Max Scherzer made an appearance on MLB Network’s Hot Stove morning program and talked on a wide range of topics, from new manager Brad Ausmus to what went awry in the playoffs. He said Ausmus called him earlier this week and introduced himself and he was impressed.
“He called me up the other day and I talked with him for a bit,” Scherzer said. “I think we made a great hire. For him, his pedigree speaks volumes. He caught in the big leagues for 18 years. I think with his knowledge of the game, he’s going to be able to fit right in for us and take us where we need to go.”
Whether Scherzer actually makes a start for him, of course, remains to be seen.
Scherzer is staying out of speculation over a potential trade, saying that’s part of the business. But he also said that there are no talks going on about a contract extension, at least to his knowledge.
“We really haven’t had too much talk previously about an extension,” Scherzer said. “Taking care of one this offseason, really I haven’t even approached it. I haven’t even stepped back and thought about it, just because we’re not at the right time to discuss a contract. I’m sure something can be talked about throughout the winter.”
Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, said earlier this fall that he anticipated talking with the Tigers about a potential extension this offseason. Boras has a well-earned reputation for believing players, especially pitchers, should test the free-agent market when they get close to free agency, a factor that played into the trade that brought Scherzer to the Tigers four years ago (Detroit strongly believed Edwin Jackson was going to test the market in a couple years). That said, Boras pitchers have signed extensions ahead of free agency, Jered Weaver being a notable example.
Fitting a potential Scherzer extension into payroll is another matter, which is why it wasn’t lost on reporters have team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said unprompted that they have a surplus of starting pitchers.
“We have some pieces we need to fit together. I mean, we do have six starters at this point,” Dombrowski said Sunday. “People are aware of that, with [Drew] Smyly being available to start.”
Ken Rosenthal, part of the Hot Stove show, said earlier in the show that the Nationals are looking for an elite starting pitcher and could be a good fit for a deal, because of their depth in young power pitchers and their strong relationship with Boras (gee, that sounds familiar).
Scherzer tried to downplay the speculation.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I understand the business of the game and the reality of the payroll. And so, I mean, I get it. But at the same time, for me, I want to be a Detroit Tiger. I’ve been in Detroit for four years and we’ve had a great run. With all the friends that you have on the team, you just want that to continue, so hopefully it can.”
Much like Frasier Crane picking up after Cheers and moving to Seattle for his own show, Lloyd McClendon is off to to the Pacific Northwest for a well-deserved second shot at managing. Like Frasier was to Cheers, a spinoff but a completely different show and tone, McClendon is likely not going to be a simple continuation of Jim Leyland’s era in Detroit.
When he talked about the Tigers opening two weeks ago, he talked about being his own man, being himself, taking lessons to heart that he learned from Leyland but not simply trying to copy him.
“Obviously when you have an opportunity to work with one of the best in the game, you’d be a fool not to learn something,” McClendon said last month. “That has certainly been very beneificial to me. My aspirations are hopefully to manage again, but at the same time you have to be your own man.”
Eight years as a coach alongside Leyland, seven as the hitting coach, “certainly confirmed my convictions as far as how you go about your business, preparation, knowing your opponents, using that to your advantage, knowing your players, knowing their capabilities, what they’re capable of doing and what they’re not capable of doing. And above all your leadership skills. Be yourself.”
McClendon has long wanted to manage again, which is why he probably cringed over the years when the Tigers would play Pittsburgh and he’d see the highlights of his epic rant at PNC Park, pulling out first base and taking it with him on his way out after an ejection. He knew that couldn’t help his cause, no matter how much fans talk about wanting a fiery manager.
He came close in Seattle a few years ago, losing out to Eric Wedge, but he had the hope of being considered Leyland’s successor in Detroit. He had to be crushed when the Tigers went with younger, less experienced Brad Ausmus over the weekend, but he had to focus on his second interview with the M’s. As low as it had to be, losing out on the shot to manage the team he knew, getting a chance to manage a Mariners team with a chance to build has to be an emotional swing. Even with a general manager in a contract year, there are worse fates than to get a second chance with a rotation that includes Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton, not to mention several young hitters who haven’t hit near their potential yet.
He doesn’t get a ready-made, veteran laden team for the World Series, but he gets a chance to build in a division that, while immensely talented, isn’t like Sisyphus trying to roll a boulder up a hill. There’s room for upward mobility, as the M’s showed simply sticking within sight of .500 until September.
A lot of fans in Detroit wanted McClendon to suffer for the Tigers’ hitting struggles, especially in the postseason, and that’s fine. It wasn’t for a lack of work on his part, but it was a bottom-line type of season here. Game managing and being a hitting coach are two different skill sets, though, and other than connecting with players, I never quite understood the correlation people held so closely between the two. Larry Parrish is a tremendous manager at Triple-A and a veteran judge of talent, but he did not end up being a good hitting coach in Atlanta. Leyland couldn’t tell you much about hitting and techniques, but he knew what he wanted to do with the hitters he had. McClendon knows how to recognize changes and patterns in the swing, and he had inifinite patience to work with guys if they were willing. He also did a ton of work breaking down video. Now we’re going to see how he handles a game again.
To answer the next question, I do not know how many — if any — of his Detroit colleagues he might bring with him. It would seem like a safe bet that if the Tigers don’t keep Jeff Jones as pitching coach, he should have a spot in Seattle with another impressive group of arms.
As we wait for the press conference at Comerica Park, here’s what we know so far:
- Brad Ausmus will be introduced as the 38th manager in Tigers history today. Though Ausmus was originally thought to be flying in today, word is he was in Detroit earlier this weekend to finish up the deal.
- Gene Lamont will be retained as the bench coach. Ausmus and Lamont are close friends dating back to Lamont’s days in Jimy Williams’ staff in Houston, and Lamont gives Ausmus an experienced voice on the bench to help the transition.
- No word yet on the other coaches, but Jeff Jones appears likely to remain as the pitching coach. He’s from Michigan, he has the trust of the front office, and he provides continuity for a pitching staff that had the best rotation in the American League this past season. Just as important, he has kept most of the Tigers’ critical arms off the surgical table despite three extended postseason runs.
Still waiting to hear about the rest of the coaching staff. Word is Lloyd McClendon is still talking with the Mariners about their managerial position. If he doesn’t get the Seattle job, somebody would have to get a read on what the level of comfort is for a former managerial candidate being on the staff of the guy who won the job.
This was Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski two weeks ago, at the Jim Leyland press conference, talking about the recent trend around baseball towards new managers:
“There’s been a new sort of trend in recent years where there’s been some guys that have not managed that have come in and managed. So I can’t say that I would eliminate that because I think it’s very important that you look at each and every case and get the best person possible. Is it likely the person has managerial experience to some extent? Yes. Is it for sure? I don’t know that at this point.”
Along the same lines, here’s another quote from Dombrowski that day on the win-now imperative the new manager would face:
“Whoever steps in here has to be able to manage a club that has a chance to win right now and handle some very good, established Major League players. So you’re not looking for somebody, where you’ve involved in a club like I’ve been in the past that’s an expansion team, and you let them grow in that area. This club is built to try to win, so the person that we’re going to hire will be the person that we think gives us the best chance. I have always been a strong advocate of having managerial experience, because I think that there’s some things that you learn, not necessarily always at the Major League level, but I think it’s important, because those are tough shoes to fill and there’s a lot that’s involved in it. So I think it’s very important that that person know how to deal with as many issues as they possibly can.”
Taken in that context, you can make the case that Brad Ausmus won the Tigers over.
Unofficially, Ausmus actually did manage a Major League game. It was at the end of the 2009 regular season, a day after the Dodgers had wrapped up the National League West, and Joe Torre went with a tradition of letting a player manage the final game. Ausmus was Torre’s pick, and the 40-year-old catcher led the Dodgers to a 5-3 win at Colorado. He also entered the game as a pinch-runner for Jim Thome.
Add in his experience leading Team Israel in the qualifiers for the most recent World Baseball Classic, and that is Ausmus’ resume as a manager. Those who know him, however, seem to consistently rave about his qualities to be a great manager.
“He’s an amazingly deceptive guy in that you can take him for granted, but he has so much game prep, camaraderie, pitching wealth,” said an AL executive who knew Ausmus from his playing days. “Just a great understanding how the game should be played.”
Dombrowski was somebody who didn’t know Ausmus well. Ausmus came and went during Randy Smith’s time as Tigers general manager, and Smith has praised his managerial qualities.
“I’m as confident in him as I was when I hired [Bruce] Bochy,” Smith told CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler, referring to hiring Bochy with the Padres in the 1990s.
Bochy had four seasons managing in the minor leagues and two years as the Padres third-base coach before Smith hired him. Ausmus, who was a 26-year-old catcher on Bochy’s first team with the Padres in 1995, has three years as a special assistant in baseball operations, but 18 years as a Major League catcher.
The bigger difference, though, might be the team. The Padres were still rebuilding after losing Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield and Derek Bell over the previous two seasons. Bochy led the Padres to a division title in his second season. In the case of the Tigers, one can make the argument that this roster has two seasons to contend for a World Series title before the next round of tinkering arrives.
Ausmus doesn’t necessarily change the Tigers’ mindset. He played in an era when specialized statistics blossomed in baseball, including for managerial tendencies, but reportedly isn’t tied to them. With an experienced bench coach (Gene Lamont, perhaps, though that doesn’t seem to be set yet), he can blend two different schools of thought.
What it changes is the voice and the image at the top. Dombrowski doesn’t just hire managers, he hires a public face and voice of the organization. Alan Trammell was 44 years old when Dombrowski hired him, but he seemingly aged a few years at a time as he became the face of the Tigers’ rebuilding struggles a decade ago. His first club was a collection of youngsters and journeymen.
Ausmus inherits not only a veteran-laden roster, but a superstar-loaded one. If he gets guys like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter to buy into the program, even if he has to earn their respect at first, his transition might well be easy. If 2014 becomes a learning year, the job gets harder. Dombrowski knows this, but what he saw and heard from Ausmus in the interview apparently won him over.
It was actually $4 million, not $3.25 million, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. The difference is an escalating bonus clause based on games finished. Veras finished 45 games during the regular season — 38 when he was the Astros closer, then seven more working in more of a setup role for the Tigers. Two of the latter were save chances. Another was an extra-inning loss to the Yankees in August that ended when Brett Gardner homered off of him. The last was his eighth inning of the series opener at Miami, when the Tigers were still trying for the second seed in the AL postseason.
Though some second-guessing might follow for games he finished, let’s be clear: It wasn’t a $750,000 decision. The escalating clause means the bonus likely accumulated in increments for every five games finished after a certain point. So the difference in Veras’ option if he finished 44 games instead of 45 would’ve been smaller.
A $4 million option, especially for a setup reliever, looks a lot different than a $3.25 million option. Does that mean it was the difference in the Tigers’ decision? That part isn’t clear right now, and might not be until Dave Dombrowski talks about the offseason goals.
The Tigers were already expected to head towards a different bullpen mix before team officials had to decide on Jose Veras’ $3.25 million contract option. Then they pulled a surprise and declined it.
Now, their bullpen mix is looking open, and that’s before they encounter decisions on arbitration-eligible Phil Coke and Al Alburquerque.
Detroit gave up their fourth-ranked prospect, outfielder Danry Vasquez, and Gulf Coast League teenager David Paulino to get Veras from Houston at the July trade deadline. Part of the appeal for the Tigers was the opportunity to get a season and a half out of Veras, not just a short-term rental. It wasn’t a cheap option for 2014, but considering the going rate for setup relievers, it wasn’t bad, either.
Somewhere along the lines, Veras became a rental. He wasn’t necessarily a difference-maker down the stretch of the Tigers’ drive to another division title, but he had nine holds and two saves in 12 total opportunities. Check the game logs, though, and it became clear his role changed in September. He was less of an eighth-inning setup man and more of a right-hander who was called on to get a right-handed hitter or two out in the eighth inning. It was a shorter setup role than the one Joaquin Benoit held down for 2 1/2 seasons.
That short work generally continued into the postseason, but with mixed results. The only Tigers postseason victory he pitched in was the 1-0 win at Fenway to open the ALCS, but he pitched in the two games in which leads became losses on Red Sox grand slams. Shane Victorino’s go-ahead shot in Game 6 came off Veras’ 0-2 curveball. David Ortiz’s game-tying slam in Game 2 came three pitchers after Veras, but the rally started on Will Middlebrooks’ one-out double against him. Jim Leyland played matchups from there with harrowing results.
With the bullpen in flux, Veras was seemingly a safe holdover — not somebody to build around, but a veteran who could fill a few different roles depending on how the rest of the bullpen filled out. Now, the only holdovers who played significant roles in last year’s bullpen are Coke and Alburquerque (again, they’re both arbitration eligible) plus Drew Smyly, who could end up being a starter if the Tigers were to move Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello this offseason.
That’s a lot of uncertainty in the bullpen for a team expected to contend for a World Series. It’s also a lot of opportunity for Dombrowski to build the bullpen he wants.
The initial reaction to the move is a sign the Tigers could spend big in a free-agent market that should be deep in proven relievers this year, and it might well be that. But depending on what the Tigers do elsewhere this winter, it might not be a bullpen restocked totally on free agents.
It’s worth keeping in mind that this just-finished World Series featured a battle of two bullpens that lost their closers (Jason Motte, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan) for most or all of the season. Their most expensive relievers were on the disabled list. The one major addition in the bunch, Koji Uehara, was a free-agent signing on a two-year, $9.25 million deal to be a setup man.
The Cardinals had the advantage of a bevy of gifted young arms developed through the system, something the Tigers tried to do five years ago through the draft and couldn’t (highlighted by Ryan Perry).
The Red Sox put together a postseason bullpen with Junichi Tazawa (international signing few years ago), Craig Breslow (tade last year) and Brandon Workman (draft pick). Matt Thornton, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan did nothing.
The Tigers don’t have anywhere near the young arms of the Cardinals, but they have options coming up. Bruce Rondon, of course, is the closer in waiting. Melvin Mercedes is the hard-throwing guy behind him, and he’s coming off a very good season split between Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. Jose Ortega has a good arm and dominant numbers at Triple-A Toledo but mixed results in Detroit. The Tigers have to decide what they have in lefty starter Casey Crosby after two seasons at Toledo (the most recent one injury-shortened). Left-handed hitters have batted .206 (42-for-204) against Crosby in Toledo the last two years, including 8-for-52 this past season.
It’s not a foundation, but it’s a group of good arms that could fill some holes. Play the market wisely, and the combination could reshape a bullpen.
Padres bench coach Rich Renteria officially joined the list of Tigers managerial candidates on
Wednesday Thursday, interviewing with team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski on Thursday in California for the opportunity to replace the recently retired Jim Leyland.
Renteria, who couldn’t travel to Detroit due to recent hip surgery, didn’t come in as a household name, and he brought little recent history with Dombrowski, though the two worked together when Renteria managed in the Marlins farm system in the late 1990s. His extensive experience as a minor-league manager and big-league coach, however, is somewhat Leyland-like.
Renteria actually played for Leyland when he made his Major League debut for the Pirates in 1986, Leyland’s first year in Pittsburgh. Renteria, a former first-round pick, had a couple cups of coffee with the Mariners in the late 80s before playing the 1993 season with the expansion Marlins at age 31.
He found a place with the Marlins in his post-playing career, becoming the first former Florida player to manage in the organization. He was the Midwest League Manager of the Year for Kane County in 1999, moved up to Double-A Portland after that, then moved into the Padres farm 10 years ago as a Class A coach.
Renteria is the fourth person to interview for the job, joining Lloyd McClendon, Tim Wallach and Brad Ausmus. There’s a lot of speculation that the Tigers will interview Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo, who until now has been busy with the World Series.
The day after the World Series ends, free agency filings mark the unofficial start to the offseason. It has always been a formality — I mean, nobody forgets to file for free agency — and now it’s actually an automatic move rather than something players and agents actually have to do.
Thus, the list of Tigers goes as expected. Joaquin Benoit, Jeremy Bonderman, Octavio Dotel, Omar Infante, Brayan Pena, Jhonny Peralta and Ramon Santiago are all now officially among 147 Major League free agents.
The second part to that is the five-day period in which teams hold exclusive negotiating rights with their free agents. Players and agents can talk with other teams during that period, but technically they can’t talk contract parameters. It used to be a longer exclusive period, but was mercifully whittled down in the last few years. We already know the Tigers won’t try to re-sign Pena. We have not heard any direction on the other guys yet, though it’s safe to assume the Tigers are going to make a push to re-sign Benoit and Infante.
The exclusive negotiating period ends at midnight on Monday evening/Tuesday morning. Teams can still re-sign their own free agents after then, but the players are free to talk contracts and sign anywhere.
The other part of that is the qualifying offer teams can make to players to guarantee draft-pick compensation if they leave. The labor agreement signed a couple years states that the one-year qualifying offer has to equal the average salary of the current 125 biggest contracts. This year, that works out to $14.1 million, which is $800,000 more than last year. Teams have until 5pm ET on Monday to make an offer. Players then have a week to decide whether to accept it.
The risk/reward is obvious. On the one hand, $14.1 million is a lot of money to offer Benoit or Infante, who didn’t even make half of that this past season. On the other hand, a one-year deal allows them to fill a key spot for next season and still keep the role open for prospects to assume in 2015 — Bruce Rondon at closer, Hernan Perez at second base. It would be a surprise if the Tigers made qualifying offers to two guys who don’t figure to make as much in average salary on the open market.
In addition, the Tigers have one player to option to weigh, a $3.25 million option on Jose Veras that can be bought out for just $150,000. The Tigers are believed to have three days to decide on that one. Considering the price on relievers and the lack of depth the Tigers face if they can’t re-sign Benoit, it would be a surprise if Detroit doesn’t pick up this one.
When the Tigers were swept out of the World Series last year, Dave Dombrowski had the uncomfortable task of telling pending free agents in the clubhouse after Game 4 whether they would be re-signed or not. Between the Tigers’ abrupt exit from the ALCS this season, and Jim Leyland’s secret postgame farewell to players, that didn’t happen this time around. Now, apparently, the decisions are coming out. Brayan Pena, a pending free agent, appears to be the leadoff man in this one.
I was inform that i will not be returning to The Tigers ,i want to thanks the FANS, the ORGANIZATION & my TEAMMATES for the opportunity !!!!
— Brayan Pena (@cuban2727) October 30, 2013
Now I’m ready to accept the new chapter in my life like i always do, with FAITH & DEDICATION to play the game that I LOVE & RESPECT.
— Brayan Pena (@cuban2727) October 30, 2013
Pena’s agent, Paul Kinzer, confirmed that’s what he and Pena were told. Kinzer said they were told the Tigers are going in-house for their backup catcher. That means Bryan Holaday is in line to crack the big league roster and back up Alex Avila, with former top pick James McCann likely getting a look in Spring Training to show whether he could make the jump.
When asked to confirm, a Tigers spokesperson said that the agent reached out to the team and was informed that the Tigers will be going in a different direction.
Tigers officials saw Holaday as a Major League ready catcher defensively last offseason, but had trouble convincing a third catcher to sign a minor-league deal. Instead, they signed Pena to a one-year, $865,000 Major League deal and reaped the benefits this season.
Pena was a boost in the midst of Alex Avila’s first-half offensive abyss, essentially splitting time with Avila for most of May and June. He was the everyday catcher while Avila was on the disabled list in late June, then took over again in August when a foul tip off the mask landed Avila on the DL with a concussion.
Once Avila returned with renewed pop in his bat, however, Pena became sort of a forgotten man, despite batting .397 (25-for-63) in August. He started only one game over the final three weeks of the regular season while the Tigers made their playoff push. Avila’s hitting (.325, 25-for-77, 11 RBIs after return from DL), plus his comfort level with Detroit’s pitchers and recovery on defense, prompted Tigers officials to move him into more of an everyday role, which continued into the postseason.
For the season, Pena batted .297 (68-for-229) with 11 doubles, four home runs and 22 RBIs. He actually fared much better against right-handed pitchers than lefties, which defied the platoon he had with Avila but followed his career splits.
When the season ended a week and a half ago in Boston, Pena made it clear he badly wanted to return.
“I want to be back here,” he said. “Money’s not an issue. I feel like I want to be here. The fans, the way they treated me, it was unbelievable.
Moreover, Pena said he wanted to lose 25 pounds in the offseason so that he could come to Spring Training and prove he’s ready behind the plate.
The question now is whether Avila will be more of an everyday catcher from the outset next season with Holaday as his backup. Holaday’s .260 average and .684 OPS at Triple-A Toledo last season were the highest of his four-year professional career. He was a more aggressive hitter, but his strikeouts also picked up. That said, his promotion would set up a lefty-righty mix on the roster, and would also give the Tigers a strong defensive catcher as a more traditional backup.
McCann made it to the All-Star Futures Game last summer amidst a torrid start at the plate at Double-A Erie. He seemingly tailed off around midseason, then found a second wind in an outstanding August. He finished the season batting .277 with 30 doubles, eight home runs, 54 RBIs and a .731 OPS.
That didn’t take long. Less than 48 hours after confirmation that Miguel Cabrera would need surgery, the Tigers announced that the AL MVP underwent successful core muscle repair surgery. Dr. William Meyers, the noted specialist in hernia surgery and other groin injuries, performed the procedure this morning in Philadelphia, where he is based.
The timetable calls for Cabrera to rehab for 6-8 weeks, which even at the conservative end should have him at full speed in time for the start of Spring Training.
The home page for Dr. Meyers says that core muscle injuries are often described as a sports hernia, which is technically not a hernia. There was a lot of speculation that Cabrera was playing through a sports hernia during September and into the postseason, based on his symptoms and how little mobility he had. Cabrera’s injury has been described as a Grade 2-3 groin strain, including tears of fiber, just short of a rupture. The press release is all that’s going to be said by the team about the injury, so we’ll have to leave it at that.