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Scherzer open to contract extension

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

Mutual interest reported between Nathan, Tigers

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

Tigers listening on Scherzer, Porcello interest

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

Scherzer to MLB Network: No talks on contract extension

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

Tigers might not be finished dealing yet

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

Dombrowski: We’re not looking for a bat

Not even a shortstop, it appears.

As reports pick up about potential suspensions Major League Baseball has planned for players involved in the Biogenesis investigation, Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is avoiding comment, saying Tuesday that it’s a Major League Baseball matter. Even a question about whether the team has made contingency plans in the event of a suspension was a question Dombrowski didn’t want to touch.

When asked about what depth the Tigers might have in the middle infield if they needed a shortstop in a pinch, Dombrowski listed his internal options.

“We have depth in the infield,” Dombrowski said. “Argenis Diaz is an outstanding defensive shortstop. He can really pick the ball at short. [Danny] Worth is playing second base; we know he can play shortstop. [Ramon] Santiago can go over there and play.

“You’re not going to get the offense from any of them that you would get [from Peralta] on a regular basis. So we have some depth in that regard.”

Both Diaz and Worth have spent the season at Triple-A Toledo. Worth has spent several stints in Detroit as a reserve, while Diaz has been in Toledo since 2011.

The option not listed there was Hernan Perez, the rookie who has filled in at second base the last couple weeks with Omar Infante on the disabled list. Perez has played nearly as many minor-league games at shortstop as he has at second base, including 27 at Erie this season before fellow prospect Eugenio Suarez was promoted.

“Can Perez go over there? That’s a good question that I don’t really know the answer,” Dombrowski said. “He’s played primarily second base this year. He’s played shortstop in the past. We switched him over to second. I think he’s going to be an outstanding defensive second baseman, all-around second baseman.

“Is he a shortstop for the future? I don’t really know that answer. Could he be? Maybe.”

At this point, internal options are the only options the Tigers have. As Wednesday afternoon’s nonwaiver Trade Deadline approaches, Dombrowski all but ruled out a trade for a fill-in. The Tigers are not pursuing a deal for a position player of any kind, it appears.

“We’re not looking for a bat,” Dombrowski said. “Again, if somebody drops something on your lap that you’re not anticipating being there, which happens sometimes in the last 24 hours … you never can tell what happens. But we’re not aggressively seeking that.”

They’re not looking for a bat. They already have a glove.

Jason Beck

What’s next for Tigers after Veras

Though Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that Jose Veras would likely be his team’s lone move before the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline, that doesn’t mean Dombrowski isn’t going to try for something else. The next goal appears to be another left-handed reliever to slot with Drew Smyly.

Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reported late Monday night that the Tigers are among the many teams in the mix for Giants lefty Javier Lopez. The Giants have been scouting pitchers at Double-A Erie, including right-handed starter Drew VerHagen, according to a source.

There’s also buzz among other clubs that the Tigers could make a run at one more right-handed reliever for depth. Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune reported Detroit is in the mix for Cubs closer Kevin Gregg. However, there’s a recent history of misguided rumors regarding Tigers interest in Cubs players (Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano among them) which, along with Gregg’s recent struggles and his 4.27 career ERA and 1.44 career WHIP in the American League (well above his NL numbers) bring the level of interest into question.

The Tigers might be able to fill a right-handed relief spot internally. Octavio Dotel has resumed throwing side sessions in Lakeland in his attempt to come back from elbow inflammation. Meanwhile, Jeremy Bonderman threw two perfect innings of relief at Triple-A Toledo on Monday, stretching his streak to seven scoreless innings on one hit in the Mud Hens bullpen.

Though other teams continue to wait for the Tigers to try to add a shortstop in anticipation of a possible Jhonny Peralta suspension, they’ve no shown sign of heavy pursuit, even with the reported availability of Angels shortstop Erick Aybar and rumors the Giants might listen to interest on veteran middle infielder Marco Scutaro. Two thoughts could be in play: First, if Peralta were to appeal any suspension, it could well push back any discipline until next year. Second, if Peralta received a suspension that would allow him to return in time for the postseason, the Tigers would have to debate just how much production they need out of shortstop to win the AL Central.

Jason Beck

Other than those two areas, the Tigers are pretty well set.

Tigers appear more likely for setup help

The Tigers continue to search the market for relievers, and they continue to scout potential trading partners. This weekend, they have scouts watching the Marlins, Brewers, Padres, Mariners and Astros, according to CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler.

The wide scouting search isn’t unusual for the Tigers, who leverage the strength of their Major League scouting department this time of year.

The longer the search goes on, however, the more likely it appears they’ll look for setup and middle relief help rather than any major deal for a veteran closer.

The Tigers were told recently that the Marlins have no intention of trading closer Steve Cishek, who’s under team control for another four years and doesn’t become eligible for arbitration until this winter. MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro has reported that the Marlins could deal him if they were overwhelmed by an offer, such as a package including a top prospect such as Nick Castellanos. But while the Tigers don’t declare any player untouchable, it’s unlikely they’ll deal Castellanos for a closer.

Detroit still views Bruce Rondon as the long-term answer at closer, and his recent success in seventh- and eighth-inning opportunities has helped give that some momentum. More important for now, Joaquin Benoit’s success in save situations has stabilized the closer role in the short term, and arguably provided the Tigers with the bridge they needed.

With the Phillies seemingly intending to hold onto Jonathan Papelbon (or at least not unload him in a salary dump) and Cubs closer Kevin Gregg not looking appealing as an option (his career numbers in the American League are much worse than the National League, and the Tigers have passed on him before), the path to a stable bullpen appears more likely to come from filling in behind Benoit with setup help than filling the top spot. Seattle and Milwaukee, though, have relievers with closing experience.

– Jason Beck

Dombrowski on closer: “Our outlook has not changed”

Does this sound like a familiar scenario: The Tigers say they’re set at a particular position, one where prominent agent Scott Boras has a well-known free agent looking for a market. Boras bypasses team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and talks with owner Mike Ilitch. The Tigers abruptly change course and get involved.

It happened three winters ago with Johnny Damon. Could it be happening right now with Rafael Soriano? With Tuesday’s report from MLB Network’s Peter Gammons that Boras talked with Ilitch about Soriano on Monday, you have to wonder.

Here’s the report from Gammons on MLB Network’s Hot Stove show this morning:

The Tigers have maintained that they’d like to give hard-throwing rookie Bruce Rondon a chance to win the closer’s job, though Dombrowski said they could still take a look at the market later and could add somebody under the right scenario.

Dombrowski reaffirmed that approach when reached Tuesday.

“Our outlook has not changed,” Dombrowski replied in an email.

In fairness, the Tigers initially downplayed the rumors about Damon a few years ago, only to reach a deal six weeks later. So eventually, maybe they’ll do the same with Soriano. If it happens, though, it doesn’t sound like it’s imminent. With the notable exception of Prince Fielder, no Boras deal ever seems to be quick.

All along, the expectation was that Boras would try to get the Tigers — and especially Ilitch — involved on Soriano. The question has always been whether Ilitch would listen. Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reported a couple weeks ago that it already happened, and that Ilitch said no. Others have reported that it hadn’t happened yet but they expected it to come. ESPN’s Buster Olney cited executives from other teams expecting it to happen.

That doesn’t mean Soriano will get the kind of massive deal that he wants, one that torpedoes the Tigers’ long-term plans for Rondon. Time will tell if there’s a compromise to be found somewhere in there.

– Jason Beck

Tigers reach two-year deal with Torii Hunter

That didn’t take long. A day after Torii Hunter visited Detroit, the free-agent outfielder and the Tigers reached an agreement on a two-year contract, pending a physical. Sources confirmed the deal, first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.

Hunter left Detroit Tuesday night and reportedly did not have an offer. The deal came together quickly Wednesday morning.

Hunter not only fills the corner outfield spot that stood as the lone void in the Tigers lineup, he provides Detroit with the right-handed bat it conspicuously lacked throughout the 2012 season in its struggles against left-handed pitching.

Add in Hunter’s proven tablesetting abilities in the second spot — he goes from batting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to slotting between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera — along with his smart baserunning and still-standout defense, and there’s plenty to like for the Tigers in the deal.

While Hunter gets a multi-year contract that will take him just shy of his 40th birthday, the Tigers get the future flexibility to mix top prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos into their outfield. Garcia was a postseason hero for Detroit at age 21, while Castellanos knocked on the door of a September call-up at age 20.

Both could benefit greatly from working with Hunter, whose impact was credited by AL Rookie of the Year and MVP candidate Mike Trout for helping him adjust so quickly to the big leagues with the Angels.

Jason Beck

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