While most of America was getting ready for another football Sunday, Scott Boras was talking with MLB Network Radio about his time to shine, the baseball offseason. And aside from the Newsday report a few days ago about Manny Ramirez, and an explanation about the agent-player relationship, nearly every question from former Major League general managers Jim Duquette and Jim Bowden dealt with Boras’ top free-agent client this winter, Max Scherzer. That included a question from Bowden whether the Tigers are still involved.
“I’ve never heard anything from anyone to suggest they’re not,” Boras said. “You have to remember that over the past 3-4 years, when you go back and look at the Detroit Tigers, as good as they are with all the offensive weaponry and pitching they have, when Max Scherzer pitches, they win 70% of their games. In all other games, the Tigers play at about 54%. So Max Scherzer has a huge impact on the success of the Detroit Tigers.”
That meshes with Dave Dombrowski’s wait-and-see-what-happens comments from Friday regarding Scherzer, even if the team winning percentage seems like an incomplete formula for judging value.
A report from Jon Heyman at this week’s General Managers meetings in Arizona stated there was very little buzz about Scherzer’s market. There have more reports about teams that supposedly aren’t interested in bidding for Scherzer than there have been reports of teams that are.
“A lot of teams in baseball want a number one starter,” Boras said, “so when you’re talking about a high profile and highly compensated player, teams want to make sure that they express their interest and they do it in a very private, unsuspecting manner. They talk about what moves they can make with their team to either add or make room for a guy like Max. The one thing we know is that the past 11-12 years, when you go back and look at the World Series champion, they had a starter on their team that had a 3.6 WAR or above. that means you’re a number one guy.”
Scherzer had a 6.0 WAR this year by the baseball-reference formula, or 5.6 WAR by the formula that Fangraphs uses. He has had better than a 3.6 WAR every season since 2012.
One thing Boras seemed to hint it in the quote above is that some teams that might appear set with their rotation could end up making a trade to open up a spot for Scherzer. He didn’t mention any specific teams in that predicament, though the Nationals had trade rumors regarding Jordan Zimmermann last week. Washington supposedly had talked about Scherzer last year before trading for Doug Fister.
“I think that there are a number of teams that have a two-step process,” Boras said. “Say you need bullpen or you need catching or you need offense, whatever your other weakness. You can trade one of your good pitchers for someone like that and also then add a number one, which then strengthens your team in two areas. …
“So the club acquiring Max both gets someone offensive or someone who fills a hole in the bullpen and gets a number one, and they trade a number two or a number three pitcher they have under control.”
Boras did not give any indication how many teams have expressed interest, saying some teams won’t react until their division competitors make moves, and others won’t react until making the trades they need to fill room.
“It’s really early in the process to fully examine who’s interested in a player of this type,” Boras said. “In the endm normally with players at this level, you can always say it’s narrowed down to 3-4 teams, but the truth of the matter is, who those 3-4 teams are to be, I don’t think the owners know themselves.”
Boras made a point to downplay concerns about Scherzer’s wear and wear.
“Certainly the most unique thing about Max is that he’s just finished his 29-year-old season, but in pitches thrown and in innings pitched Max is comparable to [Clayton] Kershaw, who’s 26,” Boras said. “Max has … 1200 innings in his career, and … you have to go back to CC Sabathia when he was 25, Felix Hernandez when he was 25, Tanaka at 24, so all these pitchers who received major contracts, Max Scherzer is the equivalent of age 26 inningswise when he’s signing his contract. So his pitching odometer, which we created, is one of the lowest for someone who has his experience.”
Victor Martinez is officially back, obviously. So is Joel Hanrahan, though he has to show his arm his healthy to advance from minor-league contract to Major League roster spot and activate his $1 million base salary. Torii Hunter, barring an unexpected twist, will not be back, as Dave Dombrowski answered Friday.
As for Max Scherzer, well, Dombrowski sounded noncommittal. If anything, he sounded more open to the possibility of a return than he did at his end-of-season press conference last month.
“I have no idea,” Dombrowski said. “I wouldn’t even expect to at this point. Again, it’s only the middle of November. He has Scott [Boras] as his representative and he generally doesn’t move things quickly. So I wouldn’t even think I’d have a pulse on that.”
Dombrowski did not answer whether he has talked with Boras. Asked if the Martinez signing rules out Scherzer’s return, Dombrowski said, “We’ll just wait and we’ll see what happens.”
That’s a slight difference from last month, when Dombrowski said, “I think we probably made more of an effort to sign Max earlier in the year, so I don’t think your odds improve than what they were earlier. What I said at the time to them, why would they improve if we have one-on-one ability to speak with you, compared to having 29 other clubs speak with you? Only time will tell.”
It’s worth noting that the October comment came before extensive talks with owner Mike Ilitch on what the team can do. As the Tigers celebrated Victor Martinez’s return Friday, it was clear that a large part of it had to do with Ilitch being willing to make the investment and outbid other teams.
That was a 4-year, $68 million deal. Scherzer’s eventual contract will surely dwarf that. He passed on Detroit’s reported six-year, $144 million offer in Spring Training, then backed up his decision with an 18-win season that compared favorably to his Cy Young campaign of 2013. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman wrote during the GM Meetings this week that the Scherzer market seems quiet, but that’s not particularly rare early for free agents under Boras (Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez come to mind).
If Ilitch is involved, expect Boras to try to get the Tigers into the mix. And unlike the Stephen Drew and Rafael Soriano sagas of the past couple years, the Tigers organization would presumably be on board for another run at Scherzer. Martinez was the latest example of Ilitch rewarding a player who wins for him.
“We’ll just wait and see how that happens,” Dombrowski said. “But I will say we’re comfortable with the four starters that we have, and we’re also comfortable going with a fifth guy that’s a young guy, if we get into that situation. We did acquire David Price, as we said at the time, to help us in this type of situation.”
Perhaps the highlight of Friday’s press conference came when Ilitch was asked if the Martinez deal was a statement that he’s still in a win-now mode.
“Yeah, I’m ok,” Ilitch said as he reached for his wallet. “I’ve got some $20s in here.”
Other notes from Friday:
- Dombrowski did not want to get into Yasmany Tomas, the slugging Cuban outfielder who’s expected to draw a bigger contract than fellow countryman Rusney Castillo did this summer. Every sign so far, however, is that Detroit won’t be in play for Tomas. While they were presumably at his public workout in the Dominican, they hadn’t held a private workout for him as of last week, at a time when most teams seriously involved had already done so. And if they couldn’t outbid the Red Sox in August for Castillo, who fit the Tigers’ needs in center field, it’s hard to see them going beyond that level for a right-handed power hitting corner outfielder.
- Dombrowski didn’t address trade rumors involving Alex Avila, but his uncertainty about the catching situation suggested Avila is potentially in play. While Dombrowski ran down the list of pieces in his lineup, he mentioned Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Nick Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose, but he did not mention Avila specifically, only that “you have two catchers.” As for the trade rumors, Dombrowski said, “I wouldn’t get into any individual discussions. I would say that at the General Managers meetings, I was probably asked about every player just about that we have, at one time or another.”
- Dombrowski indicated they have not shut the door on the rest of their free agents — Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Jim Johnson and Don Kelly. “We’ve had conversations with them,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t think we’ve closed the door. I mean, they’ve got a pulse of where we are.”
- Dombrowski was asked if he felt they’d have enough in their bullpen if they went to spring training with the guys they have now, including Bruce Rondon, Joakim Soria and Joe Nathan in the late innings. “Yes,” he said. “You can get better, but like we talked about in Joe’s case, we all know he didn’t have the year that we were hopeful he would, but he pitched and did all right for us back there. And now we’re in a situation where if he doesn’t get the job done, we feel like we have a guy in Soria to replace him. We like Soria a great deal.”
- The above comment does not mean the Tigers aren’t looking. “We’ll see how we’ll deal with it,” Dombrowski said a few minutes later. “I’m not ready to say we’re done, but I’m not in a point of mass emergency.”
- As for a lefty reliever to add to that list, Dombrowski said, “We’ll see what happens.”
- Dombrowski indicated he’s more confident in Rondon returning from Tommy John surgery than he is in Hanrahan. “I’m hopeful,” Dombrowski said of Hanrahan, “but I really don’t know. We’re in a situation where he’s had a lot of ups and downs, but he is a long time past Tommy John [surgery], we’ll just wait and see, I don’t really know the answer.”
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.