Tigers, V-Mart agree to terms on 4-year deal

The Tigers made it clear from season’s end that their priority was to re-sign Victor Martinez. It didn’t take them long to take care of it, though it took a longer-term deal to get it done.

And with an agreement in terms on a four-year contract, Martinez is likely to finish his career in a Tigers uniform. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported the deal to be worth $68 million. The deal is pending a physical, MLB.com has learned.

Martinez ranked among the top hitters on the free-agent market, but he made little secret at season’s end that his preference was to stay in Detroit, where he has spent the past four years. Likewise, the Tigers wanted to keep Martinez after his MVP-caliber season bolstered a lineup on the heels of Prince Fielder’s trade to Texas.

The one major sticking point from the outset, according to sources, was Martinez’s insistence on a four-year deal. The Tigers were believed to prefer three years, potentially with a vesting option for a fourth. A few days of face-to-face talks at the GM Meetings apparently bridged the gap. While Martinez’s agents at Octagon talked with other teams within the confines of the Arizona Biltmore hotel, they also talked with Dombrowski, who confirmed the talks Tuesday.

A four-year worth $17 million per year would make Martinez the highest-paid full-time designated hitter in baseball history, surpassing Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. Alex Rodriguez, of course, would obliterate that standard if he were to become the Yankees’ full-time DH.

For the Tigers, meanwhile, Martinez joins Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler and Anibal Sanchez with guaranteed contracts through at least 2017. The quintet would make $103.8 million combined in 2016, and $100.8 million the following season. For the Tigers, however, the short-term risk of losing Martinez was greater.

Martinez had no shortage of leverage coming off the best season of his career. Not only did Martinez post career-best numbers at age 35, he put up the kind of numbers few 35-year-olds have. His .335 average fell just short of what would have been his first batting title, but his .974 OPS led the Majors, while his .409 on-base percentage led the AL.

With 33 doubles, 32 home runs, 103 RBIs and a 70-to-42 walk-to-strikeout ratio, Martinez made a strong case as the toughest hitter in the game this season.

Martinez became the first Major Leaguer since Albert Pujols in 2006 to hit 30 or more home runs in a season while striking out 50 times or less. At age 35, he became the oldest hitter to post his first 30-homer season since Edgar Martinez did it at age 37 in 2000.

That production was vital for the Tigers, who traded Fielder last fall yet maintained their offensive production. Martinez moved up to the cleanup spot behind Miguel Cabrera and gave Detroit the run producer it desperately needed behind their two-time MVP.

To expect four more years of those numbers isn’t realistic, especially on a deal that would carry Martinez through his age-39 season. Even without a repeat of that power, however, Martinez’s approach at the plate is expected to keep him productive.

With Martinez as their designated hitter for four more years, the Tigers are now committed to Cabrera as their first baseman for at least that long. Cabrera is currently recuperating from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur in his ankle and repair a stress fracture in his foot, his second consecutive offseason surgery.
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Fellow free agent Torii Hunter, however, could well now be headed elsewhere. The Tigers have had limited contact with Hunter’s representatives, preferring to wait on Martinez’s situation. With Martinez in the fold and the DH spot filled, however, the Tigers appear ready to move on. Detroit’s focus will now turn to center field, where they’re expected to try to trade for a young, long-term solution rather than tap a thin free-agent market.

Devon Travis tops Baseball America’s Tigers prospect rankings

Devon Travis had an injury-shortened 2014 season, starting with an oblique strain and ending with core muscle surgery. In between, however, he did what he has always done in the Tigers system, hitting and hustling. He now has a case as the Tigers top prospect.

The end-of-season rankings from Baseball America came out Wednesday, with Travis topping a list that shifted a lot with this past summer’s trades. As Ben Badler writes:

Few prospects in the organization have star potential. The pitchers are a mix of possible back-end starters and relievers. The position players are more steady than special, with Devon Travis blocked at second base by Kinsler.

Travis is currently recovering from surgery, but is expected to transition to center field for next season, either back at Erie or at Triple-A Toledo. With Kinsler under contract for the next three seasons, it’s his best chance to crack the big leagues, and the best chance for the Tigers to address a position that has no natural answer in the short or long term otherwise. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Badler compares Travis’ profile to that of Pirates All-Star Josh Harrison, who hit all the way up the Buccos farm system until Pittsburgh had to give him a chance, first as a utility player and then as pretty much an everyday guy who could move around positions. They also have similar body frames.

Travis ranked fourth on MLB.com’s end-of-season Tigers prospect rankings, one of several differences. While Derek Hill tops MLB.com’s list, he’s fourth on Baseball America’s. Steven Moya ranks second on Baseball America’s list, but he’s seventh on the MLB.com list.

Here are the two lists:

  1. Devon Travis, 2B, Erie (BA) / Derek Hill, CF, Connecticut (MLB.com)
  2. Steven Moya, RF / Robbie Ray, LHP
  3. Buck Farmer, RHP / Jonathon Crawford, RHP, West Michigan
  4. Derek Hill, CF / Devon Travis, 2B
  5. Domingo Leyba, 2B, West Michigan / Kevin Ziomek, LHP, West Michigan
  6. Kevin Ziomek, LHP / Austin Kubitza, RHP, West Michigan
  7. Robbie Ray, LHP / Steven Moya, RF
  8. Hernan Perez, IF / Buck Farmer, RHP
  9. James McCann, C / Domingo Leyba, 2B
  10. Tyler Collins, OF / Hernan Perez, IF

Pro scouting director Scott Bream remains with Tigers

Just when it looked like the Tigers were going to have a rare front-office defection, Scott Bream is staying with the Tigers. A Tigers source confirmed that Bream remains the director of pro scouting, confirming a tweet from Scott Miller earlier Wednesday morning:

As noted in the previous post, the Dodgers had been targeting Bream to oversee their pro scouting department, though probably for a promotion beyond that. This seems to fall into the “nothing finalized” portion. The two sides were supposedly close, according to an industry source, but did not reach an agreement.

This would not be the first time Dave Dombrowski has kept his front office intact after interest from other clubs. Al Avila has interviewed for GM jobs over the years but stayed put. In other cases, the Tigers received requests from other club to interview him but he never did, either because they weren’t granted or he wasn’t interested.

Bream has been the Tigers’ pro scouting director since returning to Detroit from the Padres in the fall of 2012. His time with the Tigers, however, goes back to the late 90s, when he went from a 27-year-old Double-A infielder to an advance scout under then-GM Randy Smith. He remained with the team under Dombrowski as a Major League scout until he went to San Diego as a special assistant in 2010.

Tigers could soon lose pro scouting director

A few weeks after the Tigers lost their top veteran scout for a special assistant position in Arizona, Detroit’s scouting director could be headed for the West Coast. A tweet from Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles suggests Scott Bream could be the next to join the all-star front-office cast the Dodgers are assembling under new team president Andrew Friedman.

Bream is currently the Tigers’ director of pro scouting, so it’s likely any move would come with a promotion in title as well as pay. The Dodgers haven’t made an announcement, and the Tigers had no comment on Bream’s situation. An industry source confirmed the link but said nothing has been finalized yet.

The Tigers made a big move two years ago to bring back Bream from the Padres to run the day-to-day operations of their pro scouting department, including their four Major League scouts. Bream was a Randy Smith hire in 1999 straight out of his playing career (he was an infielder at Double-A Jacksonville the previous year) and climbed the organizational ladder to assistant general manager in 2002. When Dombrowski fired Smith that April, he kept on Bream as a Major League scout, a post Bream filled until he left to take on a special assistant role in San Diego for 2010.

Bream’s return to Detroit had him working alongside Tigers vice president of player personnel Scott Reid, whose duties included the Major League scouting department. The Tigers have had a remarkable record of front-office stability under Dombrowski, who has kept his circle of assistants and advisors intact before trusted scout Mike Russell left for the special assistant role under good friend De Jon Watson in Arizona.

Bream’s return to California would reunite him with Josh Byrnes, who was the Padres general manager when Bream went to San Diego. Byrnes just joined the Dodgers as senior vice president of baseball operations, one of many big-name hires Friedman has made since coming over from Tampa Bay, including highly-regarded A’s assistant Farhan Zaidi to be the GM.

Scherzer, Martinez decline qualifying offers

The Tigers made qualifying offers to Victor Martinez and Max Scherzer last week not expecting that either would accept them, but to make sure it would get a draft pick as compensation if either player signs elsewhere. Likewise, Monday’s news that Martinez and Scherzer rejected their qualifying offers doesn’t close the door on either one returning to the Tigers. It just means they’re not coming back for the one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer.

Given the expected market for both — and the market already emerging for Martinez — it would have been a shock if either one had accepted the offer. Both are in line for multi-year deals that will likely eclipse the annual value of the qualifying offer. Much of the process was a formality. What follows is anything but formal.

Though the free-agent market includes a handful of designated hitter options, the Tigers’ priority is to try to re-sign Martinez, whose MVP-caliber performance solidified Detroit’s lineup after Prince Fielder’s trade to Texas. Martinez’s .974 OPS led the Majors, while his .409 on-base percentage led the league, the latter helped in part by a league-high 28 intentional walks. His .335 batting average trailed only Houston’s Jose Altuve among AL hitters, and his career-high 32 home runs placed him eighth.

It was a rare career season for a player at age 35. While the Tigers don’t necessarily expect another season like that, notably from the power standpoint, his body of work over three seasons in Detroit — a .321 average, .868 OPS, as well as a .327 average with runners in scoring position — make him their preferred run producer.

The problem they face is that other teams appear to feel the same way. Reports from CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman and USA Today’s Bob Nightengale peg Martinez as a priority target for the Seattle Mariners, where former Tigers manager hitting coach Lloyd McClendon is the manager and the front office is looking to boost the lineup around Robinson Cano. Heyman also reports interest from the Blue Jays, whose trade of Adam Lind opened a spot in the lineup to fit.

The future is clearer regarding Scherzer, arguably the top free agent on the market with a long-term deal in his future. Dombrowski downplayed the Tigers’ chances of re-signing Scherzer, who declined a six-year offer worth a reported $144 million from Detroit in Spring Training.

Though it’s difficult to rule out any deal with owner Mike Ilitch, who has built a history of paying big to add players and keep players who win for him, the Tigers are already expected to commit upwards of $75 million for the top four starters in their rotation. That said, the Tigers also have a history of making deals with free agents who linger on the market past the holidays.

Any compensation pick the Tigers receive would be tacked on at the end of the first round. Detroit currently holds the 25th overall pick in next June’s draft after the Mets gave up their pick to sign Michael Cuddyer on Monday.

Tigers hire Newhan as assistant hitting coach

The Tigers have a new assistant hitting coach. They filled the void left by Darnell Coles’ departure by hiring former Major League utilityman David Newhan, who was most recently managing at Class A Vermont in the A’s system but spent three years before that as a hitting coach in the Padres organization, where manager Brad Ausmus was a special assistant at the time.

Ausmus saw a lot of the same qualities in David Newhan that he saw in Coles, who left last month to become the main hitting coach in Milwaukee.

“We were together with Padres and actually played together a year in Houston,” Ausmus said Monday. “He’s very positive, which is extremely important, and he will work tirelessly at a job that is very demanding.”

Newhan, the son of legendary baseball columnist and Spink Award winner Ross Newhan, was a 17th-round draft pick of the A’s in 1995 who made it to the big leagues in San Diego in 1999. After brief big-league stints from 1999 through 2001, a 2002 season lost to injury and a 2003 season stuck in the minors, he finally found a Major League role in Baltimore in 2004.

Newhan batted .311 with eight home runs, 54 RBIs and an .814 OPS in 95 games that year in Baltimore, where he stayed through 2006. After bouncing between the Mets and Triple-A in 2007, he finished out his Major League career in 2008 with the Astros, where Ausmus was the catcher.

After surviving a life-threatening surfing accident in 2009, Newhan got into coaching as a hitting coach in the Padres system, where Ausmus was working as a special assistant. Newhan jumped to the A’s to manage their Class A affiliate in Vermont this past season.

He’ll now get his return to the big leagues, this time in an instructional capacity, to work with a group of hitters that range from three-time batting champion and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and All-Star Ian Kinsler to youngsters Nick Castellanos, Jose Iglesias and Tyler Collins, among others.

At least 7 teams reportedly interested in Hunter

It’s looking less and less likely the Tigers are going to have a return engagement with Torii Hunter as an option for their outfield. While the Tigers and Hunter remain in a holding pattern while Detroit tries to address fellow free agent Victor Martinez’s situation, at least seven teams have expressed interest in Hunter, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman.

Those seven reportedly include the Twins and Royals. The Twins expressed interest in the initial days after the World Series, according to ESPN 1500′s Darren Wolfson. The Royals were rumored to have interest in Hunter last month.

The Tigers aren’t likely to turn their attention to Hunter until they know their fate with Martinez. If they re-sign Martinez, it could take them out of the market for Hunter, for reasons both payroll and positional. If the Tigers can’t re-sign Martinez, they could turn to Hunter to fill some at-bats at DH as well as right field, though there are a few other DH options on the market as well.

V-Mart wins Silver Slugger at DH

For the first time since 2011, Miguel Cabrera did not win a Silver Slugger Award. For the first time since 2004, Victor Martinez did.

On a night when baseball’s awards season shifted from defensive honors to the game’s best hitters at each position, Martinez beat out a formidable group of designated hitters to win his second career Silver Slugger.

The Silver Slugger awards are voted on by Major League managers and coaches who decide on the best offensive producers at each position. According to Louisville Slugger, the bat manufacturer that sponsors the honor, the selections are based on a combination of statistics — batting average, on-base and slugging percentages — as well as managers’ and coaches’ impressions of a player’s offensive value.

Among a group that included AL home-run king Nelson Cruz and perennial candidate David Ortiz, Martinez not only posted the all-around numbers to outshine them all, he earned his reputation among many managers and coaches as the American League’s toughest out this year. His .335 batting average finished second only to Houston’s Jose Altuve among AL hitters. His .974 OPS led baseball, while his .409 on-base percentage led the AL.

His .565 slugging percentage topped even Cruz, thanks to 33 doubles along with his 32 home runs. What impressed many, however, was his 70-to-42 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He entered the summer with more home runs than strikeouts, and hit four home runs on 0-2 pitches. He had 17 hits on full counts, compared to just four strikeouts.

“Victor can hit good pitching,” Indians manager Terry Francona, who managed Martinez in Boston in 2010, said in May. “Some guys, you make a mistake, they hit it and you still put up a lot of numbers. There’s a lot of good hitters that do that. When Victor is going good, he can hit one from his shoetops to his ears. It makes you nervous.”

Martinez’s only other Silver Slugger came 10 years ago in his first full Major League season, at catcher. Then a Cleveland Indian, he shared the award with then-Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

Cabrera was trying to carry his silver success over from third base, where he had won the past two Silver Slugger awards, over to first. Though he overcame a slow start and a severely hampered ankle at the finish to bat .313 with 25 home runs and 109 RBIs, he couldn’t top the monster rookie season of White Sox slugger Jose Abreu.

Tigers release 2015 Spring Training schedule

The Tigers’ 2014 season ended all too quickly in three games against the Orioles. Their preparation for the 2015 season will look awfully familiar, even if both teams look a little different than they did in October.

The Tigers released their 2015 Spring Training schedule on Thursday, looking ahead to their 50th consecutive year of preseason play at Joker Marchant Stadium and their 79th year in Lakeland, Fla. It’ll begin with an early measure against the team that ended the Tigers’ title hopes a month ago.

The spring slate begins with the Tigers’ traditional exhibition opener at home against Florida Southern College on Monday, March 2 at 1:05 p.m. A day later, Detroit welcomes Baltimore to Joker Marchant Stadium to start a home-and-home set of 1:05 p.m. matchups — March 3 in Lakeland, then March 4 at Sarasota.

Add in a March 26 return trip for the Orioles to Lakeland, and the two teams will see each other more often this coming Spring Training than they did over the past three springs combined. The Tigers and O’s haven’t met in Spring Training since 2012, an odd twist for two teams within a short drive amidst Grapefruit League slates that frequently sent the Tigers to Florida’s East Coast instead.

Another AL East foe, the Yankees, will become a familiar sight in the closing weeks of camp. Detroit and New York will face each other four times, including March 20 and April 2 in Lakeland. The Tigers will visit Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for a split-squad day game on March 14 and a 7:05 p.m. full-squad meeting on March 24.

Other notable matchups include two games against the NL Central champion Cardinals. Their March 16 matchup at Roger Dean Stadium marks the back half of the Tigers’ two-day trip to Jupiter, which begins March 15 against the Marlins. The Tigers and Braves, meanwhile, meet five games — March 7 and 30 in Lakeland, and March 7, 13 and 22 at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex.

The NL East champion Nationals will face the Tigers four times in a 12-day stretch, trekking across the state to Lakeland on March 17 and 22. The Tigers head to Viera’s Space Coast Stadium March 11 and 19.

Detroit bids farewell to Florida for the spring with back-to-back games against the new-look Rays, closing Marchant Stadium on April 3 before heading to Tropicana Field the next day. The Tigers open the regular season at home against the Twins two days later.

All games at Joker Marchant Stadium are slated as 1:05 p.m. starts. The only night games on the schedule are a 6:05 game against the Pirates March 18 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, and the aforementioned 7:05 game against the Yankees March 24 in Tampa.

Tickets for Tigers home games will be priced at three different levels. Individual game tickets go on sale Saturday, Jan. 10, online at tigers.com, by phone at 866-66-TIGER, or in person at the Joker Marchant Stadium box office. Full-season Spring Training ticket packages go on sale Nov. 17 at tigers.com, the stadium box office and by phone at 863-686-8075.

Here’s the full schedule (all home games in bold and at 1:05):

  • MONDAY, MARCH 2 — FLORIDA SOUTHERN COLLEGE (exhibition)
  • TUESDAY, MARCH 3 — ORIOLES
  • Wednesday, March 4 — at Orioles (Sarasota), 1:05
  • THURSDAY, MARCH 5 — BRAVES
  • Friday, March 6 — at Mets (Port St. Lucie), 1:10
  • Saturday, March 7 — at Braves (Disney), 1:05
  • SUNDAY, MARCH 8 — ASTROS
  • MONDAY, MARCH 9 — BLUE JAYS
  • Tuesday, March 10 — at Phillies (Clearwater), 1:05
  • Wednesday, March 11 — at Nationals (Viera), 1:05
  • THURSDAY, MARCH 12 — SPLIT-SQUAD VS. PHILLIES, at Astros (Kissimmee), 1:05
  • Friday, March 13 — at Braves (Disney), 1:05
  • SATURDAY, MARCH 14 — SPLIT-SQUAD VS. PHILLIES, at Yankees (Tampa), 1:05
  • Sunday, March 15 — at Marlins (Jupiter), 1:05
  • Monday, March 16 — at Cardinals (Jupiter), 1:05
  • TUESDAY, MARCH 17 — NATIONALS
  • Wednesday, March 18 — at Pirates (Bradenton), 6:05
  • Thursday, March 19 — at Nationals (Viera), 1:05
  • FRIDAY MARCH 20 — YANKEES
  • SATURDAY, MARCH 21 — METS
  • SUNDAY, MARCH 22 — SPLIT-SQUAD VS. NATIONALS, at Braves (Disney), 1:05
  • Monday, March 23 — Off
  • Tuesday, March 24 — at Yankees (Tampa), 7:05
  • WEDNESDAY, MARCH 25 — MARLINS
  • THURSDAY, MARCH 26 — ORIOLES
  • Friday, March 27 — at Blue Jays (Dunedin), 1:05
  • SATURDAY, MARCH 28 — CARDINALS
  • Sunday, March 29 — at Phillies (Clearwater), 1:05
  • MONDAY, MARCH 30 — BRAVES
  • TUESDAY, MARCH 31 — PIRATES
  • Wednesday, April 1 — at Astros (Kissimmee), 1:05
  • THURSDAY, APRIL 2 — YANKEES
  • FRIDAY, APRIL 3 — RAYS
  • Saturday, April 4 — at Rays (Tropicana Field), 12:35

Kinsler named Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at 2B

Ian Kinsler finally was rewarded for the season he had at second base. It took a defensive awards system based on statistics to earn him the recognition, honored by Wilson with its Defensive Player of the Year award for the best second baseman in the Major Leagues.

It’s the first major defensive award for Kinsler, who finished behind Boston’s Dustin Pedroia for both the American League Gold Glove and Fielding Bible awards at second. Both of those are based in part on voting. The Wilson awards are entirely statistics-based, using a formula that blends advanced metrics with traditional stats.

On the metrics, Kinsler didn’t have to back down to anyone in either league. Under Defensive Runs Saved, a statistic created by The Fielding Bible to measure plays a defender makes compared to those made by his peers, Kinsler’s plus-20 rating this year not only topped all Major League second baseman, but all AL infielders. His 2.91 Defensive Wins Above Replacement ranked third in the Majors and easily led his position.

Under the more common metric of Ultimate Zone Rating, an effort to measure the number of plays a defender makes within his defensive zone, Kinsler’s 13 UZR ranked second at his spot behind Pedroia.

Under more specialized ratings created by Inside Edge for advanced scouting purposes, Kinsler shined by making higher percentage plays. He converted 99 percent of the highest percentage plays, those regarded as 90 percent likely or better. Among plays with a usual 60-90 percent success rate for Major League second baseman, Kinsler converted 90 percent, which separated him from Pedroia, D.J. LeMahieu and others.

Kinsler becomes the first Tigers second baseman to win a defensive award since Placido Polanco won the AL Gold Glove in 2009. Polanco remains the Tigers’ last Gold Glove winner.

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