. We do have a young catcher, [James] McCann that we like a lot. I think he’s ready to be a big league catcher. Where that will all come into play, we’ll find out over the next time period. With the concussion issue, I’ve known Alex Avila since he’s about five years old, and so I worry about him as a human being when you see something like that happen. It’s a tough situation because as his father sits next to me or two seats over in a game, and he tries to be professional as he can — because he’s a very professional person and he doesn’t want to take it into personal situations — I know it has to be grinding him on the inside even though he would not acknowledge that at times. It’s difficult in that regard, but it’s more difficult on a human being basis to worry about somebody, and I’m thankful that nothing major has happened at this time. They say that he should be fine going into the next year.”
- On Miguel Cabrera’s ankle: “He’s in a process where we’re checking him out, from a physical perspective. We’ve already done some of the work on that, and we’ll do some more this week, and then we’ll determine what we’re going to do beyond that. That’ll be more of a doctor’s decision.”
- On Torii Hunter: “He’s had a very good two years for us. He’s outstanding — in fact, I don’t think I’ve been around a guy better on the team in the clubhouse, and Victor Martinez is a guy that fits into that category. There are only a couple of other guys that come to my mind that fit into the category, when I’ve been around them. Where that all fits right now, we still haven’t made final decisions. And, so we’ll just have to wait and see how our pieces fit together, as we go forward. He’s done a lot of good things for us, and again, a superb person, but we haven’t made that final decision.”
- On Hunter possibly retiring: “He hasn’t told me that he’s going to retire. But we didn’t have any conversations at the end of the season and [I] haven’t spoken to him since.”
- On Scherzer: “Well, we had thorough conversations before the season, and I don’t know that it’s all dictated by us at this point. I think we made ourselves pretty well known at that time where we stood. He’s a quality pitcher. We know that. He’s done a lot for our organization, but it’s apparent that his representative wanted him to test free agency. And that comes up in a couple weeks. … I think we probably made more of an effort to sign Max earlier in the year. So I don’t think your odds improve [from] what they were earlier. Why would they improve if we have one-on-one ability to speak with you, compared to having 29 other clubs speak with you? Only time will tell.”
- On manager Brad Ausmus: “He’s our manager. He’s back. And it’s a situation where I think he did a fine job for us. It’s a situation where I would think — and I don’t want this sounding in a negative perspective — anybody comes back the second year, and in turn the fifth year, then you’re better than the first year. You would hope that would always be the case. …
“I reflect on my own case. You’re ready to to do the job as a general manager, but you learned a lot from the first year. But he’s a good baseball man, he’s very knowledgable, he’s hard working, he communicates well, with the players, with the front office. He’s on top of situations, he tackles situations with the players. I think he’s really done a good job for us. I think he’s really good. I think he’s only going to get better.”
- On shortstop Jose Iglesias: “First of all, the doctors tell me he’ll be fine and that he’ll be ready to go for spring training. He’s ramping up on a regular basis as far as any impact is concerned, and I saw video of him over a month ago where he was already playing catch and that kind of stuff. The doctors tell me he’ll be fine.”
- On Iglesias as the regular shortstop: “I have to see him play day in and day out in the spring and see him handle the pounding, and then I’ll be real comfortable at that point. Brad and his staff haven’t had the advantage of having seen Iglesias play, but based on what we know of Iglesias, if he returns to the form of the past, which they tell me he will, he would be our regular shortstop. But I also have to protect ourselves, because even though we hear that from the doctors, until we see it for ourselves, we have to leave ourselves some hedge in case he’s not 100 percent.”
- On Joe Nathan and the closer’s job: “I would think he starts as our closer going into [the season], but he has to perform up to the capabilities required of doing it.”
- On Steven Moya maybe being the left-handed hitter they need: “Well, we love Steven Moya. He was the Player of the Year in the Eastern League, as you know. He was 35-home run, 100-plus hitting-type guy, and he plays solid defense and runs well for a big guy,too. He had a great year in the Eastern League, and right now is in the Arizona Fall League, but I don’t know if he’s going to be ready next year or not. You can hope and he may be ready, but I’m not really sure. His performance in the Arizona Fall League, then going to winter ball will be important for him. …
“He has so much ability that you are kind of waiting for it to happen, for it to keep progressing so it can happen. But I’m not sitting here ready to tell you that for sure, he’s going to be one of our corner outfielder’s next year. May he be? Perhaps.”
- On potentially shopping for Scherzer replacement: “I don’t know that. I think we have some young pitchers we feel pretty comfortable with at this point, but I’m not sure where all that would take place, but I feel comfortable staying internal with the four guys we would have at that point. But again, we haven’t made that decision.”
- On potential internal competition for Scherzer’s spot: “I think we have enough pitching at this point with the four guys there that, if it comes down to that, I’d feel comfortable with that.”
- On Andy Dirks: “Well, when he left he wasn’t 100 percent at the time. Now, when will he be 100 percent? I don’t know that answer quite at this time. We still have to make some decisions in that regard.”
- On Bruce Rondon: “We’re encouraged that he would be ready. He’s been in Lakeland the whole time period rehabbing. He will go back to Venezuela at some point for a short time period, but right now all the progress is good. He feels good.”
Just heard back from Alex Avila, who said Monday in a text message that he’s free of concussion symptoms after leaving last Sunday’s game on a foul tip off his mask. He flew back to his offseason home on Monday, and is clear for a normal workout routine.
And yes, he intends to play next season.
“Going to relax and spend time with my family for a few weeks until it’s time to start working out and get ready for next year,” Avila said.
Avila underwent a battery of tests last week in the wake of his third concussion-related incident this year. Test results came back normal, and his symptoms subsided later in the week.
Avila has been steady about his intent to keep playing while acknowledging the risk of repeated concussions. He’s under team control for next season, either with a $5.4 million option or with a third year of arbitration eligibility. Detroit has avoided arbitration with him the last couple seasons, though last year’s negotiations lasted a little while.
DETROIT — If the Tigers want Torii Hunter back for 2015, he wants to play another year. If Detroit doesn’t want him back, then he might have a decision to make on whether he wants to keep playing.
At this point, he does not have an answer.
“If the Tigers want me back, we will work that out hopefully,” Hunter said in a text message. “Other than that, I’m still thinking about my situation.”
That thought process could last another few weeks.
The situation has changed little from a week ago, after the Tigers were swept out of the postseason by the Orioles in the Division Series. That was the first time the 39-year-old Hunter said retirement was a serious consideration, noting he was physically and mentally tired.
Hunter is up for free agency, his two-year contract expiring at season’s end. The Tigers have exclusive rights to try to work out a new deal until five days after the end of the World Series. Hunter can talk with other teams in that five-day period, but cannot exchange salary proposals.
Depending on what Hunter decides, that last part might be moot.
“I don’t know,” Hunter said. “I’m going to let my mind and body heal for about four weeks.”
Hunter plans to spend his fall as a football parent, traveling to watch his kids. Torii Jr. is an emerging redshirt freshman wide receiver at Notre Dame. Another son, Monshadrik “Money” Hunter, is a sophomore defensive back at Arkansas State.
The Tigers front office has been pretty much quiet since season’s end. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is expected to have his usual end-of-season interview session with reporters at some point next week, a little later than normal but earlier than he hoped this year.
Manager Brad Ausmus raved over the final weeks of the season about Hunter’s impact in the clubhouse and at the plate, where he enjoyed a late-season rejuvenation. He finished with a .286 average, 33 doubles, 17 home runs and 83 RBIs. His run production has almost identical to last year despite fewer plate appearances. His .765 OPS was a 35-point drop from last year but matched his 2011 rate.
The Tigers have a slugging right-field prospect on the way in Steven Moya, who tore up Eastern League pitching at Double-A Erie. He could bypass Triple-A Toledo and contend for a roster spot next spring, but his ascension isn’t guaranteed. Right field could be a landing spot for Rajai Davis if the Tigers acquire a full-time center field, but there’s no clear answer for that. Either Hunter or Davis, both of whom bat right-handed, could form a platoon with the left-handed hitting Moya if the Tigers wanted to ease him in.