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
The Tigers lineup isn’t out yet, but Brad Ausmus said this morning that it’ll be the same pending Rajai Davis’ status following batting practice. Davis took batting practice and, short of running, looked fine. The one change Ausmus said he’d make is Nick Castellanos moving up to the sixth spot, with Alex Avila batting seventh.
The O’s make one change, swapping out Nick Hundley for Caleb Joseph behind the plate.
TIGERS (career numbers off Wei-Yin Chen)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-10, 2 doubles, walk, K)
- Torii Hunter, CF (1-for-4, double, 2 walks, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-4, 2 walks, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH
- J.D. Martinez, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Andrew Romine, SS
- Rajai Davis, CF (1-for-3, K)
P: Justin Verlander
ORIOLES (career numbers vs. Verlander)
- Nick Markakis, RF (12-for-48, 4 doubles, triple, 5 walks, 10 K’s)
- Alejandro De Aza, LF (7-for-31, double, triple, 2 HR, 2 walks, 10 K’s)
- Adam Jones, CF (6-for-33, double, HR, walk, 9 K’s)
- Nelson Cruz, DH (7-for-31, double, 3 HR, walk, 9 K’s)
- Steve Pearce, 1B
- J.J. Hardy, SS (8-for-34, double, 3 HR, walk, 6 K’s)
- Ryan Flaherty, 3B (2-for-8, walk, K)
- Caleb Joseph, C
- Jonathan Schoop, 2B (0-for-6, K)
P: Wei-Yin Chen
Rajai Davis is not only on the roster, he’s in the lineup, playing center field and batting ninth.
“We came in at 8:30 this morning and he got his treatment and then went and did a bunch of agility drills, sprints and he said he was good to go,” Ausmus said. “I asked him point blank, first of all, ‘Can you play nine innings?’ He said yes. I said, ‘Do you feel like you can steal a base?’ He said yes. And he didn’t hesitate.”
That said, Ausmus admitted he might hold his breath a little bit with Davis’ status.
With Davis in, it’s a pretty standard lineup. Andrew Romine gets the start at short again. Whether he gets the start in Game 2 against lefty Wei-Yin Chen is yet to be answered.
TIGERS (career numbers off Tillman)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (4-for-16, double, HR, walk, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-4, HR, 2 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-13, double, HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-10, double, K)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (0-for-3)
- Alex Avila, C (1-for-6, HR, 2 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-3)
- Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-3, K)
- Rajai Davis, CF (0-for-3, 2 K’s)
P: Max Scherzer
ORIOLES (career numbers vs. Scherzer)
- Nick Markakis, RF (5-for-16, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
- Alejandro De Aza, LF (11-for-43, double, HR, 5 walks, 13 K’s)
- Adam Jones, CF (9-for-18, 2 doubles, HR, 5 K’s)
- Nelson Cruz, DH (11-for-25, 3 doubles, 2 HR, walk, 6 K’s)
- Steve Pearce, 1B (1-for-3, K)
- J.J. Hardy, SS (4-for-23, double, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
- Ryan Flaherty, 3B (0-for-5, walk, 3 K’s)
- Nick Hundley, C (1-for-5, double, 3 K’s)
- Jonathan Schoop, 2B
P: Chris Tillman
Rajai Davis is on the Tigers roster for the American League Division Series. Whether he’s in the lineup for Thursday’s series opener against the Orioles at Camden Yards remains unclear.
Given the choice between having him at all or having the roster spot to fill in for him, the Tigers opted to carry Davis, who has been dealing with a sprained pelvic ligament that forced him out of last Saturday’s game against the Twins. In making that choice, the Tigers at least see enough hope that he can play at some point in this best-of-five series.
The fact that the Tigers need just four starters for the postseason effectively gives them an extra spot on their 25-man roster to use. So if Davis isn’t ready for Game 1, or even Game 2, they still have their usual complement of bench options and a seven-man bullpen.
With Davis iffy, the Tigers will carry September call-up Hernan Perez as an extra infielder, giving them depth if Don Kelly plays extensively in the outfield. Perez made last year’s playoff roster as a late-inning pinch-runner, a role he’ll likely reprise this season, especially if Carrera starts in center.
Though Perez was not on the active roster as of Aug. 31, he was still eligible for the postseason roster as an injury replacement. Detroit’s six players on the 60-day disabled list gave the Tigers the ability to add players, so long as they were in the organization as of Aug. 31.
Davis’ situation was one of two decisions Tigers officials had to make on how to assemble their series roster. The other was their much-scrutinized bullpen, which will have two converted starters. While Anibal Sanchez transitions from past playoff starter to postseason reliever, so will Kyle Lobstein, who filled Sanchez’s rotation spot in September while Sanchez was on the disabled list with a right pectoral muscle strain.
Sanchez enters his third postseason with a 2.95 ERA in six career playoff starts. He won Game 1 of last year’s ALCS at Fenway Park, delivering six no-hit innings with six walks and 12 strikeouts.
Lobstein gives the Tigers two left-handed relievers, but despite a .217 average (10-for-46) against left-handed hitters in his 39 1/3 Major League innings, he’s more likely to be used as a long reliever than a lefty specialist.
Lobstein made the roster over fellow left-hander Blaine Hardy as well as right-hander Jim Johnson, the former Orioles closer who signed with the Tigers in August. Both Hardy and Johnson struggled down the stretch.
Here’s the full roster:
62 RHP Al Alburquerque
44 RHP Joba Chamberlain
40 LHP Phil Coke
53 LHP Kyle Lobstein
36 RHP Joe Nathan
21 RHP Rick Porcello
14 LHP David Price
19 RHP Anibal Sanchez
37 RHP Max Scherzer
38 RHP Joakim Soria
35 RHP Justin Verlander
13 Alex Avila
50 Bryan Holaday
24 1B Miguel Cabrera
9 3B Nick Castellanos
3 2B Ian Kinsler
26 INF Hernan Perez
27 INF Andrew Romine
30 INF Eugenio Suarez
61 OF Ezequiel Carrera
20 OF Rajai Davis
48 OF Torii Hunter
32 INF/OF Don Kelly
28 OF J.D. Martinez
DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
41 Victor Martinez
The Tigers were able to put Rajai Davis through some batting practice at Wednesday’s workout at Camden Yards, which is good news for his chances at playing in this AL Division Series. The one step he didn’t do, however, is the one step he arguably needs to do in order to make a full impact on this series.
Davis did some light running in left field with strength and conditioning coach Javair Gillett. He did some long-tossing to air out his arm, then took his regular rounds of batting practice. He did not run the bases, lightly or otherwise.
And as Brad Ausmus reiterated, they need to trust that Rajai Davis can accelerate without aggravating the pubis symphysis sprain he suffered last Saturday.
“We’ve gotta get past that point of him making some baseball moves in terms of running, exploding out of the box and taking swings,” Ausmus said before Wednesday’s workout.
With the series opener coming up Thursday afternoon, and rosters due by 10am, the Tigers are going to have to project how close he is to doing everything. If Davis makes the roster but is unable to play, the Tigers have Ezequiel Carrera and Don Kelly ready to fill in center, but they’d likely need an extra position player to fill the bench gap, likely either outfielder Tyler Collins or infielder Hernan Perez. Both were at Camden Yards for Wednesday’s workout.
The Tigers postseason begins tomorrow at 5:30pm ET (that’s finally set now that the Royals have advanced), but tickets for the next round go on sale a few hours earlier. AL Championship Series tickets go on sale Thursday at noon ET online exclusively at tigers.com/postseason (limit 12 per customer). They’ll also be available beginning Friday by phone at 866-66-TIGER and in person at the Comerica Park box office.
Unlike the Division Series, where it was pretty clear a while ago that the Tigers would open the road, Detroit’s ALCS seeding (if the Tigers advance, of course) would depend on which team advances from the other series. An Angels-Tigers series would open in California with Games 1-2 on Oct. 10-11. Games 3-5 would be at Comerica Park Oct. 13-15.
A Royals-Tigers rematch, on the other hand, would open in Detroit Oct. 10-11, go to Kansas City for the middle three innings, then return to Comerica Park for Games 6-7 (if necessary) Oct. 17-18.
A limited number of AL Division Series tickets also remain on sale, including Game 3 Sunday afternoon. The Tigers are encouraging fans going to Sunday’s game to head downtown early and give themselves some extra time. Gates will open at 1:45pm ET for the 3:45 game.
We’re likely to have a pretty good idea about the Tigers’ Division Series roster when the team works out later today. Realistically, though, most of the spots are set. Essentially, it comes down to this:
1. How much can Rajai Davis be expected to play?
This is going to have an impact everywhere from the bench to the bullpen. If his injury allows him to return to the starting lineup, the Tigers can go with their regular outfield mix, use Ezequiel Carrera as an extra outfielder and pinch runner, and use their 25th spot to carry an eighth reliever.
It’s if he isn’t ready that things get tricky. If he’s day-to-day, but still expected to be ready at some point in the series, the Tigers could be expected to use their 25th spot to carry an extra position player. If they want the extra outfielder, Tyler Collins — who can play all three spots — fits the bill. If Don Kelly is expected to handle a share of the playing time, then the better choice might be Hernan Perez, who can shoulder Kelly’s utility infield duties while serving as a late-inning pinch-runner as he did last October. If Davis is completely out, of course, his spot becomes open, and that extra position player can slide into there while freeing up a relief spot.
2. How many lefty relievers do the Tigers want?
If Chris Davis was looming in the Orioles lneup, this would be a no-brainer, despite Davis’ relatively even splits (.199 against righties this season, compared with .188 vs. lefties). But Davis is suspended, and right-handed hitter Steve Pearce is expected to take on his old role. There are still left-handed hitters the Tigers will want to match up — Alejandro De Aza is hitting just .138 (12-for-87) against lefties — but it’s not the same level of concern. As important of a player as Nick Markakis is, he has hit lefties better than righties the last few years, and he’s 6-for-18 off Phil Coke.
It’s an interesting twist for a Tigers bullpen that has struggled since summer to identify a primary reliever for lefty-lefty matchups. Coke is sure to make the staff, but after that, it’s a mystery. Blaine Hardy was a vital piece at one point, but struggled through September. Kyle Lobstein has made a strong case to stay on the roster as a reliever now that Detroit doesn’t need a fifth starter, but is more of a long reliever (which the Tigers also need) than a lefty specialist. Kyle Ryan has performed very well in spots but is also a 23-year-old rookie whose only relief history as a pro has happened in the past month.
Here’s what appears to be safe:
- C (2): Alex Avila, Bryan Holaday
- IF (5): Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, Ian Kinsler, Andrew Romine, Eugenio Suarez
- OF (4): Ezequiel Carrera, Torii Hunter, Don Kelly, J.D. Martinez
- DH (1): Victor Martinez
- SP (4): Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Rick Porcello
- RP (6): Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain, Joakim Soria, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Anibal Sanchez
That leaves one positional spot for either a healthy Rajai Davis, Tyler Collins or Hernan Perez. One bullpen spot is likely to be determined between Blaine Hardy, Jim Johnson, Kyle Lobstein, Kyle Ryan, Evan Reed and Pat McCoy. And one spot is up for grabs between both groups.