January 19th, 2012

Caravan notes: Cabrera stays upbeat about V-Mart

20120119-234928.jpgEverybody on the Tigers feels the loss of Victor Martinez, likely out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee. But nobody is more likely to feel the aftereffects than Miguel Cabrera, the reigning AL batting champion and Tigers cleanup hitter. After all, the Tigers signed Martinez last winter to support Cabrera.

Cabrera, though, isn’t feeling the loss. Martinez won’t be in the lineup, Cabrera said, but he’ll still be a presence.

Apparently, Cabrera talked with Martinez this week, after the extent of the injury became clear.

“He told me, ‘Don’t get down. I’m going to work hard to get past the injuries,'” Cabrera said. “‘I’m going to do a lot of things to stay with the team. I’m going to support you a lot. I’m going to stay with you and hopefully get back on the field soon.'”

The field part is a question mark. Though the timetable from doctors and others have been through ACL surgery suggest anywhere from 8-10 months of recovery, Cabrera holds out hope Martinez could return by year’s end and be ready for the postseason.

The leadership aspect, the energy, seemed to be the biggest thing on Cabrera’s mind for Martinez. He saw the difference last year that Martinez brought. Even if Martinez isn’t physically around for most, if not all of the season, Cabrera still expects him to be a presence.

“I think even if he’s out for three months, four months, whatever he’s out, I think he’s going to be part of the team,” Cabrera said. “I think he’s going to be with us, he’s goinig to call everybody and we can call him. I think we’re going to be the same family.”

The bigger question on many minds, the question of how Martinez’s physical absence in the lineup affects Cabrera, wasn’t quite as big of a concern for him. When asked about the potential of how pressure on him, Cabrera politely shook his head.

“No, no, I don’t see it,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of things about putting more pressure on yourself, and that’s no good. You have to go out there and do what you can control and do what can you do to lead to wins. We’re going to keep focused the whole year.”

He definitely didn’t look worried Thursday; he looked pretty relaxed at the Tigers’ winter caravan stops. While some Tigers took part in movie trivia at a fan rally at Birmingham’s Palladium 12 Theater, Cabrera caught a ball and a pen from a kid in the seats and signed.

Delmon not distracted by batting order: Delmon Young isn’t really worried about where he’s going to bat in the order with Victor Martinez. Whether he hits third, fifth or eighth, he knows his job is to drive in a runner in scoring position.

No, what matters more to Young is knowing that his name’s going to be in the lineup.

After 3 1/2 years in Minnesota, Young knows about dealing with injury-depleted lineups. Losing Martinez hurts, but it isn’t new territory for him, whether it impacts his spot in the order or not.

“I learned a lot in Minnesota in 2008 when [Michael] Cuddyer missed [a half] season,” he said. “And in 2009, when we went to game 163, we had [Justin] Morneau down the second half of the season, and guys just had to step up. In 2010, Morneau missed the second half of the season.

“So when guys are MVP-caliber players and you lose them, you can’t try to do too much. You just have to have everyone come in and play their own game. And whoever is the guy that comes in for them has to play their own game. Because if you try to put up the .330, 100 RBI type numbers Victor puts up, that’s rare. There’s only six or seven guys in Major League Baseball that batted  .330-plus last year. You can’t go in and try to replace Victor, because you’re not going to do that.”

Young’s best numbers, coincidentally, came in 2010, when Morneau suffered a concussion around the midway point that cost him the rest of the year. Pressure wasn’t the factor, he said.

“No, I just knew I didn’t have to check the lineup anymore,” he said, “just like when I got here. Jim [Leyland] said, ‘You’re playing every day. If you need a day off, come talk to me.’ So I never had to go check the lineup and have a daily tryout to see if I could make the lineup the next day.”

Dombrowski: Fielder “probably not a good fit”

Credit Angela Wittrock of MLive.com for getting Dave Dombrowski to mention Prince Fielder by name during the Tigers’ winter caravan stop Thursday afternoon at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing. He normally doesn’t do that with free agents.

Dombrowski’s answer on the subject went about as expected.

“Of course we’d consider Prince Fielder,” Dombrowski is quoted as saying. “But realistically, it’s probably not a good fit.”

Agent Scott Boras, Dombrowski reportedly said, probably wouldn’t agree to a one-year contract, and that’s the kind of deal the Tigers are seeking to replace Martinez.

“We anticipate Victor Martinez coming back in 2013 and playing at the level he was at last season,” Dombrowski said.

Now, as many of us learned from the Johnny Damon saga two years ago, Boras has a talent for negotiating directly with owners. Dombrowski, you may remember, denied interest in Damon shortly after that rumor popped up, only to have that situation develop after that. But given that experience, it’s hard to imagine Dombrowski making his remarks today without feeling highly confident that’s the universal opinion in the organization.

“I would just say the fit is really not there at this point,” Dombrowski said.

Realistically, if Fielder can get a long-term deal somewhere else, it’s hard to envision him passing it up. And if Boras can take the Tigers’ desire for a one-year fix and tie it to another of his many free-agent hitters, Boras could be in better shape.

Leyland discusses “punch to the gut”

The Mud Hens’ annual Fandemonium event isn’t officially part of the Tigers’ winter caravan, but it’s really the unofficial start for the media, since it usually features manager Jim Leyland and some players in a less formal setting than the larger-scale rallies and interviews that go on later in the week. Not surprisingly, Leyland was the highlight in wake of Tuesday’s news about Victor Martinez’s season-ending knee injury.

Leyland touched on a lot of topics, the vast majority of them revolving around the Martinez situation and what the Tigers do now. The overriding theme was that Leyland is trying to stay positive, as he did earlier in the day in an interview with MLB Network Radio on Sirius/XM.

“I don’t want to downplay it, but I’m positive,” he said later at Fandemonium. “I feel good about our team, and this is something where we have to make the adjustment and go forward. We have a good team.”

If the logistics allow, he plans on talking with the team at some point during this caravan about it.

“It’s always a catch-22 when you’re management. You don’t want to downplay the loss of Victor Martinez, but you don’t want to prey on that either all the time,” Leyland said. “I was thinking coming down here, during this caravan, I don’t know how it’s all going to work out, but just having a meeting: ‘Look, we’re going to discuss this today, and after this, I don’t want to discuss this anymore. And I don’t want to downplay Victor, but I want to get the message across: Look, fellas, this is the way it is. We can take a punch.

I wrote a lengthy article here, but couldn’t get to everything, so here’s the roundup:

  • On how he found out: “I got a call a couple days ago from Dave [Dombrowski]. He said, ‘How are you doing,’ and I could tell something wasn’t right. I said I’m fine, and he said, ‘Well, you’re not going to be doing too good. Are you sitting down?’ … I was in my car with my duahgter and my wife at Kent State.”
  • On his reaction: “To me, I think Dave put it well: It’s a punch in the gut. But if you want to stay in the fight, you take a punch. We can take a punch. We took the Delmon punch last year, the Magglio punch last year, the Victor punch last year. We had guys hurt. If you can’t take a punch, then you don’t belong in the fight.”
  • On moving on from it: “It’s something you just do the best you can with. I think you don’t beat around the bushes when you comment on it. Most likely, it’s a total shot in the dark you’re going to find somebody as good as Victor Martinez. Let’s face it. So if you say it’s not gonna hurt us, you’re lying. This guy’s one of the best clutch hitters in baseball, one of the best two-strike hitters in baseball, he’s one of the best run producers in baseball really without the big-time home run power. So you’re most likely not going to replace that.”
  • On filling the spot: “I don’t know. This is so, so fresh, this hasn’t really set in yet. so I don’t know what’s going to happen. You think about it, there are some options probably outside [the organization], and there are some options that would be possibly hitter-type still not a lot of speed. There might be some speed out there that you might make adjustments with some personnel on your team and put them into that role or fool with that role. But I think we just want to look at it internally first.”
  • On the abundance of hitters on the market: “There are a lot of names out there. I’ll say that. How good they produce anymore, I don’t know. And I always ultimately leave that up to Dave. We’ve already had some discussions, I won’t say who they are, of some guys internally. We’ve had some discussions about some guys outside the organization. … I imagine there are a lot of agents that called Dave Dombrowski yesterday. All of a sudden there were a lot of guys that wanted to play in Detroit.”
  • On agents: “I did have an agent call me today about a player, which is rare. That’s not really my area, and I basically told him that. I was very respectful, but I told him I’ll pass that name along to Dave and I’m sure we’ll discuss it.”
  • On whether it’s easier to fill void at DH: “I don’t know that it’s a DH spot we’re trying to fill. I think that’s part of the puzzle here. Do you take something you already have and put them in that role and pick up a position player to play more? That’s what I’m saying. It’s all premature right now. If we were saying, hey, we’re just going after a DH-type guy, then that’s one thing. But that’s not necessarily the way it could end up. It might, but it might not.”
  • Are they focusing on short-term options: “If you’re asking me if we’re going to go out and sign some guy for three years, I would doubt that. But I don’t want to speak for Dave on that. That’s his area. Dave, he’s smart. He talked about some names already, but he’s not going to panic. He’s going to do his homework. When this happens, you just don’t go out the next day and sign some guy. There’s all kinds of things that are involved in that, what kind of physical condition [players are in]. You just have to be patient, and that’s one thing about Dave, he’s relentless when it comes to this kind of stuff. And we’ll come up with something. Maybe we do have something internally, I don’t know. Maybe we do. I’m not saying we don’t. We’ll look at that. But everybody has to remember, you’re not going to sign Victor Martinez, and you’re not going to find him internally, most likely. I mean, you’re kidding yourself. I think I would make myself look dumb to say, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ve got another Victor.’ We’re not going to find another Victor, most likely. That’s a total shot in the dark.”