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.
While we wait for the Tigers’ end-of-season interviews and a better idea on how they plan to approach the offseason, a tweak to Major League Baseball’s qualifying offers to free agents could have an impact on the bottom line in a year when the Tigers have no-brainer qualifying offers to make.
According to The Associated Press, a qualifying offer to an eligible free agent will carry a $15.3 million salary, up from $14.1 million last year and $13.3 million the year before. The bump is the result of a rise in the average of the 125 richest contracts by average annual salary.
The Tigers have not made a qualifying offer under the current system. Just 22 free agents have had qualifying offers extended over the last two seasons, and none accepted them. This should be the year that changes, on both sides.
With Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez potentially sitting as the top pitcher and hitter on the free-agent market this season, the Tigers interested in re-signing one or both, and Detroit needing to restock its farm system, one would expect the Tigers will extend qualifying offers to both Scherzer and Martinez. Not only does that leave the door open for continued negotiations, it puts the Tigers in position to gain a draft pick or two near the end of the first round should either of them sign elsewhere.
In both cases, it’s a low risk move. While $15.3 million is a high price for a designated hitter, it’s a one-year offer for a 35-year-old hitter who is expected to look for at least a three-year contract on the market. Tigers people would jump for joy to keep Martinez on a one-year deal. With Scherzer in line for a five- or six-year deal, meanwhile, one year isn’t going to happen.
The last time the Tigers had free-agent compensation picks, they used the selections on current Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos and Chance Ruffin, who ended up becoming part of the package for Doug Fister. The picks were compensation for losing relievers Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney, both of whom qualified for compensation under the old collective bargaining agreement.
While the Detroit Tigers were packing up and heading home, their season having ended far too soon for their liking, their best hope for internal improvement in 2015 was opening his next season with a flourish. Steven Moya opened his Arizona Fall League campaign with three hits, including a two-run double, for the Glendale Desert Dogs and manager Lance Parrish in a 9-3 win over Mesa.
Moya hit a line-drive double to right off a lefty, Nationals prospect Matt Grace, who had retired him twice in as many meetings during the Eastern League season, including an inning-ending strikeout with a runner on third June 11. Contrary to expectation, Moya held his own against lefties for Double-A Erie, batting .262 (49-for-187) with 13 home runs, nine doubles, six walks and 56 strikeouts. He lined an RBI single later off Angels relief prospect Mark Sappington.
If Moya is going to challenge for a big-league spot out of Spring Training, then six weeks in the AFL could be huge for his development. With bigger rosters and shortened workloads for pitchers, Moya is going to find himself in tougher matchups against talented pitching prospects, and he’s going to have to adapt.
The Tigers went into this season privately admitting that last year was probably their best chance at the World Series title they’ve been contending to win for four years now. They had their most complete team, despite their limitations in defense and athleticism, and there was no dominant team in either league left to trip them up. Instead, two late-inning home runs in Boston tripped them up, and they followed with a transformative offseason.
If last year was the Tigers’ best chance, then logic follows to wonder if this year was their last good chance. It wasn’t a dominant team, but it was a very good one in a league without a whole lot of team greatness. It was a team that showed an ability to play very good baseball when it had to, and while its weaknesses were glaring at times, it had a Division Series matchup against a team that didn’t seem well equipped to take advantage of them.
Turns out the Orioles had a knack for exploiting the Tigers bullpen. And no matter how much the Tigers insisted that 2011 was in the past, their struggles against Nelson Cruz suggested nothing had changed.
“It was our time to shine in the postseason,” Max Scherzer said. “That’s what we’ve done in the past. Take nothing away from the Orioles, but we had a great team to be able to win this American League Division Series. Unfortunately, they outplayed us. That’s frustrating for everybody. Everybody in this clubhouse. We did not want our season to end. We know how much talent is in here, and for us to lose is very frustrating.”
Every year when I leave the clubhouse for the last time in a season, I wonder how differently the players in it might look next spring. The sense walking around the Tigers after Sunday’s game was a bit stronger, maybe just because of the players involved.
There’s a realistic possibility Scherzer and Victor Martinez end up being the top free-agent pitcher and hitter, respectively. They were the top pitcher and hitter on the Tigers. It’s difficult to envision the Tigers, already bearing the weight of long-term contracts, being able to keep them both. They have a better chance of keeping Martinez.
“We’ve been battling over the last few years with each other,” Scherzer said. “My teammates have been unbelievable. And for this season to come to an end the way it did, just always leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. But hopefully there’s a way we can continue to keep playing together.”
Assuming they can’t, the Tigers are worse off at a time when the rest of the American League Central is improving with younger, cost-controlled talent. And World Series aspirations can no longer look past the division.
This is before the next test next winter, when David Price and Rick Porcello hit free agency, and the window closes further.
In the end, the decision on Rajai Davis wasn’t whether he could play, but whether Brad Ausmus could count on him to play nine innings. Between Davis’ Game 2 exit and the cool temperatures today, the answer was no.
“Raj was still a little sore,” Ausmus said, “so with the cool weather, I think, rather than having him start the game and maybe have to pull him out, I would rather be able to use him later in the game maybe, especially with their left‑handed bullpen. So he’s available. He certainly could pinch‑hit, but he’s still feeling it a little bit.”
Also, Ausmus added, it didn’t hurt to get another left-handed bat in the lineup against Bud Norris, whose lefty-righty splits aren’t vast but enough to make a difference. Left-handed hitters batted .255 with a .753 OPS against Norris this season, compared with .226 and .659 from righties.
With lefty David Price on the mound, the Orioles are sitting Alejandro De Aza, who hits miserably against lefties. That earns Delmon Young another postseason start in left field at Comerica Park, a sight many Tigers fans will remember. O’s manager Buck Showalter, though, decided to take the risk.
On Young in LF over Cruz, this allows the Os to keep Cruz’s bat in the lineup and use a def replacement in LF if there’s a lead.
— Brittany Ghiroli (@Britt_Ghiroli) October 5, 2014
Young’s most famous moment in left field happened at AT&T Park, not Comerica Park, in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series.
TIGERS (career numbers against Norris)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-8, HR, 2 walks)
- Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-12, 2 doubles, HR, 3 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (3-for-12, 2 doubles, 3 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-12, double, HR)
- J.D. Martinez, LF
- Alex Avila, C (0-for-10, walk, 5 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-3, 2 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-3, K)
- Don Kelly, CF (2-for-7, K)
P: David Price
ORIOLES (career numbers off Price)
- Nick Markakis, RF (12-for-47, double, triple, 3 walks, 9 K’s)
- Steve Pearce, 1B (4-for-12, HR, 3 K’s)
- Adam Jones, 1B (11-for-44, 3 doubles, walk, 11 K’s)
- Nelson Cruz, DH (10-for-28, double, 3 HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
- Delmon Young, LF (5-for-16, double, HR, 6 K’s)
- J.J. Hardy, SS (12-for-36, 5 doubles, 3 walks, 10 K’s)
- Nick Hundley, C
- Ryan Flaherty, SS
- Jonathan Schoop, 2B (1-for-2)
P: Bud Norris