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Tigers sign right-handers Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis

With Evan Reed, Jose Ortega and Justin Miller all out of the system, and not a whole lot of relief talent on the verge of the big leagues, the Tigers needed some depth in the organization. They took a step in that direction this week, signing right-handers Alberto Cabrera and Rafael Dolis to minor-league contracts according to Matt Eddy of Baseball America.

Both are Dominican right-handers who came up through the Cubs farm system and pitched in Chicago from 2011 to 2013. Cabrera pitched at Triple-A Iowa this past season, while Dolis pitched in four games for the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate in Fresno.

Cabrera, who turned 26 in October, has put up some Al-Alburquerquish numbers, which might be fitting since Alburquerque also came through the Cubs system once upon a time. He was stingy in Iowa in 2014, with just 24 earned runs allowed on 46 hits over 65 2/3 innings. Nine of those hits, however, were home runs. He walked 30 and struck out 61.

Cabrera averaged 93 mph on his fastball during his big-league time in 2012 and 2013, during which he allowed 16 runs on 23 hits over 27 2/3 innings with 23 walks and 31 strikeouts. He also has a slider he throws at 82-83 mph.

Cabrera hails from Las Matas de Farfan in the Dominican Republic, which is the same hometown as former Tiger Ramon Santiago.

Dolis, who will turn 27 in January, threw a little harder in the big leagues, with a 95 mph fastball he threw more than 80 percent of the time. He also has a low- to mid-80s slider. He, too, has some been wild, recording more walks (26) than strikeouts (25) over 44 1/3 Major League innings, during which he allowed 43 hits. His minor-league track record has been better, but he was released by the Giants last May 26 after allowing eight runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings.

Tigers get Shane Greene in three-team trade

The Tigers saw Shane Greene shut down their offense for 15 innings of two-run ball as a Yankees starter last August. Come Spring Training, they’ll be seeing him in a Tigers uniform.

After several days of Tigers pitching rumors heading towards next week’s Winter Meetings, Detroit added a young starter, acquiring Greene in a three-team trade that sent left-hander Robbie Ray and infield prospect Domingo Leyba to Arizona.

The Diamondbacks sent shortstop Didi Gregorius — a prospect the Tigers had interest in acquiring a couple years ago — to the Yankees.

The deal comes just a few days shy of the five-year anniversary of the three-team trade between the same squads that brought Max Scherzer, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke to Detroit. Their latest deal isn’t likely to have nearly the same impact, at least in Detroit. Essentially, Detroit became the middle man in the deal, providing Arizona what they wanted in return for Gregorius. In return, the Tigers changed their mix of young arms, subtracting Ray and adding Greene to the back end of their rotation.

Barring another move, what was expected to be an in-house competition to fill Max Scherzer’s spot in the Tigers rotation — if the Tigers can’t re-sign Scherzer — is now Greene’s spot to lose.

“He threw the ball well in his first year at the Major League level,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a release, “and we feel he will be a very nice addition to our starting rotation.”

If the Tigers bring back Scherzer, they’ll have the flexibility to flip another starter if the price is right.

Greene, who turned 26 last month, went 5-4 with a 3.78 ERA in 15 appearances — 14 of them starts — with the Yankees this past season. Two of those wins came at Detroit’s expense. He blanked the Tigers on five hits over eight innings Aug. 7 in The Bronx, sending Detroit to a 1-0 loss despite a solid start from Rick Porcello.

Three weeks later, Greene took the mound at Comerica Park had tossed seven innings of two-run ball with a walk and eight strikeouts in an 8-4 Yankees win. Detroit hit into 19 ground-ball outs combined over the two outings.

Take away those two outings, and Greene gave up 31 earned runs on 71 hits over 63 2/3 innings, with 25 walks and 68 strikeouts. He also went 5-2 with a 4.61 ERA in 15 games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. One scout who watched Greene at his best called him a power sinkerballer comparable in style to Porcello, without the same selection of secondary pitches that Porcello has built over the years.

Greene is 40 days older than Porcello, but has 14 Major League starts to his credit. Porcello, who turns 26 on Dec. 27, has spent six seasons in Detroit’s rotation, and is eligible for free agency next winter, as is David Price. Greene has at least three years before becoming arbitration-eligible.

V-Mart wins MLB Outstanding DH award

The Tigers have earned a slew of awards over their last few years of success. Until now, the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award wasn’t one of them. Victor Martinez just broke the drought on that one, too.

After finishing second in American League MVP voting, Martinez can claim the Outstanding DH award as a consolation. He became the first Tiger to win the award since Rusty Staub in 1978.

American League beat writers, broadcasters and public relations departments have been voting on the Outstanding DH Award since the position’s inception in 1973, selecting from a field that includes any player who receives at least 100 at-bats at DH in a season. Major League Baseball named the award after five-time recipient Edgar Martinez in 2004, but Ortiz — Martinez’s teammate in Boston in 2009 and 2010 — now leads all players as a seven-time winner. Tigers great Willie Horton won the award in 1975.

Of those aforementioned voters, Martinez received 75 out of 90 possible first-place votes. Ortiz finished second.

At age 35, Martinez was essentially the toughest out in the big leagues. He led the Major Leagues with a .974 OPS, and topped the American League with a .409 on-base percentage. His .335 batting average finished second only to Houston’s Jose Altuve among AL hitters. His .565 slugging percentage topped even AL home-run champion Nelson Cruz, thanks to 33 doubles along with his 32 home runs.

Martinez spent much of the year with his home-run and strikeout totals in a neck-and-neck battle. He couldn’t keep the strikeout total lower by the end, but he became the first big-league hitter since Barry Bonds in 2004 to hit 30 or more home runs with 42 or fewer strikeouts in the same season.

Add in the hit totals, and Martinez is the second player in the last quarter-century to do the aforementioned with 180 or more hits as well. Gary Sheffield was the last to do it in 1992.

Add in the walk totals, and Martinez is the first player in 60 years — and the 17th player since 1901 — with 180 or more hits, 30 or more home runs, 70 or more walks and 42 or fewer strikeouts in a season. Stan Musial was the last to do it in 1954, his fifth such season.

Martinez’s 5.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to baseball-reference, was the highest by a primary designated hitter since Ortiz in 2007. Replacing Martinez would have been impossible for the Tigers to still win a fourth consecutive AL Central title.

It was s a strong enough contract year for Martinez that the Tigers signed him to a four-year, $68 million deal to keep him around, putting him in position to spend the rest of his career in Detroit.

Winter League tidbits: Where is Edgar De La Rosa? (updated)

Back from a long holiday break and ramping up for next week’s Winter Meetings in San Diego. Easing back into the fishbowl, though, are a couple tidbits from winter ball:

1. What happened with Edgar De La Rosa?

He’s a huge presence at 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds, with an upper 90s fastball to boot, but he wasn’t highly touted on the Tigers prospect rankings until he was left off Detroit’s crowded 40-man roster a couple weeks ago, leaving him open to next week’s Rule 5 Draft. Having just turned 24 years old last month, he’s the kind of pitcher who tends to go in the Rule 5, ending up in the back of a team’s bullpen for a season while learning on the job and pitching in low-pressure situations.

If teams are going to look into drafting him, however, they’re going to have to rely on regular-season scouting from his summer in the Class A Lakeland rotation. Though De La Rosa went to winter ball to pitch for Estrellas in the Dominican League, he has pitched in only one game for them, tossing one inning with a run allowed on two hits, a walk and a strikeout Nov. 2.

De La Rosa hasn’t pitched since, at least not with the big club. He is not injured, according to Tigers officials. He just hasn’t been used with the big club, which is an Estrellas decision rather than coming from Detroit.

(Update: Another Major League talent evaluator said Thursday night that De La Rosa is no longer with Estrellas, and hasn’t been for some time. He’s healthy and throwing, just not in winter ball.)

As one Tigers person pointed out, Estrellas has a pretty good pitching staff, which has put them in a tie for the league lead. Minor leaguers such as De La Rosa usually get their work in early in the schedule before giving way to veterans and big leaguers as the holiday season rolls around.

Further to the point, the Aguilas roster here on MLB.com lists 34 pitchers.

Still, it’s an interesting wrinkle as the Rule 5 Draft approaches. Whether it kept scouts from watching him or not, it likely won’t have a major impact on whether he goes in the Rule 5. He made 26 starts at Class A Lakeland, so it’s not like nobody has seen him. And those who have say he has a good chance to get picked as bullpen arms become more important.

2. Hernan Perez injured in collision

Hernan Perez is back in his native Venezuela playing winter ball for Aguilas del Zulia, but he hasn’t played since last weekend after colliding with another player. Venezuelan journalist Wilmer Reina reported Wednesday that Perez underwent an MRI exam on his right knee, which has inflammation.

A Tigers source said they’re aware of the injury, but that they don’t believe it to be serious. The MRI is believed to be precautionary.

(Update: Reina followed up with a tweet that Perez will rehab at the Tigers’ Venezuelan academy. So while there’s definitely an injury, it doesn’t appear to be serious.)

Perez is batting .196 (9-for-46) in winter ball with no extra bases, no walks and 10 strikeouts.

Tigers sign Xavier Avery to minor-league deal

The Tigers added depth to their outfield ranks and footspeed to their camp this week by signing former Orioles and Mariners farmhand Xavier Avery to a minor-league contract.

Avery first proclaimed the news on his Twitter account Thursday.

 

Chris Cotillo of SB Nation later reported the agreement Friday. An industry source with knowledge of the deal confirmed the agreement, which includes a non-roster invite to Spring Training with the Major League club. The Tigers, who usually announce minor-league signings in batches, have not confirmed.

Avery, who will turn 25 on New Year’s Day, was a second-round pick by the Orioles in 2008, bypassing a football scholarship to the University of Georgia. He appeared in 32 games for Baltimore in 2012, batting .223 (21-for-94) with six doubles, a triple and a home run and six RBIs. He stole six bases in nine attempts.

Since then, he has spent most of his time in Triple-A, including the last season-plus at Tacoma in the Mariners system after the O’s traded him to Seattle for Mike Morse on Aug. 30, 2013. Avery batted .275 (110-for-400) at Tacoma this year with 21 homers, two triples, 10 homers, 38 RBIs and 31 stolen bases in 39 attempts.

Avery has split time between left and center field the last few years. The left-handed hitter seemingly slots into the depth role that Ezequiel Carrera tried to fill this past season. The Tigers designated Carrera for assignment Thursday after a disappointing stretch run in Detroit.

Avery could serve as insurance if Anthony Gose, acquired from Toronto last week, struggles to hit next year. The Tigers have two other potential center fielders on their 40-man roster with prospects Tyler Collins and Daniel Fields, but neither has much (or in Fields’ case, any) Major League experience.

Tigers claim Josh Zeid off waivers from Astros

The Tigers’ search for bullpen help led them to the waiver wire on the day teams have to set their 40-man rosters and protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. Detroit claimed 27-year-old right-hander Josh Zeid from the Astros, who tried to sneak him off their roster after he missed the final two months of the season for surgery on both feet.

He’s not a big-name addition by any stretch, but he’s the kind of pitcher on the rebound the Tigers have turned into bullpen depth in years past.

Zeid, acquired by Houston three years ago in the Hunter Pence trade, had a nice rookie season in 2013 before struggling through this year. Working mostly middle relief, he gave up 16 earned runs on 30 hits over 20 2/3 innings, covering 23 appearances, with seven walks and 18 strikeouts. Most of that damage came in a month-long stretch from the end of June through July, in which he gave up 10 earned runs on 14 hits — three of them home runs — over 6 2/3 innings.

Zeid went on the disabled list after that with lingering injuries that led to surgeries on both of his feet, keeping him out of the rest of the season. He’s expected to be ready for Spring Training.

When he’s healthy, he’s a power pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, slider and a splitter he developed with the help of former Tigers pitcher and ex-Astros pitching coach Doug Brocail.

The Tigers didn’t need to go far for a scouting report on Zeid. He played in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers two years ago for Team Israel, a team managed by Brad Ausmus.

With Zeid added to an already full roster, somebody had to go. That fell on outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, who went from part-time center fielder in August to late-game defensive replacement and pinch-runner by season’s end. Any question about whether he was expendable was answered when the Tigers traded for Anthony Gose, another speedy center fielder who bats left-handed but with more consistent defensive prowess.

Sources: Tigers talked catching with Astros

The Tigers picked up the club option on Alex Avila’s contract earlier this week, but they remain in the rumor mill surrounding catching. While sources confirmed a report from FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi that Detroit had talks with the Astros about their catching surplus, the sources said talks ended with the Tigers moving on.

The Astros have three catchers on their roster following the addition of former Angels catcher Hank Conger two weeks ago. The Tigers talks were believed to center around switch-hitting backup Carlos Corporan, who has pounded Tigers pitching the last two years (9-for-22, 3 HRs, 4 RBIs). Two of those home runs came off Max Scherzer in 2013. Corporan also homered off Evan Reed this past May.

Corporan, who turns 31 in January, is a .226 career hitter with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs in 199 career games. He would make sense as an offensive backup to a defensive-minded catcher, especially if the Tigers were to trade Avila and go with prospect James McCann or Bryan Holaday behind the plate. He set a career high with 48 starts for the Astros this past season, though it’s unclear whether he could fill a platoon role.

The talks supposedly took place prior to the Tigers picking up Avila’s $5.4 million option for 2015. The option pickup, however, doesn’t necessarily guarantee Avila staying put. The move only guarantees cost certainty with Avila, rather than going to arbitration, in his final season before he’s eligible for free agency.

Tigers add Nesbitt, Machado to 40-man

The Tigers filled their 40-man roster on Thursday, purchasing the contracts of relief prospect Angel Nesbitt and infielder Dixon Machado to protect them from next month’s Rule 5 Draft.

Both Nesbitt and Machado were eligible last year and slipped through. Their breakout seasons this summer made it nearly impossible to expect the same luck this time around.

In a year when several Tigers pitching prospects hit growing pains on their way up the system, Nesbitt took advantage, turning closing opportunities at Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie into a springboard into the Tigers prospect ranks. He ranking 17th on MLB.com’s end-of-season list.

Nesbitt saved 20 games between the two levels, but the raw numbers were more impressive: 43 hits allowed over 66 2/3 innings with 23 walks and 72 strikeouts. With a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and hits 98 mph on occasion, plus improving secondary pitches, the soon-to-be 24-year-old has a potential Major League arsenal if he can learn how to best utilize it.

Machado was on Detroit’s 40-man roster at this point last year, but was designated for assignment to open a spot for Joe Nathan. He was coming off an injury-plagued 2013 season in which he hit just .215 in 37 games at Lakeland while producing limited power. He rebounded mightily this year, producing a .779 OPS and 31 doubles between Lakeland and Erie while showing better defense.

It was the offensive outburst the Tigers had long been waiting to see from Machado, who actually hit better after his midseason promotion to the Eastern League. While Detroit has a glut of middle infield prospects, including Eugenio Suarez and Hernan Perez at the upper levels and Domingo Leyba and Javier Betancourt further down, Machado is just 22 in a system that still needs all the depth it can get, if for nothing more than potential trade pieces.

Nesbitt and Machado took the two open spots on the roster, which tightened last week after the Tigers re-signed Victor Martinez and traded for Anthony Gose. Detroit could have opened a spot by removing a player, such as outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, whose role this past season as a speedy left-handed hitting center fielder now seems redundant with Gose on board going into 2015.

Among the Tigers prospects eligible for the Rule 5 is 6-foot-8 right-hander Edgar De La Rosa, who blossomed into a power pitcher at Class A Advanced Lakeland. His 7-9 record there belied his 3.30 ERA and 116 hits allowed over 139 innings, though he suffered from 53 walks.

Endrys Briceno is the highest-ranked prospect now eligible, sitting at 18th on MLB.com’s list at season’s end, but he spent most of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The most intriguing Rule 5 eligible Tiger, however, might be a Major League veteran. The Tigers signed Joel Hanrahan to a minor-league contract last week, but doing so technically left him exposed to the draft. The former Pirates and Red Sox closer hasn’t pitched since 2013 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but is expected to be healthy and ready for Spring Training.

Hanrahan reportedly turned down at least one Major League contract offer to sign with the Tigers, so the interest is there. However, any team that drafts him would also take on the roster bonuses in his contract, starting with the $1 million bonus he gets for making the active roster. He can make another $2.5 million in bonuses down the line.

For that reason and others, De La Rosa is more likely to get drafted than Hanrahan, according to two Major League talent evaluators.

Would Tigers trade David Price?

Thursday will mark the one-year anniversary of the Prince Fielder trade. But we don’t need to wait that long for the annual reminder of Dave Dombrowski’s oft-used offseason phrase: There is no such thing as an untradeable player.

“I don’t think you go in and say someone’s untouchable,” Dombrowski said a few offseasons ago. “When you start doing that, you end up not making many trades. … They always used to say, if Barry Bonds is the best player in baseball at that time, and somebody offered you two Barry Bondses, you’d make the trade. And that’s just way it is. So I think you keep an open mind. Those things don’t happen very often, but I think we keep open minds to just about anything.”

The Tigers aren’t going to trade one David Price for two David Prices. That deal isn’t out there. But if the Tigers could trade one David Price for some help at other spots, and in the process gain payroll room to re-sign Max Scherzer, would they do it? Would they have to do it?

Expect no firm answers until Scherzer (or Price) signs a long-term contract somewhere.

“You know it’s coming,” an American League talent evaluator said before last week’s MLB General Manager Meetings, “the interest [from teams] at least.”

Sure enough, there’s interest out there if the Tigers eventually decide to go ahead with a deal. The Tigers, as is Dombrowski’s nature, are in a position to listen to inquiries, according to an industry source. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince writes along the same lines.

“I wouldn’t get into any individual discussions,” Dombrowski said Friday about trade talks in general at last week’s GM meetings. “I would say that when you’re at the General Managers meetings, I was probably asked about every player just about that we have, at one time or another.”

Dombrowski reminded reporters of the tie-in with Price last Friday when asked about the Tigers’ chances of re-signing Scherzer.

“We’ll just wait and see how that happens,” Dombrowski said Friday. “But I will say we’re comfortable with the four starters that we have, and we’re also comfortable going with a fifth guy that’s a young guy, if we get into that situation. We did acquire David Price, as we said at the time, to help us in this type of situation.”

While there’s no shortage of starting talent on the free-agent market, both this offseason and next, that’s not necessarily appealing for teams seeking a short-term rotation fit. Price is eligible for free agency after next season, and if he hits the open market, he’ll be easily the best of the bunch. Really, he’d be the best starting pitcher to hit the market since maybe Cliff Lee after the 2010 season.

For a team that could use a youth infusion and more of a balance of talent, Price would be an enticing piece to offer up. For a team that’s still trying to win now, however, Price is a tremendous pitcher, the ace of a rotation for a team whose rotation is its strength.

Price and Porcello are projected to make $31.1 million combined next season under MLBTradeRumors’ arbitration forecast. Add that to the salaries due to Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez under their long-term contracts, and Detroit is due to pay more than $75 million for their top four starters. To add Scherzer without an accompanying move, even under the reported $24 million annual salary of the offer Scherzer didn’t take in Spring Training, and the five-man rotation would approach or surpass the $100 million mark.

Again, trading Price only would make sense if the Tigers could re-sign Scherzer as a result. While the Tigers figure they can fill one rotation void internally with Robbie Ray or one of the many other rookie starters they used in spots last year, it’s another thing entirely to believe they can do that with two spots.

To trade away Price and then sign another free-agent starter besides Scherzer would defeat a purpose. Trading Price would forfeit the compensation pick they’d receive in 2016 if Price signs elsewhere next winter. Re-signing another free agent who turned down a qualifying offer (James Shields, Francisco Liriano, Ervin Santana) would cost the Tigers their upcoming first-round pick, currently 24th overall.

Re-signing Scherzer would obviously mean they wouldn’t recoup the compensation pick they’d pick up if he signed elsewhere. But giving up a comp pick and giving up a traditional pick are two different things.

Ultimately, the wrench in such a plan could come down to timing. Reunion or no, agent Scott Boras has a history of having top free agents linger on the market past the Winter Meetings, sometimes past the holidays, in order to give the market time to build. While there might be more buzz about Jon Lester and James Shields right now than Scherzer, some teams are going to lose out on Lester and Shields, and that could lead some to Scherzer and give Boras enough teams to build a market.

More commonly, big trades happen around the Winter Meetings. Justin Upton went from Arizona to Atlanta in late January 2013, and the Mariners traded Michael Pineda to New York in January 2012, and Matt Garza went from the Rays to the Cubs in January 2011. In 2009, 2010 and 2014, however, there were no big deals. And other than Upton, no player trade had as big of a financial footprint as Price.

To hold onto both would pretty much ensure the Tigers entering luxury tax territory ($189 million) for a year. It’s not a foreign scenario for the Tigers, who paid luxury tax in 2008 after trading for Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Edgar Renteria the previous offseason. But that was under MLB’s previous system. The first-year tax rate is reportedly 12.5%, and goes up quickly from there for repeat offenders.

Tigers pick up Avila’s option

The countdown towards the Tigers’ deadline on Alex Avila’s $5.4 million club option ended a few days early. The team announced Monday that it has picked up the option ahead of Thursday’s deadline.

The club option was part of the contract that the team and Avila’s agent, Jim Murray, negotiated last winter to avoid arbitration. Avila made $4.15 million this year until that deal. Given the traditional salary increases from second- to third-year arbitration eligibles, the improvement in his defensive numbers, and the uptick in his metrics (Avila’s WAR rose from 0.6 last year to 2.1 this year, according to fangraphs.com), Avila was likely to get at least that much in arbitration.

Essentially, the Tigers had four options with Avila. If they didn’t pick up the option, they could’ve faced another potential decision next month on whether to tender Avila a contract or drop him from their roster, either to try to negotiate a new deal or simply let him go. There’s also the trade option, which began circulating the lobby at last week’s MLB General Managers Meetings. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that the Tigers were listening on trade interest on Avila, and that the Red Sox, Braves and Cardinals could be interested. Detroit has also been linked in rumors to complementary type catchers, such as switch-hitting Astros backup Carlos Corporan.

Notably, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski did not mention Avila by name on Friday when running down the list of hitters in Detroit’s expected lineup for next year, using the term “two catchers” instead.

“I wouldn’t get into any individual discussions,” Dombrowski said Friday. “I would say that at the General Managers meetings, I was probably asked about every player just about that we have, at one time or another.”

Monday’s move doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility. If teams were interested in trading for Avila before this, the fact that his salary is now set doesn’t hurt. If any team was waiting to see if Avila might hit the open market as a nontender move, however, that possibility is over.

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