The Tigers have found their answer in left field, and it’s not the much-rumored, oft-speculated pursuit of Shin-Soo Choo. Instead, they’re prepared to go with a platoon of Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis.
The Tigers spent Tuesday working to complete an agreement with Davis on what is expected to be a two-year contract, according to sources. The team has not confirmed the agreement, as is their policy when a contract is pending a physical. Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca, who first reported an agreement, said the contract will be worth $10 million.
It’s a role signing for a team that was looking to upgrade its offense and saw left field as the one place it could do so. It’ll happen situationally, plugging in the speedy Davis as the right-handed hitting half of a platoon with Dirks, as well as a basestealing option in the late innings of games he doesn’t start. His .294 career average and .354 on-base percentage against lefties, including .319 and .383 last season in a part-time role with the Blue Jays, fits what the Tigers were seeking, though the production often came in streaks.
By contrast, Davis is a .255 career hitter against right-handers, including just .228 (49-for-215) with 48 strikeouts this past season.
At the same time, it’s a philosophical shift for a team that has been short on speed and wary of speedsters in their thirties. Detroit has been neither a basestealing team nor a manufactured offense type of club for several seasons, increasingly focusing their baserunning efforts on hit-and-run and first-to-third plays. The Tigers wouldn’t be signing the 33-year-old Davis for multiple seasons if they didn’t plan to use his greatest asset.
Despite just 108 games and 360 plate appearances, Davis stole 45 bases in 51 attempts in 2013, and he has racked up at least 40 steals in four of the last five seasons. Meanwhile, the Tigers stole 35 bases as a team last season, led by Austin Jackson’s eight.
The deal rules out the Tigers on Choo, if they were ever in it. Though his combination of speed, on-base percentage and arm presented potentially an ideal fit for Detroit, he’s also an ideal fit for a lot of teams. With Jacoby Ellsbury and Robinson Cano off the market, moreover, Choo stands as the top position player left, making him a hot commodity.
– Jason Beck
The Tigers made the two biggest trades of the offseason to date to create flexibility out of a top-five payroll. They wouldn’t address the reinvestment end of that money until they took care of their most pressing need and signed a closer. Now that Joe Nathan is about to become a Tiger, it’s time, and the Tigers might well spend it making one good run at one of the biggest free agents on the market again.
Both Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com report the Tigers have shown interest in multi-tooled Shin-Soo Choo, the most prominent left-handed hitting outfielder available now that Jacoby Ellsbury is headed to the Yankees. Feinsand cites a source that Choo is Detroit’s top free-agent target.
Choo fits the profile of hitter the Tigers are known to be seeking, balancing out a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup while also adding speed and on-base percentage back into Detroit’s offense. The Tigers saw him up-close for years in Cleveland, where he was a teammate of Detroit DH Victor Martinez. And unlike other speedy leadoff hitters who have hit the market, hitters the Tigers have traditionally judged on how their game would mature as they age and lose speed, Choo brings a skill set that doesn’t hinge on his speed.
The question for the Tigers with Choo is financial, how far they’re willing or able to go to sign him. They just shed the burden of a megacontract by trading Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. With several players nearing free agency, Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera foremost among them, they can’t afford to put themselves in the same bind, though Choo isn’t expected to approach the nine-year deal Fielder signed with the Tigers two winters ago.
– Jason Beck
The last question for the Tigers at Monday’s nontender deadline has been answered. Utilityman Don Kelly agreed to terms on a one-year, $1 million contract, thus taking him off the potential nontender list.
Kelly confirmed the deal in a text to inquiring reporters. The Tigers announced the deal shortly thereafter.
The $1 million salary represents the first seven-figure deal for Kelly. He made $900,000 in each of the past two seasons, including this past season on what was initially a minor-league contract with a Spring Training invite he signed just before camp. He essentially had to win his roster spot back after being taken off the 40-man roster.
As the Tigers headed towards Monday’s deadline for tendering contracts to arbitration eligible players, the question was whether they’d try to do the same thing this winter. The team traditionally waits until January to wrap up deals with arbitration-eligible players, but their one-year deal with Phil Coke a week and a half ago noted a change in approach. With some players, they wanted a deal in place before approaching the offseason. Kelly fell in that category, though his salary is by far the smallest of the eight arbitration-eligible Tigers.
Kelly’s versatility is well-known, and he currently stands as a left-handed hitter on the bench of a team that has a righty-heavy lineup at the moment in the wake of the Prince Fielder trade. The one factor that could change his role is the positional shuffle around the Tigers infield and outfield, notably if fellow left-handed hitter Andy Dirks becomes the primary reserve outfielder.
The roster picture, especially in left field and third base, remains a big question, but the Tigers can keep Kelly on the roster and then take a wait-and-see approach in Spring Training. If Detroit decides he’s no longer a fit, he can be released by March 15 or thereabouts for one-sixth of his salary, or just under $167,000. If the Tigers release him at the end of camp, they would owe him $250,000. Detroit took a similar approach with Brennan Boesch a year ago.
– Jason Beck
The rumor began circulating on Twitter Thursday from someone who cited his brother who was an air traffic controller that Robinson Cano and his well-known agent, Jay-Z, had just landed at Willow Run Airport.
By Friday morning, the rumor had been circulated enough that fans were tweeting he was still in town meeting with Tigers personnel.
By Friday evening, the buzz drew a speculative report in the Detroit News, centering around a charter jet owned by a private aircraft rental service that had taken off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and landed at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti Friday morning, just after 8:30. The flight stuck around until 2pm, when it took off back for Teterboro. Because it’s a private jet, there was no identifying who was on the flight, which keeps the intrigue going.
By late Friday night, it drew a question and response from Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who has a policy of not talking about specific free agents from other teams but told MLive.com, “We plan on having Ian Kinsler as our second baseman next year.”
It became quite a rumor, but there are some serious holes.
First, the rumor originated Thursday afternoon with the talk of Jay-Z and Cano landing in the area. Jay-Z was spotted shortly after that Thursday evening … in Oklahoma City. He was with his wife, Beyonce, courtside for the Clippers-Thunder game to watch his top sports client, Kevin Durant. Here’s Jay-Z at the game celebrating a fan hitting a half-court shot.
Second, a source indicated late Friday morning when the rumors were building that it was business as usual at Tigers offices. If Cano was in Detroit, he wasn’t with them. It doesn’t mean Cano couldn’t have arrived after that for a quick meeting on short or no notice, but that seems like a lot for an early-morning charter jet to a city for spontaneous talks. And if he was on that aforementioned jet at Willow Run, which took off for Teterboro just after 2pm, it would have made for a real quick trip. The airport is about 10 miles further west of Detroit than Metro Airport.
But there’s a third, more fundamental problem here: For Robinson Cano, a secret visit makes no sense.
By all accounts, Cano is looking for a standard-setting contract as the top free agent on the market, but the question — especially in New York — is whether there’s enough of a market to drive up the price. If Cano is getting on a plane and visiting a team, it serves his purposes more to get it out as much as possible, especially in New York media. When Jay-Z and agent Brodie Van Wagenen had dinner with the Mets earlier in the week in New York, the reports were rampant, with Mets personnel even commenting on it. Even if nobody wants to comment, a public sighting somewhere in town — eating lunch, getting into a car, getting off of a charter jet at Metro, anything — serves the purpose. A leak in New York does the same. A secondhand tweet does not.
The good news for the Tigers is that Joe Nathan is going on national radio professing his love for them. The bad news is that it doesn’t sound like he’s signing a contract anywhere quite yet, or at least for a little while until the Yankees and perhaps some other teams begin making moves.
From the conversation he had with Jim Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio on Monday, it sounded very much like a waiting game.
“Right now,” he said, “it’s just waiting to see how what options are going to be out there, what teams are really going to be interested and then take those phone calls and try to make the best decision we can as far as what location we’re looking for and what team we feel can be a good fit and most importantly what team can have the best chance we feel to go into a postseason.”
As he talked, he pointed out a mutual benefit to that approach.
“I think the fortunate thing is I think a lot of teams are going to try to figure out what they’re going to do with guys as far as arbitration and other pieces that they’ve got to figure out, as far as are they going to try and trade somebody and do this and do that, free up money,” Nathan said. “So I think there are going to be a lot of teams that this process kind of allows me to patient [with], so it gives me a chance to see what clubs are trying to do. So it’ll be nice. I think that helps with the Yankees situation and gives us a sense of what they’re going to do.”
Bowden earlier presented Nathan with three teams he saw as fits for him, starting with the Tigers and then including the Angels and Yankees. As the above quote showed, he sounds willing to wait out the Yankees and see how their roster and payroll shake out.
“I think that’s one of the good things that this has been a slow process and we do have the ability to be patient and kind of watch how this thing plays out, because we do know the Yankees have a lot of pieces to try to fix and a lot of pieces to fill in and the Yankees do obviously go out there and make moves,” he continued. “So It’ll be interesting to see how they try to piece their team together and fill in some of the holes that they have. … It’ll be nice to be patient and see how this thing plays out, but again, it’s fun and just knowing that there are going to be teams out there that have a chance to go to the postseason is exciting for us.”
On the Tigers, it doesn’t sound like patience is a huge motive.
“I definitely love the Tigers, know them very well, having competed against that squad for so many years when I was with the Twins, knowing some of the guys over there, knowing how deep they are, rotation deep,” Nathan said. “Their lineup and offense obviously are impressive. I think one of the things is that their defense has definitely improved. It’s a good ballpark to play in, a good crowd to play in front of. Detroit’s definitely a very appealing and attractive team to look at, I think.”
One of the guys he knows, of course, is his old Twins teammate, Torii Hunter, who has apparently started his recruiting effort.
“With the way the game is today, that is one of the fortunate things that we have,” Nathan said. “Most of the time you know somebody that plays for the club that’s trying to get you over there, so you can kind of already get a sense of how things work, how it is inside the clubhouse, how the teammates are, how the guys are around there, how the staff is, basically how they like to do things in the organization. Fortunately I was able to have a quick little text with Torii Hunter, and obviously he was trying to make sure I was keeping Detroit in my sights and see if I can come over there and join their club.”
The Yankees don’t necessarily have that. What they have is location; Nathan went to high school and college in New York, the latter at Stony Brook University on Long Island. That said, Nathan downplayed the location factor in general.
“Location does play a factor,” he said, “but I think it definitely takes a back seat to whether the team can win and whether the team has a chance to seriously contend, not just to get to the postseason but contend to get to where we ultimately want to be, and that’s the World Series.”
Bottom line, the interview doesn’t do anything to change the view that the Tigers and Nathan are a fit. But it also makes clear that Nathan is willing to wait and see what kind of fit the Yankees can create financially and competitively.
– Jason Beck
On the day Max Scherzer officially won the AL Cy Young award for his amazing 2013 season, he was prepared for the questions about 2014. With rumors building about the possibility of the Tigers trading Scherzer with a year left on his contract and potential free-agent stardom to follow, he didn’t want to take away from his celebration.
“The business side will take care of itself,” he said on his conference call with reporters. “My job is go out there and play baseball and pitch. All the business side tends to take care of itself, for the best.”
At the same time, he didn’t want to dodge the issue, either. And when asked about the possibility of contract talks with the Tigers this winter, he left the door open.
“I am open (to a new deal),” Scherzer said. “I love it here in Detroit. We’re capable of putting out a team that’s able to win every single year right now. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? I’m here to win and win a World Series. I realize I’ve got a good situation here in Detroit. But it also takes two to dance. …
“I don’t have any [anxiety] to get anything done, but if something does get done, I’d be happy to do it.”
That meshes with remarks that his agent, Scott Boras, made with reporters at baseball’s GM Meetings earlier Wednesday.
“They know Max likes it there,” Boras told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. “We would have to sit down and talk about their plans for the future. But when you have a player who likes playing where he’s playing and an ownership that has been what Mike Ilitch has been in Detroit, it’s certainly something we would listen to.”
– Jason Beck
The Tigers have declared their interest in a closer, and Joe Nathan is the most successful closer on the free-agent market this winter. Nathan is looking for a chance at a World Series ring, and the Tigers might be the closest contending team that’s looking for a closer.
The pieces are there for mutual interest. And according to Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com, the interest has already developed.
Nathan’s agent, Dave Pepe, isn’t commenting on teams’ inquiries or interest, and intends to keep negotiations in general as quiet as possible. He did, however, say it’s very early in the process with any team and nowhere close to a deal. If there are talks, they aren’t serious yet.
That said, the expectation is that these two sides are going to try. Morosi cited sources saying Nathan has the Tigers high on his list of teams. And Tigers manager Brad Ausmus’ comments on local radio a few days ago seemingly reflected interest on Detroit’s part.
“I am a Joe Nathan fan for sure,” Ausmus told Detroit Sports 105.1 FM last week. “But where Joe Nathan ends up is a little out of my control.”
The Tigers know Nathan well from his days with the Minnesota Twins, where he and Torii Hunter were teammates from 2004 to 2007. Nathan is 36-for-36 in save chances for his career against Detroit, allowing just 10 runs on 33 hits over 62 2/3 innings with 23 walks and 75 strikeouts. His only loss against the Tigers came on July 19, 2007, when Brandon Inge doubled in Neifi Perez in the 10th inning at the Metrodome.
He posted some of his best numbers this past season at age 38, going 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves in 46 chances. The stats sound a lot like his career against Detroit: 64 2/3 innings pitched, 36 hits, 10 runs, 22 walks, 73 strikeouts.
“We’re going to have a closer,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said last week. “We’re going to pursue somebody to pitch at the back end of the bullpen. Joaquin [Benoit] is in that group, but there are a lot of closers out there. It’s the one area where there’s a lot of guys. That is one area I think we need to address, with him or someone else, and then we’ll look at the rest of our club.”
– Jason Beck
From the day the Tigers introduced manager Brad Ausmus and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski talked about his pitching staff in terms of six starters, not five, you figured this was coming.
“We have some pieces we need to fit together,” Dombrowski said last week, unprompted. “I mean, we do have six starters at this point. People are aware of that, with [former fifth starter turned reliever Drew] Smyly being available to start.”
Once front office members gather for MLB’s General Managers Meetings, it usually becomes apparent how things like that get solved. That came Monday from CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman, who reported that the Tigers have told teams they’re open to listening to trade offers for Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello.
The Tigers listening on prominent players is nothing new. Dombrowski has said for years he’ll listen on most any player on the roster. The only players who have been labeled untouchable in that regard over the years are Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. It would not be a shock for the Tigers to listen to offers on Doug Fister, either.
That being said, the GM meetings are the same spot where rumors picked up about Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson being available for trade four years ago. Both were dealt a month later at the Winter Meetings in a deal that brought a youth infusion and helped open up some payroll space for other moves that offseason, such as Jose Valverde’s signing and the season of Johnny Damon.
Scherzer and Porcello are in vastly different situations. While Scherzer will head into his contract year as likely the reigning Cy Young award winner and potentially the top free agent on the market next winter, his high-strikeout form refined for consistency, Porcello has two years left ahead of free agency and a vast amount of room for growth at age 24.
Just what the Tigers can draw for either is the question that will mark the difference between listening and acting. Any team that entertains the idea of trading for Scherzer has to determine its chances for re-signing him when free agency is just a year away. On the flip side, trading him this offseason would allow the acquiring team to get a compensatory draft pick if he does sign elsewhere in a year.
The Tigers had six starters this past spring and were widely believed to be open to trading Porcello, but never drew the kind of interest that would spark serious talks. That was before a refined curveball and more consistent fastball command meant a big step forward in Porcello’s development, from a jump in his strikeout rate to a drop in his batting average allowed. His 3.53 Fielding Independent Pitching was easily the best of his five-year career.
If the Tigers can address some immediate needs, such as bullpen or middle infield, and help add some young talent, it might take them beyond the listening stage.
– Jason Beck
Max Scherzer made an appearance on MLB Network’s Hot Stove morning program and talked on a wide range of topics, from new manager Brad Ausmus to what went awry in the playoffs. He said Ausmus called him earlier this week and introduced himself and he was impressed.
“He called me up the other day and I talked with him for a bit,” Scherzer said. “I think we made a great hire. For him, his pedigree speaks volumes. He caught in the big leagues for 18 years. I think with his knowledge of the game, he’s going to be able to fit right in for us and take us where we need to go.”
Whether Scherzer actually makes a start for him, of course, remains to be seen.
Scherzer is staying out of speculation over a potential trade, saying that’s part of the business. But he also said that there are no talks going on about a contract extension, at least to his knowledge.
“We really haven’t had too much talk previously about an extension,” Scherzer said. “Taking care of one this offseason, really I haven’t even approached it. I haven’t even stepped back and thought about it, just because we’re not at the right time to discuss a contract. I’m sure something can be talked about throughout the winter.”
Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, said earlier this fall that he anticipated talking with the Tigers about a potential extension this offseason. Boras has a well-earned reputation for believing players, especially pitchers, should test the free-agent market when they get close to free agency, a factor that played into the trade that brought Scherzer to the Tigers four years ago (Detroit strongly believed Edwin Jackson was going to test the market in a couple years). That said, Boras pitchers have signed extensions ahead of free agency, Jered Weaver being a notable example.
Fitting a potential Scherzer extension into payroll is another matter, which is why it wasn’t lost on reporters have team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said unprompted that they have a surplus of starting pitchers.
“We have some pieces we need to fit together. I mean, we do have six starters at this point,” Dombrowski said Sunday. “People are aware of that, with [Drew] Smyly being available to start.”
Ken Rosenthal, part of the Hot Stove show, said earlier in the show that the Nationals are looking for an elite starting pitcher and could be a good fit for a deal, because of their depth in young power pitchers and their strong relationship with Boras (gee, that sounds familiar).
Scherzer tried to downplay the speculation.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I understand the business of the game and the reality of the payroll. And so, I mean, I get it. But at the same time, for me, I want to be a Detroit Tiger. I’ve been in Detroit for four years and we’ve had a great run. With all the friends that you have on the team, you just want that to continue, so hopefully it can.”
– Jason Beck
The Tigers filled a huge void in right-handed relief with Astros closer Jose Veras, a move that paid dividends Tuesday night. They prepared for the possibility of a Jhonny Peralta suspension by trading for slick-fielding Jose Iglesias. And they still might not be done yet.
The buzz among teams Wednesday continued to include the Tigers checking on more relief help. They’ve been pursuing lefty relief options in recent days, including San Francisco’s Javier Lopez, and there are plenty of other southpaws potentially available. They could also add a right-hander for relief depth, though not necessarily a big-name setup reliever like they’ve been pursuing the last few weeks.
Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reported Wednesday that the Tigers had been in touch with the Blue Jays on relievers. Toronto has veteran lefty Darren Oliver, who turns 43 this October, as well as All-Star setup lefty Brett Cecil and right-hander Steve Delabar.
Team president/general manager Dombrowski indicated late Tuesday night after the Iglesias deal that he was not expecting anything, but didn’t rule out pursuing another swap. The big question Dombrowski posed Sunday was whether the lofty demands teams had for relief pitching going into the week would drop at the deadline. If someone’s price drops, the Tigers could well make another move.
– Jason Beck