For the first time since 2010, the American League Most Valuable Player is not a Detroit Tiger. Victor Martinez came about as close as any designated hitter ever has.
While Mike Trout finally beat out a Detroiter for MVP honors, winning the vote unanimously, Martinez finished as the runner-up. He received 16 of the 30 second-place votes, twice as many as third-place finisher Michael Brantley of the Indians.
It’s the best MVP finish by a designated hitter since David Ortiz finished runner-up to Alex Rodriguez in 2005. In that case, Ortiz received 11 first-place votes in a close race.
This year, there was little question about Trout’s status as the favorite. The question was how well Martinez would finish, and whether the DH status would sink him. For the most part it did not.
Those who didn’t vote Martinez second still generally kept him high on their ballot. Four third-place votes went to him, as did three votes each for fourth and fifth place. Two voters placed him sixth on their ballot, as did one for seventh.
One voter, David Coleman of the Fort Bend (Texas) Herald, left Martinez completely off the ballot, not that it made any difference in the outcome.
Two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera lost his crown, but still finished ninth an injury-hampered season. He received one second-place vote.
Martinez doesn’t have to worry about his perceived value too much. He’ll soon be able to officially celebrate a four-year, $68 million contract that will keep him in a Tigers uniform through age 39.
Hours after the Tigers took care of Victor Martinez, they made another move to address their center-field void. They also made Devon Travis’ reign as the Tigers top prospect an extremely short one.
Detroit’s trade of Travis to Toronto for Gose was their second move Wednesday at a GM Meetings that traditionally serves more as a springboard for moves to happen in the ensuing weeks.
“Anthony is a true center fielder than can provide us with above average defense in center field with a good arm,” Tigers president/general manager David Dombrowski said in a release. “He possesses above average speed and can steal bases at the major league level. He swings the bat from the left side and we feel that he will continue to improve his offensive game.”
After keeping Victor Martinez in a Tigers uniform, center field was the next priority on the Tigers’ list. With the free-agent market thin in center, they decided their best option was a trade with one of the handful of teams with surplus talent in center.
The 24-year-old Gose was available after spending parts of the last three seasons in Toronto. Despite an outstanding ability to cover ground in center and footspeed that produced two 70-steal seasons in the minor leagues, he struggled to find a regular role. He batted .226 this past season with a .311 on-base percentage, a .604 OPS and 15 stolen bases in 94 games, some of them in relief of injured Colby Rasmus.
Gose is a .234 career hitter in 616 Major League at-bats, with more strikeouts (170) than hits (129), and a .259 hitter with a .715 OPS over seven minor-league seasons. Improving that will be the challenge of hitting coach Wally Joyner, among others, and the key to making him the answer to the void in Detroit’s center field. Rajai Davis handled the position down the stretch, and could end up in a lefty-righty platoon with Gose, but is generally seen as a corner outfielder.
If Gose can take the next step and earn the role, the Tigers have five seasons of him become he could become a free agent, and two seasons before he’d be eligible for arbitration. The latter could be huge in managing a payroll that’s on track to eclipse last year’s $163 million mark.
Travis was a high-rising second-base prospect in the Tigers system, hitting at every level since his selection in the 13th round of the 2012 Draft out of Florida State. After batting .350 or better at two Class A levels in 2013, Travis had an injury-shortened 2014 campaign thanks an early-season oblique injury and a season-ending core muscle injury. In between, he batted .298 at Double-A Erie with 20 doubles, seven triples, 10 homers, 52 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and an .817 OPS.
Travis had started playing center field at Erie in August, both to clear the position block he faced at second base and to try to solve the Tigers’ center-field issues created when Austin Jackson was traded to Seattle in the David Price deal a month earlier. He’ll likely go back to the infield in the Blue Jays system.
The Tigers no longer have a reigning Cy Young award winner in their rotation. They ended up with two of the top six finishers. While Max Scherzer was unable to repeat his Cy Young victory, his follow-up season drew enough votes for a fifth-place finish, just ahead of David Price.
Scherzer received four third-place votes, six for fourth place, and eight for fifth. Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner earned two third-place, three for fourth and four for fifth. It marks the first year since 2010 that a Tigers pitcher did not finish as the winner or runner-up. It was not for a fallback season on Scherzer’s part.
— Max Scherzer (@Max_Scherzer) November 13, 2014
Scherzer said in the spring that he could pitch better than last year and not have the same results. He wasn’t far off statistically. From a pure pitching standpoint, he felt like he was better. Statistically, Scherzer was pretty close. His 2.85 Fielding Independent Pitching was just slightly off the 2.74 he posted in 2013. He posted a higher strikeout rate, tossed more innings and recorded his first career complete game and shutout.
Scherzer’s 18 wins tied Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and Angels ace Jered Weaver for the AL lead, but his 3.15 ERA was .35 runs higher. His Wins Above Replacement, a key component for some voters, also fell.
Price’s metrics were better than his traditional stats. He went 15-12 with a 3.26 ERA in 34 starts between Tampa Bay and Detroit, though his 4-4 record and 3.59 ERA in 11 Tigers starts hinted at struggles to adjust to his new surroundings following his July 31 trade.
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.
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 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:
- Devon Travis, 2B, Erie (BA) / Derek Hill, CF, Connecticut (MLB.com)
- Steven Moya, RF / Robbie Ray, LHP
- Buck Farmer, RHP / Jonathon Crawford, RHP, West Michigan
- Derek Hill, CF / Devon Travis, 2B
- Domingo Leyba, 2B, West Michigan / Kevin Ziomek, LHP, West Michigan
- Kevin Ziomek, LHP / Austin Kubitza, RHP, West Michigan
- Robbie Ray, LHP / Steven Moya, RF
- Hernan Perez, IF / Buck Farmer, RHP
- James McCann, C / Domingo Leyba, 2B
- Tyler Collins, OF / Hernan Perez, IF
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:
Sources: Scott Bream staying w/Tigers as director of pro scouting. Dodgers had received permission to speak with him about front office job
— Scott Miller (@ScottMillerBbl) November 12, 2014
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.
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.
— Mark Saxon (@markasaxon) November 10, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.