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.

Kelly, Reed officially opt for free agency

As expected, Don Kelly and Evan Reed both declined their outright assignments to Triple-A Toledo and opted for free agency, according to the International League’s transactions page. Also as expected, both Kelly and Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski are leaving open the possibility of a return.

“It’s part of the business,” Kelly said earlier this week. “Door is open.”

The Tigers outrighted both of them to Triple-A Toledo last Friday, taking them off the 40-man roster. Both have enough minor-league time that they could decline the assignment and declare free agency, which is pretty much an automatic move. Both are now free to sign with any club immediately.

In Kelly’s case, he can explore his options on the market and then take another look at Detroit. If he were to re-sign, it would probably be on a minor-league deal with a non-roster invite to Spring Training, the same thing he and the Tigers did after the 2012 season. Detroit kept him on the roster after last season with a $1 million Major League contract that avoided arbitration. If Kelly were to sign a big-league deal this winter, he’d be up for arbitration again.

Also among the IL transactions, you’ll find that Jose Ortega and Justin Miller became free agents as well. Both were eligible after six minor-league seasons once they were left off the 40-man roster. Both hard-throwing right-handed relievers had a cup of coffee in Detroit before being outrighted to Toledo later in the season.

Castellanos named Tigers Rookie of the Year

The Tigers used 18 rookies this season. They had one logical choice for Tigers Rookie of the Year. On Wednesday, members of the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association selected Nick Castellanos for the honor.

After back-to-back seasons with partial-year players earning the honor — midseason trade acquisition Jose Iglesias won it last year after in-season call-up Quintin Berry had it in 2012 — Castellanos gave the Tigers their first everyday rookie for a full season since Austin Jackson took over center field in 2010. Castellanos had his expected ups and downs, both at the plate and in the field, but ended up playing a big role in Detroit’s fourth consecutive division title.

The Tigers drafted Castellanos out of high school in the first round in 2010, but struggled to find a spot for him at the big leagues until Prince Fielder’s trade to Texas last fall allowed Miguel Cabrera to move from third to first. That opened up the hot corner for Castellanos, who had moved from third to the outfield a year earlier.

Offensively, Castellanos held his own, batting .259 with 31 doubles, four triples, 11 home runs, 66 RBIs and a .700 OPS. Only White Sox slugger Jose Abreu and Reds speedster Billy Hamilton had more base hits among Major League rookies, while only Abreu drove in more runs.

Castellanos had his expected rookie struggles with strikeouts, 140 of them in 533 at-bats. With just 36 walks, he posted a .306 on-base percentage that ranked 25th-lowest among Major League hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title.

Yet when Castellanos connected, the beauty in his swing became evident. He posted a 28.5 percent line-drive rate that led all AL hitters, trailing only Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman in the Majors.

Defensively, Castellanos’ minus-30 rating on Defensive Runs Saved ranked last among all Major League position players, while his negative-18.4 Ultimate Zone Rating ranked next to last, despite a year’s worth of work with infield coach Omar Vizquel. The Tigers are looking for improvement with another offseason of training on footwork and other fundamentals.

Castellanos becomes the first third baseman to win Tigers Rookie of the Year honors since Scott Livingstone in 1992. He’ll be presented with his award before a Tigers home game next season.

V-Mart among three finalists for AL MVP

Miguel Cabrera will not have a three-peat as American League Most Valuable Player. Victor Martinez has at least an outside chance to get the Tigers their fourth consecutive MVP.

While the Tigers were shut out among the finalists for most of the major awards, they have one for the award they’ve controlled since 2011. Martinez is one of three finalists for AL MVP honors, joining back-to-back runner-up Mike Trout and Michael Brantley.

Final results of the balloting, conducted at the end of the regular season among members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, will be announced next Thursday evening on MLB Network. Trout is viewed as the favorite, based on previous results as well as the challenges faced by designated hitters in MVP balloting. Yet for a DH to crack the top three is a testament to Martinez’s season.

No player with as many starts at DH as Martinez (115) has finished among the top three since David Ortiz placed third in 2006. It’s not just a product of traditional views of the DH, but the recent value of advanced metrics that put a premium on defensive positions through Wins Above Replacement.

Indeed, Martinez wasn’t anywhere near the AL leaders in WAR, placing 18th among AL players according to Fangraphs. On pure offensive production, however, there was arguably none better.

Not only did Martinez post career-best numbers at age 35, he put up the kind of numbers few 35-year-olds have ever done. His .335 average fell just short of what would have been his first-ever batting title, but his .974 OPS led the Majors, while his .409 on-base percentage led the American League.

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 Prince Fielder last fall yet maintained their offensive production. Martinez moved up to the cleanup spot behind Cabrera and gave Detroit the run producer it desperately needed behind their two-time MVP.

Martinez won Tiger of the Year honors earlier Tuesday, the first player other than Cabrera or Justin Verlander to win it since 2007.

On arbitration projections and the Tigers rotation

One of the new traditions of the early offseason is the MLBTradeRumors list of projected arbitration figures, the end result of a process that has become more detailed over the years. It’s not always spot-on (it can’t be, really, when so many players and teams settle and avoid a hearing), but it’s usually a good estimate, and it definitely gives an idea of what to expect come arbitration time in January. It’s also helpful for payroll projection projections.

In the case of the Tigers rotation, the projections show a starting staff that’s about to get a major raise. This winter’s projections, released Tuesday, predict David Price to make $18.9 million next year (up from $14 million this past season) and Rick Porcello to make $12.2 mil (he made $8.5 mil this year).

That’s a $31.1 million combined bump salary. Add to that the contractual raises in the long-term deals for Justin Verlander (whose salary goes from $20 million this year to $28 million next) and Anibal Sanchez (from $15.8 million this year to $16.8 million in 2015), and the top four starters in the Tigers rotation would make a combined $75.9 million under the projections for Price and Porcello. The Cubs, Astros and Marlins all had lower team payrolls when the 2014 season began.

With that, you get an idea why the Tigers’ payroll is becoming a major issue, and why it would be very difficult to hold team payroll steady around $163 million next year, no matter what the Tigers do this offseason (even if they traded Price heading into his contract year).

The rest of the projections put J.D. Martinez in line to make $2.9 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility, and Al Alburquerque at $1.7 million in his second year (he made $838,000 this year). No projection was made for Alex Avila, who has a $5.4 million club option next year.

Hunter, Tigers in waiting game as rumors begin

The Tigers and Torii Hunter are in a waiting game right now while Detroit tries to work out the pressing issues elsewhere on its roster. There could soon be a limit to how long Hunter waits, though.

Though Tuesday marked the first day that teams could negotiate with other clubs’ free agents, nothing prevented clubs from expressing interest before that as long as no contract terms were discussed. With that in mind, Darren Wolfson of ESPN 1500 in Minneapolis tweeted Tuesday that the Twins have already expressed interest in Hunter, their former superstar outfielder who came up through Minnesota’s system and served as the heart and soul of the team during its run of American League Central titles in the early and mid-2000s.

The Twins are a ways off from the World Series contender that Hunter is seeking as he tries to round out his career with a Fall Classic berth, let alone a title. Still, Hunter’s Twins roots and the pending wave of young talent make this a potential fit. Hunter is a fan of Paul Molitor, having raved earlier this year about Molitor’s knowledge of the game and ability to observe trends on the field. Molitor worked with Hunter in Minnesota more than a decade ago.

Last month, the Royals were speculated with potential interest in Hunter to fill their right-field void now that Nori Aoki is a free agent.

The Tigers are interested in keeping fellow free agent Victor Martinez. What happens with him could have an impact on Hunter, who has manned right field for two seasons but is also approaching his 40th birthday next summer.

Hunter, in turn, has let it be known he’s interested in staying with the Tigers. But he also has been known to move quickly as a free agent, identifying his target early and signing there. He joined the Tigers about two weeks into the offseason two years ago, and signed with the Angels on Thanksgiving the first time he was a free agent.

Depending on how long the Tigers’ dealings linger, Hunter could be in a position where he has to choose between waiting on their uncertainty and taking an opportunity somewhere else. That makes the chances of his potential return far less clear than they were a couple weeks ago.

Trammell rejoins Tigers as special assistant (updated)

After 20 years at shortstop and three more as manager, Alan Trammell is rejoining the Tigers for the next chapter of his baseball career. The Tigers announced Monday that they’ve hired him on as a special assistant to team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, joining Al Kaline, Willie Horton and Jim Leyland.

“This feels right,” Trammell said in a phone conversation Monday afternoon from Glendale, Ariz., where he was with Brad Ausmus watching Tigers prospects in the Arizona Fall League.

It was Ausmus, Trammell said, who called him not too long ago about coming back to the organization. Trammell was the Tigers’ hitting coach in 1999, when Ausmus was the catcher. They both live in the San Diego area, and they get together for lunch from time to time in the offseason. In fact, that’s what Trammell said he thought Ausmus was calling to set up. Instead, he was calling about a job.

It is not a ceremonial one. Trammell will be involved in all personnel meetings, according to the release. He’ll also assist on the field at the Major and minor league levels, traveling throughout the farm system for the latter. Those duties will include working with former teammate Lance Parrish, now managing at Double-A Erie, and Triple-A Toledo pitching coach Mike Maroth, whom Trammell managed a decade ago.

“I want to work,” said Trammell, who said he expects to spend most of Spring Training in camp working on the field.

It’ll be Trammell’s first work with the Tigers since he managed the team from 2003 through 2005. His first year at the helm was the infamous 119-loss season of 2003, but his next two seasons laid the foundation for the 2006 team that made it to the World Series under Leyland’s direction.

Trammell stayed in coaching, serving as Lou Piniella’s bench coach with the Cubs from 2007 to 2010 before spending the last four years as Kirk Gibson’s bench coach in Arizona. He also stayed active in Detroit, taking part in Wayne State University’s fall baseball camp each offseason to help raise money for the program.

Once the Diamondbacks changed managers and coaching staffs last month, the Tigers took the opportunity to bring the 56-year-old Trammell back into the organization.

“Tram will forever be revered as one of the greatest Tigers to ever wear the old English D,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a release, “and we view this as an opportunity to add an outstanding baseball person who offers a wealth of experience and perspective from his 20 plus seasons, all with the Tigers, and his most recent years of managing and coaching. It’s great to have him back.”

Tigers re-sign Hessman to minor-league deal

Mike Hessman will keep slugging home runs in a Mud Hens uniform in 2015. The Tigers re-signed the 36-year-old corner infielder to a minor-league contract for next season, according to Baseball America’s Matt Eddy.

Twenty-eight of those aforementioned home runs came this year in Toledo, where he returned after bouncing around the past few seasons.

Hessman also has 14 Major League homers, though he hasn’t played in the big leagues since 2010 with the Mets. He hit six home runs in the Japanese Pacific League in 2011. As if that wasn’t enough, he took his game to winter ball this offseason in Venezuela, where he’s batting .220 with one homer and four RBIs for Tigres de Aragua.

Tigers lose Dirks to waivers, make qualifying offers to Scherzer, Martinez (updated)

As expected, Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez received qualifying offers Friday. Andy Dirks, meanwhile, received a waiver claim and a change of scenery to the Blue Jays.

Those were the highlights of a flurry of Friday moves by the Tigers, who picked up the $7 million option on Joakim Soria and did a whole lot more beyond that. Essentially, they set their 40-man roster for the start of what promises to be a busy offseason.

Detroit also purchased the contract of outfielder Wynton Bernard from low Class A West Michigan and outrighted the contracts of utilityman Don Kelly and reliever Evan Reed to Triple-A Toledo. Shortstop Jose Iglesias, left right-hander Drew VerHagen and relievers Bruce Rondon and Luke Putkonen were reinstated from the 60-day disabled list.

The Tigers had until Monday to extend one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offers — the average annual value of baseball’s top 125 contracts — to free agents. Scherzer and Martinez now have until a week from Monday to decide on it, but will almost surely decline, as both are expected to garner lucrative multi-year deals on the open market.

By extending qualifying offers, the Tigers set themselves up to receive compensation picks in next summer’s First-Year Player Draft should Scherzer and Martinez sign elsewhere. Detroit has avoided qualifying offers in recent years, but with Scherzer and Martinez in line as potentially the top pitcher and hitter on the market, the offers made total sense.

Dirks was in a different situation, eligible for arbitration this winter after what amounted to a lost season to injuries. The 28-year-old outfielder, a part of Detroit’s outfield from 2011 to 2013, underwent back surgery in March, then suffered a a series of setbacks — including a hamstring strain — that thwarted his rehab assignment in July and August.

“When will he be 100 percent? I don’t know that answer quite at this time,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said at his season-ending presser earlier this month. “We still have to make some decisions in that regard.”

That answer still wasn’t clear for them to go into a second year of arbitration with Dirks. Dombrowski had expressed the need for a left-handed-hitting outfielder in the mix, but decided Dirks wasn’t the answer.

“We had made the decision based upon his current health situation,” Dombrowski said Friday in an email, “and not being sure if we could count on him for next season.”

The Blue Jays, who have a history of offseason waiver claims under general manager Alex Anthopoulos, took the chance. With that, prospects Tyler Collins, Daniel Fields and Steven Moya stand as the only left-handed-hitting outfielders on Detroit’s 40-man roster.

Also claimed off waivers was lefty reliever Patrick McCoy, who goes to Baltimore after pitching in 14 games out of the Tigers bullpen, allowing six runs on 21 hits with 13 walks and 11 strikeouts.

Bernard earned Midwest League MVP honors at West Michigan, albeit as one of the older players in the league. The speedy outfielder batted a league-best .323 (164-for-507) for the Whitecaps with 30 doubles, six triples, six home runs, 47 RBIs and 45 stolen bases in 131 games.

Bernard would have been a minor-league free agent had he not been added to the 40-man roster. The move puts him in line to spend Spring Training with the Major League club.

Kelly and Reed are likely to decline their outright assignments and elect to become free agents, but Dombrowski said the team could still re-sign Kelly. The Tigers did that after the 2012 season and ended up re-signing Kelly to a minor-league contract two months later. They kept Kelly on their 40-man roster last offseason and avoided arbitration.

Still to be decided is a $5.4 million club option for catcher Alex Avila, who would otherwise be eligible for arbitration. Since Avila isn’t eligible for free agency, the Tigers have until Nov. 20 to pick up or decline the option.

Tigers to pick up Joakim Soria’s option

The Tigers have a lot of sorting out to do with their bullpen. The simplest part, Joakim Soria’s contract option for 2015, is now out of the way. The team has decided to pick up Soria’s $7 million option, MLB.com has learned, thus keeping Soria off the free-agent market and in its bullpen mix.

Anthony Fenech first reported the move Friday morning. The Tigers have not confirmed, but are expected to make an official announcement later Friday.

The Tigers had until shortly after the World Series to make the move, but the decision had been expected for the past couple weeks. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, while not announcing a decision earlier this month, strongly hinted at it during his end-of-season media session, saying they acquired Soria from Texas in July with next season in mind, as well as this one.

A left oblique strain in early August threw a wrench into Soria’s 2014 impact. He returned a month later, but suffered from a lack of a set role, working everywhere from seventh-inning setup to fill-in closer on days the Tigers rested Joe Nathan. Soria performed well in September, allowing a run on three hits over 6 2/3 innings, but struggled mightily in two Division Series appearances at Baltimore.

The Tigers traded two of their top prospects, right-handed starter Jake Thompson and potential future closer Corey Knebel, to acquire Soria from Texas on July 23. To decline the option would’ve meant giving up that talent for a contribution that amounted to -0.1 Wins Above Replacement this year. By contrast, Jason Frasor had a 0.2 WAR for Kansas City after joining the Royals in early July, also from Texas.

Soria is expected to serve as Detroit’s eighth-inning setup man next season, a role Joba Chamberlain handled for most of this past season. Chamberlain is a free agent. Bruce Rondon, who was supposed to handle setup work last year, is expected to be ready for Spring Training after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April, but the hard-throwing 23-year-old has just 30 appearances in his Major League career.

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