Remember when Victor Martinez was trying on catching gear Thursday and said he was ready to do whatever the Tigers needed or asked? Well, turns out they had asked him about catching.
“I actually called Victor — this must have been January, right after New Year’s — and asked him about catching,” Brad Ausmus said. “He was thrilled about it. He was excited. I asked him if he wanted to come down with pitchers and catchers.
“There is a reason behind it. We play 10 games in National League parks and the first road trip of the season is L.A. and San Diego. We can’t not have Victor play for five straight games. This gives us another option. I wouldn’t want to just ask Victor the first week of the season, ‘Hey, get some catching gear. You might catch on the next road trip.’ So I told him, ‘Listen, I was hoping you would be open to the idea of catching a little bit.’ So when we get to LA and San Diego and we face a tough left-handed pitcher or maybe Alex Avila needs a day or something, whatever the case may be, we can stick Victor behind the plate possibly. Now, I don’t know if it will happen or won’t happen, but it gives us an option.”
Thus, Martinez was behind the plate Friday morning for the first round of bullpen sessions in Tigers camp. He caught Rick Porcello’s session with relative ease.
As mentioned Thursday, Martinez started three games at catcher last season, two of them against the Mets at Citi Field during Interleague Play in August. He was on a hitting tear, and with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at the corners, the Tigers had nowhere else to put him. He didn’t catch at all that spring, not while he was working back into game shape with surgically repaired knees, but Jim Leyland acknowledged he could end up catching later in the year.
This year, Interleague Play comes much earlier. That plus Martinez’s health over the past year make a start or two in Spring Training a much more sensible option.
The Tigers face five more games in NL parks after that — three in Arizona July 21-23, then two in Pittsburgh Aug. 11-12.
Another option Ausmus confirmed is to play Miguel Cabrera at third for some of those games and move Martinez to first.
“It’s been talked about,” Ausmus said. “Again, there will be some things, we have to see how they play out, but it’s been discussed. I actually even mentioned it to Miggy. You know, Miggy is a team guy and he told me, ‘Listen, I still have two gloves. Whatever you need.’ So at the end of March, if you see Miggy play third for a game, you don’t have to immediately say that [Nick] Castellanos is in trouble or [Steve] Lombardozzi’s in trouble. It might be that we’re setting up to have options for these National League games where we want to keep our big bats in the lineup.”
Cabrera mentioned Wednesday that he brought his third-base glove with him.
If you were expecting some sort of new revelation from Max Scherzer on his contract situation or his situation in general when he reported to camp on Friday, it wasn’t happening. Scherzer reiterated his previous remarks from TigerFest: He wants to remain a Tiger, the Tigers are interested in keeping him, and he doesn’t want to negotiate once the season begins. However, he didn’t want to get into questions about contract talks, to the point that he didn’t answer whether contract talks were taking place.
“I’m not discussing negotiations with the media,” Scherzer said. ‘Those are private.”
Asked if he feels like he’ll be a Tiger a year from now, Scherzer said, “I just can’t answer that. I can’t even speculate like that. I hope it does, but in reality, you can never dictate whether these things happen or don’t. If it does, great. If not, we’ll hopefully resolve it in November. For me, now that I’m here in Spring Training, my focus right now is all about getting on the field and trying to win.”
Come Opening Day, that focus will have no room for contract issues.
“If it’s not done by Opening Day, then I’m not going to negotiate during the season,” he said. “This can be a major distraction. I understand I have a chance to secure my future here with the team. I want that to happen. But at the same time, I’m not going to drag negotiations out into the season. That’s unfair to the team, unfair to me and my teammates. They don’t need to have that type of thought process going on. For me, I’m all about [being] here to win.”
More from Scherzer:
- On expectations coming off last year’s Cy Young season: “My mindset is that you never stay the same, as a pitcher, as an athlete. You either get better or you get worse. Those are the only two options that go on. And so my mindset going into Spring Training this year is I’m going to get better. I’m going to find ways to be better than I was last year. I might not have the record or some of the numbers I was able to accomplish last year, but I can be a better pitcher than I was last year. And that’s my goal.”
- On opening message from new manager Brad Ausmus: “Same stuff: We’re here to work. Nothing out of the ordinary. It’s exactly what every manager says at this time of year. Obviously we believe we have a chance to win. It’s going to take hard work to get there, and there are no shortcuts.”
- On whether there’s a culture change: “When you have a team that’s made it three times to the ALCS, you don’t need a culture change. Skip was great. We appreciate everything that he did. He gave everything he could, all the way to the end. Obviously his time has come. I think Brad is going to pick up where he left off and add new stuff and make us even better.”
Miguel Cabrera has been in Lakeland all week, having reported early to get settled in and get in some early work. He also has been moving around without restriction after recovering from core muscle surgery. What he has not been doing is worrying about his next contract.
When asked if he has talked with his agents about a contract extension, Cabrera said there hasn’t been anything going on. He also said, though, that he isn’t worried about it right now. With two years left on his deal, he said, they have time. At some point, there will be more urgency than this, but not now.
The fact that Cabrera doesn’t seem overly concerned isn’t a bad thing for the Tigers, who have another contract situation they’re trying to handle with Max Scherzer entering his contract year. That doesn’t change the task trying to re-sign Cabrera, the back-to-back American League MVP and three-time reigning AL batting champion who turns 31 years old in April.
The Tigers lost a piece of catching depth Wednesday with Ronny Paulino’s 100-game suspension for exogenous Testosterone, but it wasn’t a big piece.
Considering the inexperience of the surrounding cast, Paulino was veteran insurance. He was once a promising young backstop in Pittsburgh before things went south, until he was mired as a Triple-A backup last summer. The Tigers acquired him from the Orioles organization because Luis Exposito had nailed down the job at Triple-A Norfolk. Exposito is now in the Tigers system, having been signed as a minor-league free agent this offseason. He has the best chance to back up prospect James McCann in Toledo.
Exposito is in big league camp for depth, as is fellow minor-league catching signing Craig Albernaz. The Tigers signed Albernaz from the Rays organization. Paulino’s minor-league deal did not include a camp invite.
Major League Baseball announced Paulino’s suspension Wednesday afternoon. He received a 100-game suspension for a second positive test.
The big story about Justin Verlander on Tuesday was his throwing status and his expectation that he’ll be ready for the start of the season. However, Verlander touched on quite a few other topics today in his first interview with reporters since last fall. Among the bigger topics was his transition from pitching for Jim Leyland, his only manager since 2006, to Brad Ausmus, whom Verlander faced as a pitcher (0-for-2 with a double play).
Verlander and Leyland had their differing views, to the point where Leyland often joked that they rarely see eye-to-eye on anything, but deep down they liked and respected each other. The dynamic between Verlander and Ausmus is bound to be different.
“That’s what’s exciting about it, right? I don’t know, I’m kind of anxious, nervous,” Verlander said. ” And when it comes down, what do I call [Ausmus]? I say Skip, and immediately this picture of Jim Leyland pops into my mind. I’m going to have to talk with him: ‘Hey, what do you want me to call you? I’ll try to call you Skip.’ It might take me a little while before it really sets in.
“Eight years of my life, [Leyland] been the manager. It was a great relationship Jim and I had. He’s still going to be around, which will be nice, becuase he’s a friend of mine now. He was a friend of mine. But it’s going to be interesting for me to see the differences, because I’ve never had another manager other than Jim. We’ll see a different managerial style.”
When Verlander’s record against Ausmus was pointed out, he smiled.
“That’s kind of a weird thing, right? I always thought it was weird with managers, especially guys like Andy Pettitte when Girardi was his catcher. I always thought, ‘That’s when you’re getting old.’”
Verlander knows he’s getting old, but he insists he’s not feeling it, despite his offseason injuries.
“No, I feel great,” Verlander said. “I lost a little bit of weight. I just keep telling everybody I’m like a fine bottle of wine. I’m getting better with age.”
Other insights from Verlander …
- On the new-look roster: “I’m excited. Obviously it’s tough to see a teammate go like Prince and Fister. They’ve been around for the last couple years for some pretty special years. We weren’t able to win it all, but it was a lot of fun, and they were both a huge part of that. But you also need to understand that the game of baseball, this is a business. There’s a lot of money involved and you can’t just keep everybody. It just doesn’t work like that with the contracts people are getting these days. It’s the business side of it. I’m excited about the guys we brought in. I think we got more athletic. I think that’s the obvious thing you look at. I know I’ve talked about it with a few guys, I think maybe those tight ballgames that we had last year where we weren’t able to manufacture a run, that might be a little different this year. Brad’s got some options at his disposal with guys getting on and maybe being able to steal a bag in a big spot, whatever.”
- On possibly recruiting Max Scherzer to stay: “Max is his own guy. You guys know Max, man. He’s going to make his own decisions, but I don’t think I need to be a recruiter. I think from what he’s been saying, he’s made it loud and clear that that he wants to stay in Detroit. Whether that’s possible or not, I don’t know, but I don’t think he needs to be recruited. I think what this organization has done has recruited him — not just the players here. I think he enjoys being part of this team. I think the success that we’ve had, Mr. Ilitch has thrown so much more into this team than a lot of poeple would at his own risk, and he’s put a great product on the field. You can’t ask for anything more than what he’s done for this organization and this city. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?”
- On the explosion in salaries across baseball: “I think it’s great. Obviously, as a player you see the contracts and it’s great for everything that the players before us fought for, to get to where we are, to have free agency and we can exploit that and use it to our advantage. And the contracts show how good the game is going. I know the Dodgers are a great example of that. Their local TV deal allows them to spend a lot of money. I think it’s great for everybody involved. They’re getting money from their local fans and their TV deal and they’re putting it back into their ballclub and that’s the way it should go. It really bothers me when you see teams making a lot of money and then just shoving it in their back pocket and not putting a good product on the field. I feel like you owe it to your fans and your local area to at least put a good product on the field, and you see a lot of teams getting revenue sharing and stuff and they don’t put it back.”
- On attending the Super Bowl and his history with Russell Wilson: “I know his family very well. It’s a crazy story. I was in a suite, and a couple of the guys got asked over to the suite right next to us to take some pictures and stuff. I’m like where are they going, and they’re like, ‘Russell Wilson’s family is right next to us.’ I went over there and it was like a family reunion. I go over there and give his mom a big hug and talk to his brother for a little bit. It was just really cool and really ironic, just happenstance that they were right next to us.”
No polar vortex here. Though northern parts of Florida have had it rough this winter, the legitimately chilly temperatures supposedly haven’t gotten close to Lakeland yet. Sunny skies greeted the week on Monday, with temperatures in the mid-70s. The early arrivals here are much the same as in past years. Justin Verlander is already here, having an offseason home nearby. Rick Porcello has been working out and throwing. Drew Smyly made the trip early from his offseason home in Dallas, where a harsh winter wasn’t exactly friendly to workouts. Verlander tweeted a photo of himself and Smyly at an Orlando Magic game over the weekend. Anibal Sanchez has been around to throw and work out.
Phil Coke is here, and has been for a while. His family made the trip with him, including his wife and newborn baby (their second, born in Florida around the week of the winter caravan and TigerFest). Look for more on Phil Coke and his rebound attempt this week as we get closer to the first official workout Friday.
Duane Below has been here and throwing. That’s no surprise, since he was regularly one of the first to migrate during previous offseasons.
Max Scherzer supposedly hadn’t arrived yet as of Monday morning, but was supposedly due in shortly. He has an interesting spring ahead: His breakout 2013 season came after a relatively light spring to take it easy on his shoulder, but he said during the winter caravan that he planned on ramping up his routine again this spring to previous levels.
Add in catcher Alex Avila and pitching coach Jeff Jones, who arrived over the weekend, and the Tigers already have a sizable group. Realistically, reporting day is a formality for a lot of these guys. The surprise is when position players come on this early, which apparently Miguel Cabrera has done. The Lakeland Flying Tigers tweeted a photo of Cabrera working out on the field at Joker Marchant Stadium around mid-afternoon Monday.
— Lkd Flying Tigers (@LkdFlyingTigers) February 10, 2014
Cabrera has been reporting to camp earlier and earlier in recent years, starting with his move to third base a couple seasons ago. Still, for him to make it in well before even some pitchers is pretty impressive.
The new manager, Brad Ausmus, will also be an early arrival. He’s due in tomorrow, though he isn’t scheduled to address the media until Wednesday. His main coaches, Jones and Wally Joyner, are already here, and they’ll have meetings to go over the game plan for camp.
Jim Leyland’s retirement means we won’t have the sight of him challenging a bad a call from the dugout. It appears, however, that Leyland will still be involved in the newly-approved instant replay system.
Leyland will work with his good friend, former Cardinals manager and newly-elected Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, who played a big role in crafting the replay and challenge system.
“Maybe help iron out any kinks, things like that,” Leyland said Thursday. “I’m looking forward to that. It’s going to be interesting. It’ll be a historic event. It’s such a monumental thing for baseball.”
Leyland said there’s also a possibility he’ll be visiting teams and managers in spring training to talk about the system and how it’s going to work.
As a longtime, recently-retired manager who was part of the on-field committee that consulted on replay, Leyland makes sense to be part of this. As someone who has had his share of opinions on expanding replay, it’s an interesting add. Leyland said for a long time that if a meaningless home run in a lopsided regular-season game was reviewable, a line drive down the foul line in a close postseason game should be too. At the same time, he was always mindful of the pace of the game. And then, well, Armando Galarraga.
We’ll see what impact he has here. Clearly, though, Leyland isn’t going into retirement kicking back. His MLB work is in addition to his position as a special assistant in the Tigers organization, a job he’ll be doing in Spring Training as well. He’ll be in Tigers camp about a week after the full squad reports.
A lot of Leyland’s Tigers job will apparently involve player evaluation, both inside and potentially outside the organization. He’ll be in attendance for the Tigers’ unofficial Spring Training opener against Florida Southern, and he’ll also stop by minor league camp to do some work there.
“I’ll be watching more as an evaluator and not as a strategist,” Leyland said. “When I’m watching the games, it’ll be different for me. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be heading down and I’ll be staying out of the way. I’m just thrilled that they asked me to go down.”
With the snow, there was a smaller audience for Dave Dombrowski this year when he made his annual visit to the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association luncheon, but there weren’t really any headlines missed. Dombrowski touched on a decent number of topics, but nothing particularly new.
On Max Scherzer and his contract situation, built into the context of the rotation and the Doug Fister trade, Dombrowski kept his comments guarded, not surprisingly.
“Everybody knows his situation,” Dombrowski said. “We’d love to have him stay a Tiger for a long time. I think Max would like to stay here. He has expressed that. Only time will tell what takes place.”
Time, of course, is somewhat limited if the Tigers hope to sign Scherzer before free agency rather than in the midst of it. Scherzer has made it clear he does not want to talk contract once the season starts, though he left open the possibility of signing an extension at season’s end. Add in other suitors in free agency, and it does nothing to help the Tigers’ chances at keeping him.
Dombrowski noted that one way they looked at their rotation going into the Doug Fister was by contract status. By trading Fister and shifting Smyly back to starting, the Tigers gave themselves a trio of starters under team control for the next several seasons (Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez by long-term contract, Smyly by service time).
Dombrowski did look back at the Doug Fister trade and the players they received in return, noting the lack of a David Price deal this winter as a potential sign about the difficulty in acquiring prospects.
“We like the combination,” Dombrowski said. “You can see clubs are very reluctant to trade young players right now, particularly young pitchers. You can look, for example, to Tampa Bay with David Price. They were talking about trading him. They have not traded him, and one of the reasons they haven’t traded him is because the young players that they were looking to acquire, just like us, many of them are not available. It’s a time period when clubs are reluctant to trade young pitchers, but we think we got a real good one.”
Other items of note …
- With the lineup pretty well set, the one area of competition Dombrowski referenced was in the bullpen for the final spot or two. In so doing, he referenced Justin Miller as a candidate for one of the spots. He also referenced Luke Putkonen, Jose Ortega and Jose Alvarez. “I think a lot of the biggest questions, if we’re healthy, go towards the bullpen,” Dombrowski said.
- Corey Knebel was not on that list, which isn’t a surprise since he wasn’t invited to big league camp. Dombrowski did, however, reference Knebel on a potential fast track. “He’s a guy that we like a lot,” Dombrowski said. “He’s got a plus arm, plus breaking ball. We sent him to the Arizona Fall League. He probably tired out a little bit at that time. He had tremendous numbers last year. I don’t know if I’d put a time frame on it. He’s going to go to our [minor-league Spring Training] minicamp. If we need pitchers, I’m sure that at some time we’ll see him over in big league camp. We’ll just leave it in his hands and see what happens. We do think he’s a guy that can move quickly, that doesn’t need a lot of time in the minor leagues, but I don’t have a specific time frame.”
- Dombrowski was asked again about rumors he could be a candidate for commissioner. “I really haven’t thought much about that one,” Dombrowski said. “I appreciate the comments. I’ve seen my name out there at times, too, but I’ve got a job that I enjoy, and to me, that’s where my total focus is at this time. My goal is to win a world championship. That’s first and foremost. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
- Dombrowski sidestepped a question about parity in baseball, though he noted revenue sharing. He does not see a salary cap coming anytime soon. Interestingly, however, he did bring up the imbalance created by the recent rash of massive local TV deals for teams. “I think one of the biggest disparities right now that’s taking place is, as local television contracts become larger, that increases the revenues of some markets compared to others. It’s a significant difference in baseball. But how we deal with that, that’s really a more global question than in my situation.”
- Dombrowski expects Bruce Rondon to be ready to pitch on time following the elbow soreness that ended his season last September.
- Dombrowski said they look for outfield prospect Tyler Collins to begin the season at Triple-A Toledo. “When he went to Double-A last year, he had a solid season, but I think he got too pull-oriented at the plate, so he became a little home run conscious,” Dombrowski said. “For us, it’s [a matter of] going back to try to use more of the whole field, which we’ve discussed with him.”
Those are the numbers floated out by Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio and ESPN in his latest piece Monday (ESPN Insider subscription required). That fits with reports earlier this offseason that Scherzer and agent Scott Boras were seeking contract terms matching or surpassing what Justin Verlander agreed to last spring.
It’s a huge commitment, but it’s not hard to see Scherzer getting that on the open market next winter. Bowden, however, thinks the Tigers could at least come close enough to keep him. Scherzer and Boston’s Jon Lester are Bowden’s two picks for pending free-agent starters most likely to sign new contracts by Opening Day.
Even though Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, who prefers to take his clients to free agency, it appears Scherzer prefers to remain loyal to the Tigers — if they’re willing to pay him close to his market value of seven years, $196 million.
Tigers President Dave Dombrowski has a long history of doing deals with Boras, and the moves Dombrowski has made this offseason to reduce payroll give him enough room to get this deal done.
Verlander signed last spring for seven years and $180 million guaranteed, with a $22 million vesting option for 2020 that would be guaranteed if he finishes in the top five in 2019 Cy Young voting. If you count the option, then Verlander had the first $200 million contract for a pitcher, but Clayton Kershaw was the first to get $200 million guaranteed.
Both Team Boras and the Tigers are keeping pretty quiet on the Scherzer front these days. Dave Dombrowski is scheduled to have one more media session later this week before heading to Lakeland.
The Tigers have avoided arbitration hearings for another year, reaching a deal with Alex Avila on a one-year, $4.35 million contract that includes a club option for 2015.
The deal finishes the Tigers’ arbitration dealings just before hearings were scheduled to begin for players next week. Avila and the Tigers exchanged salary figures two weeks ago after struggling to reach an agreement. Avila expressed confidence a week ago that the two sides would reach an agreement before hearings would be scheduled next week. It took some creative contract work, but they finished it up late Friday.
Avila will make a base salary of $4.15 million this season. If he makes the All-Star team, wins a Silver Slugger Award (he did both in 2011) or finishes in the top 15 in MVP balloting, his $5.4 million option for 2015 will automatically vest. If not, the Tigers will decide whether to pick up the option or buy it out for $200,000 (hence the $4.35 million guaranteed). A buyout would leave Avila eligible for arbitration one more time before becoming a free agent after the 2015 season.
The deal also reportedly includes escalators that would bump up the salary on Avila’s option if he has a high number of plate appearances.
Avila made $2.95 million in 2013. He filed for a $5.3 million salary two weeks ago, with the Tigers countering with a $3.75 million offer. The new deal put the base salary closer to the team offer, but offers the enticement of the second year. If Avila is an All-Star and a Silver Slugger winner in 2014, a $5.4 million salary should be a decent deal.
Avila batted a career-low .227 last year with 11 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .693 OPS. Within those numbers, however, were two distinctly different half-seasons. His .177 average before the All-Star break was the lowest among AL players with at least 200 plate appearances. His .303 batting average after the break was the 16th highest, and his .876 OPS ranked just outside the AL’s top 10, despite missing time in August with a concussion.
Though Avila’s father is Tigers vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila, the family and the Tigers have maintained a stance that the elder Avila would not be involved in contract situations involving his son. Team legal counsel John Westhoff handles negotiations with input from team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski.
“A lot of work went into it,” said Jim Murray, who along with fellow Excel Sports Management agent Matt Laird negotiated the deal. “I credit David, John and their staff for being open-minded and as professional as can be throughout the entire process. It was a positive result for all involved.”