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If Tigers want Torii, Hunter wants to play

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.

Qualifying offers will be worth $15.3 million

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.

Three hits for Moya in Arizona Fall League debut

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.

Sliding doors, closing windows

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.

ALDS Game 3 lineups: Tigers vs. Orioles

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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.

Young’s most famous moment in left field happened at AT&T Park, not Comerica Park, in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series.

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TIGERS (career numbers against Norris)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-8, HR, 2 walks)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-12, 2 doubles, HR, 3 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (3-for-12, 2 doubles, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-12, double, HR)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF
  6. Alex Avila, C (0-for-10, walk, 5 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-3, 2 K’s)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-3, K)
  9. Don Kelly, CF (2-for-7, K)

P: David Price

ORIOLES (career numbers off Price)

  1. Nick Markakis, RF (12-for-47, double, triple, 3 walks, 9 K’s)
  2. Steve Pearce, 1B (4-for-12, HR, 3 K’s)
  3. Adam Jones, 1B (11-for-44, 3 doubles, walk, 11 K’s)
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH (10-for-28, double, 3 HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  5. Delmon Young, LF (5-for-16, double, HR, 6 K’s)
  6. J.J. Hardy, SS (12-for-36, 5 doubles, 3 walks, 10 K’s)
  7. Nick Hundley, C
  8. Ryan Flaherty, SS
  9. Jonathan Schoop, 2B (1-for-2)

P: Bud Norris

ALDS Game 2 lineups: Tigers at Orioles

Camden Yards 006

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)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-10, 2 doubles, walk, K)
  2. Torii Hunter, CF (1-for-4, double, 2 walks, K)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-4, 2 walks, K)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Andrew Romine, SS
  9. Rajai Davis, CF (1-for-3, K)

P: Justin Verlander

ORIOLES (career numbers vs. Verlander)

  1. Nick Markakis, RF (12-for-48, 4 doubles, triple, 5 walks, 10 K’s)
  2. Alejandro De Aza, LF (7-for-31, double, triple, 2 HR, 2 walks, 10 K’s)
  3. Adam Jones, CF (6-for-33, double, HR, walk, 9 K’s)
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH (7-for-31, double, 3 HR, walk, 9 K’s)
  5. Steve Pearce, 1B
  6. J.J. Hardy, SS (8-for-34, double, 3 HR, walk, 6 K’s)
  7. Ryan Flaherty, 3B (2-for-8, walk, K)
  8. Caleb Joseph, C
  9. Jonathan Schoop, 2B (0-for-6, K)

P: Wei-Yin Chen

ALDS Game 1 lineups: Tigers at O’s

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)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (4-for-16, double, HR, walk, K)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-4, HR, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-13, double, HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-10, double, K)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (0-for-3)
  6. Alex Avila, C (1-for-6, HR, 2 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-3)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-3, K)
  9. Rajai Davis, CF (0-for-3, 2 K’s)

P: Max Scherzer

ORIOLES (career numbers vs. Scherzer)

  1. Nick Markakis, RF (5-for-16, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
  2. Alejandro De Aza, LF (11-for-43, double, HR, 5 walks, 13 K’s)
  3. Adam Jones, CF (9-for-18, 2 doubles, HR, 5 K’s)
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH (11-for-25, 3 doubles, 2 HR, walk, 6 K’s)
  5. Steve Pearce, 1B (1-for-3, K)
  6. J.J. Hardy, SS (4-for-23, double, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  7. Ryan Flaherty, 3B (0-for-5, walk, 3 K’s)
  8. Nick Hundley, C (1-for-5, double, 3 K’s)
  9. Jonathan Schoop, 2B

P: Chris Tillman

Tigers release ALDS roster, including Rajai Davis

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:

PITCHERS (11)
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

CATCHERS (2)
13 Alex Avila
50 Bryan Holaday

INFIELDERS (6)
24 1B Miguel Cabrera
9 3B  Nick Castellanos
3 2B Ian Kinsler
26 INF Hernan Perez
27 INF Andrew Romine
30 INF Eugenio Suarez

OUTFIELDERS (5)
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

Rajai Davis status still unclear

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.

ALCS tickets go on sale Thursday (updated)

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.

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