Tigers not in on Alexi Ogando

Alexi Ogando has reportedly drawn interest from several clubs since his showcase throwing session a few days ago in Tampa. The Tigers aren’t one of them.

Call this quashing a rumor before it gets going, but the Tigers were not among the teams watching Ogando throw, sources confirmed. It’s a bit of a surprise; Detroit usually scouts such showcases whether they have immediate interest or not (Ryan Madson comes to mind from last winter, and Joel Hanrahan in the spring), and the showcase wasn’t far from Lakeland.

That said, between the abundance of teams looking for relief help, Ogando’s expectation to get a Major League contract and his recent injury history, the Tigers might well have decided there wasn’t a fit here.

Detroit certainly knows what Ogando can do when healthy, having watched him sink their World Series hopes in the 2011 ALCS. He seemed headed for great things at that point, and his next two seasons were good despite a series of injuries. He had a rough 2014 marked by elbow inflammation that ended his season in June.

Cabrera will be limited at start of Spring Training

The Tigers are hoping that Miguel Cabrera and his surgically repaired right ankle and foot will be healthy enough to put him in their lineup for Opening Day. As for Spring Training, though, he’s expected to be limited if not delayed.

It isn’t really a surprise, given the stress fracture that was repaired in Cabrera’s foot in October. With Spring Training now six weeks away for position players, however, it’s becoming official.

Cabrera is currently doing partial weight-bearing activities with help from a walking boot he has to wear, according to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand. He has been doing that since mid-December, as well as some upper-body weight work that doesn’t require much mobility.

Cabrera is scheduled to wear the walking boot until a mid-February follow-up exam with Dr. Robert Anderson, the Charlotte-based specialist who performed the procedure to repair the stress fracture as well as remove a bone spur in his right ankle.

If the ankle and foot test well, Cabrera should be cleared for baseball activity, just in time for full-squad workouts to begin in Lakeland on Feb. 24. Even if he can work out on the field, however, he isn’t expected to be ready to join full workouts.

“Obviously he isn’t in a position [for full workouts] from a conditioning standpoint at that point,” Rand said.

The Tigers open Grapefruit League play a week after their first full-squad workout.

Just what that means for Cabrera’s Opening Day status remains to be seen. The Tigers begin the season April 6 against the Twins at what will likely be a chilly Comerica Park. Cabrera likely won’t need a full spring of at-bats to be ready — the five-week game schedule is more for pitchers than hitters — but he’ll need enough games to test his mobility in the field and on the basepaths.

“That’s too far out right now,” Rand said. “First of all, we have to get him cleared to do the activities.”

As the Scherzer watch continues

It’s mid-January, and we’re not much clearer on Max Scherzer’s market than we were over the holidays. Here’s one scenario on how it might play out:

At some point, after weeks so far of teams saying they’re not in active pursuit, someone will be in active pursuit. A team will make an offer that meets enough of Scherzer’s criteria to draw serious consideration, presumably for more than six years. And then, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch will have a decision to make.

If Ilitch wants to keep Scherzer in a Detroit uniform, it’s probably going to happen. If Ilitch decides the price isn’t worth the impact, short term (payroll tax) or long (payroll committed through the decade), or if he decides the team’s offer from last spring was its best one, Scherzer will probably go somewhere else.

It’s not a right of first refusal, which agent Scott Boras insists the Tigers will not get. It’s the chance to top an offer, the leverage Boras has used expertly over the years, and the opportunity Ilitch used to keep Anibal Sanchez two years ago. Just as no active pursuit doesn’t necessarily mean no interest.

Nobody in the Tigers organization is going to tell Ilitch they don’t have a use for Scherzer, that they’re not a better team with Scherzer, because it wouldn’t be true. If the goal is exclusively a World Series title in 2015, their chances are better with Scherzer and worries about the long-term contract later. But considering how Ilitch has extended payroll over the years, and committed more than $450 million the last two years on contract extensions for Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, nobody’s going to tell Ilitch he has to do anything (except maybe Boras).

As Boras has said, this is an ownership decision. And while opinions abound on what the Tigers might do — one industry official estimates the chances at a little less than 50-50 — nobody really knows but Ilitch. Remember, two years ago around this time, Tigers officials were saying they didn’t have the finances for Prince Fielder just a few days before signing him, and there were many reasons to believe that at the time.

What happens afterward is also an ownership decision. The Tigers have approached their offseason with a clear goal of avoiding the luxury tax. As we realized last month, they fell just $2 million shy of the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014, and that limit will be the same this year. If Scherzer returns, it would be up to Ilitch whether the Tigers would still try to stay under it by trading David Price, or go over for a year and pay 17.5 percent (the penalty rate for first-time offenders) on the excess.

From a financial standpoint, the challenge would be to try to get payroll under control for 2015. After that, free-agent departures from Price and others would put them back under.

From a baseball standpoint, the challenge would be to try to get a return in trade that would compare to the compensation pick they’d receive if they kept Price and saw him sign elsewhere as a free agent next winter.

The latter might be trickier. The Tigers would be trying to trade a high-salary player late in the offseason, when most teams have already set payroll and built their rosters accordingly. They’d also be trying to trade a player who would almost have to be viewed as a one-year rental, given the expectation that he’d play out the season and hit the open market as likely the top free agent available. They’d also arguably be going against the goal of a 2015 World Series that would be a primary factor in Scherzer interest.

Expectation would be for the Tigers to try to swing a trade. Of course, the Tigers were expected to trade Rick Porcello a couple years ago after re-signing Anibal Sanchez, too. In fairness, they knew in that case they wouldn’t be threatening the luxury tax.

Again, this is a scenario. Time will tell how it plays out.

Tigers sign Josh Wilson to minor-league deal

Baseball America released its roundup of minor-league transactions Sunday morning, which included the previously reported deal for Jordan Lennerton to stay in the Tigers organization. It also included a deal that hadn’t been reported yet: Well-traveled veteran utility infielder Josh Wilson has agreed to a minor-league contract.

A source has since confirmed the deal.

Wilson, who turns 34 in March, has become a journeyman in recent seasons, bouncing around on minor-league contracts. He spent last season with Texas, where he made the Opening Day roster and batted .239 (16-for-67) in 24 games. He spent the rest of the season at Triple-A Round Rock, batting .246 (75-for-305) with five home runs and 33 RBIs in 92 games.

Most fans who remember him will do so for his time in Seattle, where he was the Mariners’ starting shortstop for a good share of the 2010 season.

It’s an interesting signing given the middle infield depth the Tigers enjoyed going into the offseason, but it presumably gives Detroit some of the insurance that they had in previous seasons with Danny Worth. Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez are both on the 40-man roster, but they’re also both out of minor-league options, meaning they’d have to clear waivers to head to Triple-A Toledo. With Eugenio Suarez now a Cincinnati Red and Don Kelly a free agent, that left Dixon Machado as their only depth at the upper levels of the farm system. The Tigers also re-signed longtime farmhand Brandon Douglas to a minor-league deal, though Douglas is primarily a second baseman.

Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila drafted Wilson when they were running the Marlins in 1999. He came up in the Marlins system with Miguel Cabrera and made his big-league debut in Florida in 2005. He grew up in Pittsburgh and is the son of former Duquesne University baseball coach Mike Wilson. If you see Cabrera wearing a Duquesne baseball t-shirt during an interview, it came from Wilson.

Tigers sign Gorzelanny to one-year deal (updated)

Long before the Tigers built their dream rotation, they tried to trade for a young lefty starter in Pittsburgh named Tom Gorzelanny. They’ve tried to trade for him at other times over the years as a reliever.

Years later, they’ve finally got him, and they’re hoping he can fill out their bullpen.

“He’s a guy that we look at as being our veteran left-hander in the bullpen,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday after signing Gorzelanny to a one-year contract. “He’s a guy that’s got solid stuff with experience and knows how to get big-league hitters out.”

The guaranteed Major League deal — the first the Tigers have done for a free-agent lefty reliever since Dombrowski took over — includes a $1 million base salary plus incentives, according to industry sources.

At the same time, the low-risk, high-reward deal fits the Tigers profile for such a role. Like Joba Chamberlain a year ago, the Tigers are investing in the upside of Gorzelanny in his second season back from shoulder surgery.

It came together quickly after the holiday season, according to both sides.

“It was a pretty easy decision,” Gorzelanny told MLB.com in a text message. “When they called and made an offer, I was ready to get something done. Great team to play for, an obvious World Series contender, it was an easy choice.”

The Tigers had interest in Gorzelanny back when he was a young starter in Pittsburgh five years ago. He has bounced around in the years since, spending two years each with the Cubs, Nationals and most recently the Brewers, but only became a full-time reliever in 2012 and again last season.

Gorzelanny worked his way back from shoulder surgery a year ago to make 23 appearances out of the Brewers bullpen last summer, allowing two earned runs on 22 hits over 21 innings with eight walks and 23 strikeouts. Left-handed hitters batted 11-for-34 (.324) against him, but the lone extra-base hit was a double.

Most of those appearances came in lower-pressure situations. Gorzelanny entered with the Brewers trailing in 20 of his 23 appearances last year, 10 times by three runs or more. Still, teams were watching.

“We saw him early coming back, and his velocity was down. He didn’t throw nearly as well as he did later in the year,” Dombrowski said. “His velocity picked up back to the normal range, upper 80s, low 90s. He’s always had a deceptive delivery.”

For his career, Gorzelanny has allowed a .231 average to left-handed batters, including 18-for-98 (.184) with 28 strikeouts with Milwaukee in 2013.

Though Gorzelanny was fine after returning in June, his velocity on all of his pitches was down, including a fastball that dropped from an average of 91.1 mph in 2013 to 89.2 mph last season, according to Fangraphs.

“It was a little bit of a struggle to come back from the surgery,” Gorzelanny said. “It was the first surgery of my career and it was a learning experience for me. Once I got more comfortable throwing, things got better.

“Now, having a normal offseason this year, I feel much better and stronger than I have in a while.”

It’s not a high-profile addition after bigger-name lefties such as Andrew Miller and Zach Duke signed lucrative deals off the market earlier this offseason, but it’s the kind of deal the Tigers have made in their bullpen in recent years.

Gorzelanny is expected to fill the slot left open by Phil Coke, who became a free agent after five seasons in Detroit, and complement Ian Krol, who wore down at midseason, and Alex Wilson, acquired in the Rick Porcello trade last month.

Dombrowski didn’t rule out re-signing Coke, but haven’t had active talks.

“I think our siutation with Phil is we’re open-minded,” Dombrowski said. “We’ve been open-minded. We haven’t aggressively been pursuing signing Phil. I can’t really say one way or the other.”

With Detroit’s 40-man roster full, the Tigers designated long reliever Luke Putkonen’s contract for assignment to make room. Putkonen pitched in just two games last season before undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. Detroit could still end up with the 28-year-old Putkonen in camp as a non-roster invite if he clears waivers and is outrighted to Triple-A Toledo.

Welcome to the month of Scherzer-ary

Hope everyone enjoyed the holiday break, and especially the peace and quiet that goes with it on the baseball front. Now that the holidays are over, the volume on the Max Scherzer buzz is probably about to pick up, and with it, the buzz about the potential for a Tigers match.

It’s the rumor that won’t go away, and while many have downplayed the chances of a Scherzer return, no one to date has ruled it out. The longer it goes, and the longer Scherzer remains on the market, the greater the speculation.

After all the twists and turns since last March, it could end up with the team and the pitcher in the same place. And yet, deal or not, it could provide the most interesting January for the Tigers since 2012, when they went from waiting for bidding to begin on Yoenis Cespedes to losing Victor Martinez for the season to filling the void with Prince Fielder, all in the span of about a week. It could also be just as important to determining the team’s fortunes for 2015 and beyond.

Whether there was any question about Scherzer’s status as the top free agent on the market going into the offseason, there’s no question he’s the best free agent still left. Along with James Shields, he’s arguably the one difference-maker still on the market that can turn a team’s fortunes.

“There are a number of clubs that are playoff teams if they sign Max Scherzer,” Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, said in a phone conversation.

The question is everything after that, from whether the Tigers can win again without him to whether they’ve set up their pitching staff for a Scherzer return, all the way down to whether Tigers owner Mike Ilitch will get a chance to match another team’s offer.

The first question has been debated heavily for most of the offseason. As Fangraphs pointed out Monday, the Tigers rotation produced 65.4 Wins Above Replacement over the last three years, easily topping Washington’s next-best total. Of that total, 16.5 came from Scherzer, a full win more than Justin Verlander, and more than any Major League pitcher other than Kershaw and King Felix.

The second is more subtle. Detroit has five starting pitchers with Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon acquired, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez under long-term contract, and David Price entering his final year of arbitration. In Simon, they also have a starter with an extensive history as a reliever. He became a full-season starter for the first time last year.

As for the last part, Boras reiterated that there will be no right of first refusal. He didn’t use the church bingo analogy this time, but he went with a more logical answer.

“You enter into negotiations with the goal of completing a contract,” Boras said.

That said, if the Tigers are involved, it’s not a stretch to expect Ilitch would get a chance to counter. Boras didn’t deny that logic. Remember, this is how the Sanchez negotiations (different agent, but same owner) played out two years ago, with the Cubs reportedly closing in on a deal with Sanchez until Ilitch and the Tigers topped it.

The question, of course, is how involved the Tigers are going to be. That saga will probably go on until Scherzer signs or until somebody actually closes the door. To this point, nobody has said no, even though there have been plenty of opportunities, and nobody has given a definitive yes.

As of mid-December, Dave Dombrowski said there were no active negotiations going on, and Al Avila said they hadn’t been in touch with Scherzer’s representation. Other general managers around baseball have indicated nothing going on with Scherzer, creating a vacuum.

Most of the buzz with teams surrounding Scherzer, however, have been at the ownership level, from supposed talks in California around the winter meetings to a rumored run-in at a basketball game around the holidays. While Boras isn’t naming teams, he’s giving every impression a move of this magnitude has to have momentum from up top to work.

“This is an ownership decision,” Boras said.

That was not a specific reference to Ilitch, or any other owner in that regard, Boras said. Rather, it was a reference to the size of the contract and commitment necessary to make a deal work.

Nevertheless, the history between Boras and Ilitch is well known. The last two major free-agent deals Boras negotiated with the Tigers — Fielder two years ago, and Johnny Damon in 2010 — were on the ownership level. They were also both late in the offseason.

There’s no timetable for a decision from Scherzer, and every indication that this could linger well into January, regardless of the number of teams interested.

Tigers re-sign Jordan Lennerton to minor-league deal

For three years, Jordan Lennerton was a sweet-hitting first baseman in the Tigers farm system who had the misfortune of playing the same position as Prince Fielder and (then last year) Miguel Cabrera. With a chance to hit the open market this winter, Lennerton opted to come back.

A source confirmed Monday that Lennerton has re-signed with the Tigers, inking a minor-league deal. No word on whether he’ll be in big-league camp, though he was there last year.

Lennerton was an All-Star in the Eastern League in 2012 and the International League in 2013, and was a Futures Game participant in 2013 after a scorching first half for Triple-A Toledo. He made it to big league camp this past spring, but with Cabrera and Victor Martinez both healthy, Lennerton was an early camp cut. Back in Toledo, he got off to a slow start and didn’t recover until it was too late to salvage his season stats.

For the year, Lennerton batted .249 (102-for-410) with 26 doubles, 10 home runs, 53 RBIs, 73 walks and 114 strikeouts. He actually had more walks than hits for more than half the season. After 70 games, he had 42 walks, 42 hits, a .184 batting average and a .313 on-base percentage. He went on a tear down the stretch, batting .337 with a .973 OPS over the final two months, to get his numbers back to respectable. He has spent the last couple months playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, batting .227 (25-for-110) with a home run, 13 RBIs, 13 walks and 31 strikeouts through Dec. 30.

Lennerton is a two-time Minor League Gold Glove winner at first base. He played 121 games and had 1127 total chances there last year without committing an error.

It’s unclear what Lennerton’s return means for Aaron Westlake, who hit 15 home runs for Erie last year but with a .236 average and .689 OPS. More interesting is the impact on the upside. Cabrera has a follow-up exam scheduled later this month on his surgically repaired foot and ankle. That should give a better idea on Cabrera’s timetable for a return. Detroit has Victor Martinez back and capable of playing first base, but it’s doubtful the team would want him in the field every day at age 36 if Cabrera had to miss any significant stretch. J.D. Martinez has a couple of games at first base in the minor leagues, but none since 2009.

Tigers reportedly fell just $2 mil shy of luxury tax

The Tigers have paid out luxury tax for payroll only once since Major League Baseball put the system in place in 2003. That was in 2008. If an Associated Press report is accurate, Detroit came as close this year to crossing the threshold as it has since paying out.

According to final calculations reportedly obtained by AP, the Tigers finished with the third-highest payroll in the game at just over $187 million. That’s just $2 million shy of the $189 million mark that triggers the luxury tax calculation.

The two teams with higher payrolls — the Dodgers and Yankees — are reportedly due to pay out $45 million combined in luxury tax. Both pay higher rates as repeat big spenders — 30 percent for the Dodgers, 50 percent for the Yanks. If Detroit had gone over, it would have had to pay tax at just a 17.5% rate for first-timers on the excess amount.

The luxury tax threshold rose from $175 million in 2013 to $189 million this year. It will stay at $189 next season, so any significant increase will put the Tigers at risk again. And while the Tigers shed payroll with Torii Hunter in Minnesota, Austin Jackson in Seattle and Max Scherzer potentially headed elsewhere, the average annual value on Victor Martinez’s contract goes up from $12.5 million to $17 million. Meanwhile, David Price is up for arbitration one more time after earning $14 million this year. Also, Joakim Soria will be making $7 million with his option year exercised, and Alex Avila gets a raise to $5.4 million with his option picked up.

The total payroll numbers here are significantly higher than numbers previously seen. However, for luxury tax purposes, MLB uses average annual salaries on long-term contracts, not a specific year’s salary. It also includes the 40-man roster, not just the active 25-man list from Opening Day, and includes benefits.

That thin margin perhaps offers some view into why Alfredo Simon made sense for the Tigers in replacing Porcello. Payroll went up a few million in the Simon and Cespedes trades, but it would have surely been more had the Tigers acquired a higher-salaried, longer-term starter like Mat Latos.

Given the numbers, it would be nearly impossible for the Tigers to re-sign Scherzer without paying out luxury tax, meaning a deal would come at a higher cost than the salary in the contract. They could take comfort in the likelihood that they’d only be paying it for a year if Price leaves as a free agent next winter, but it would still be a complication.

Danny Worth signs with Diamondbacks

If any player deserved a fresh start in a new place, it’s former Tigers infielder Danny Worth, who spent most of his tenure in the organization bouncing back and forth between Detroit and Toledo. He has found his fresh start, agreeing to terms with the Arizona Diamondbacks on a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to Major League spring training.

Chris Iott of MLive first reported the deal. Two industry sources later confirmed it.

The 29-year-old Worth played in 135 games with the Tigers over five seasons, but had a lot of back-and-forth trips to Triple-A Toledo doing it. He was called up nine different times from 2011 to 2012, three different times for a week or less. He had a longer stretch with the big club this past season once the Tigers cut ties with Opening Day shortstop Alex Gonzalez, but still had limited playing time. He was best known for pitching in two games.

Worth batted .230 (60-for-261) for his Tiger tenure, hitting 11 doubles and two home runs with 19 RBIs. He played in 381 games as a Mud Hen.

Ironically, Worth’s opportunity comes after a three-team trade with the Tigers created an infield void in the Diamondbacks system. The trade that sent Shane Greene to Detroit also sent Didi Gregorius to the Yankees, partly clearing an infield logjam in the Arizona system.

Worth is expected to compete for a utility infield job in Diamondbacks camp. He is not expected to pitch.

Payroll impact of Tigers’ winter meetings trades

The on-field impact of Thursday’s trades for Yoenis Cespedes and Alfredo Simon has had a chance to air out. The financial impact really has not, and it might be a little different than you think.

All three major players in the deals — Cespedes, Simon and Rick Porcello — are in line to become free agents after this season. So in terms of long-term obligations, nothing has changed. For 2015, however, payroll has gone up. The impact of the bump depends on how much you expected the Tigers to spend on their outfield void.

The one guaranteed salary belongs to Cespedes, who’s due to make $10.5 million next year in his final season of arbitration. Both Porcello and Simon are eligible for arbitration one last time — Simon as a third-year eligible, Porcello as a fourth-year eligible thanks to his qualification as a super-two player a few years ago.

That super-two designation is huge for Porcello, who avoided arbitration last offseason with an $8.5 million deal. With 15 wins, three shutouts and 204 2/3 innings pitched in 2014, he’s in line for a major bump. Each fall, Matt Swartz uses case history and stats to project salaries for arbitration-eligible players on MLB Trade Rumors, and his track record is fairly good. The projections have Porcello in line for a $12.2 million salary in 2015.

Simon, too, is due for a big raise. However, because he spent most of his career as a reliever until this past season, he’s in line for a major raise from a comparatively smaller salary. He made $1.5 million this year. MLB Trade Rumors projects those digits to flip, earning him $5.1 million in 2015.

Wilson has just over a year of service time, and will make somewhere around the minimum salary for 2015. Take those players into consideration, and the Tigers take on just over $16 million in salary while shedding Porcello’s $12.2 million projection, thus adding a few million to the payroll. That said, if Detroit hadn’t made the deal and signed a free-agent outfielder of some impact, it likely would’ve ended up with a larger payroll. Cespedes’ salary is about the same as what Torii Hunter will make in Minnesota next year. (Update: Melky Cabrera reportedly agreed to a 3-year, $42 million deal with the White Sox late Saturday night.)

I’m not counting Eugenio Suarez’s salary as a savings, mainly because there was no guarantee for him making the Tigers roster in 2015 with Jose Iglesias expected back from injury and Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez both out of options and in competition for a utility spot.

The only long-term impact could come in the draft. The Tigers would have received a compensation pick in 2016 had Porcello left as a free agent. That’s now gone, and they won’t receive a pick if Cespedes signs somewhere else next winter. Cespedes’ contract forbids his team from making a qualifying offer.


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