Torii Hunter’s play as a Minnesota Twins outfielder early in his career earned him the title as a Tiger killer around these parts. After all these years, it’s now realistic for Detroit fans to consider the possibility of Hunter becoming a Tiger.
It might not take long to figure out, one way or the other.
The Tigers are interested in Hunter, as reported earlier Monday by CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler, and as has been expected since team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski laid out their needs for a corner outfielder two weeks ago. Between Detroit’s season-long struggles against left-handed pitching, its desire to become more athletic, its lack of a proven second hitter between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera, and Delmon Young’s departure as a free agent taking away one of Detroit’s key right-handed hitters, the Tigers’ needs fit Hunter’s strengths.
Just as encouraging, there are signs the interest is mutual, and strong. Whether the Tigers should be considered the front-runners for Hunter, as MLB Network Radio’s Jim Bowden and others put it, is a matter of perception, one that could change if another of his suitors (Knobler mentioned Texas, while the Rays, Phillies and Red Sox have also been mentioned in reports for possible one-year offers) steps up in the coming days. But signs point towards a logical match between Hunter and Detroit.
Hunter sounded Monday morning like he already has a team or teams in mind, and could sign soon, maybe by Thanksgiving — the day he signed his five-year deal with the Angels in 2007.
“It’s going to be quick,” Hunter told MLB Network’s Hot Stove morning show with Harold Reynolds. “I’m not going to wait it out. I know who I want to play for.”
Hunter didn’t mention which teams, but he said he’s looking to win, not simply get paid.
“Everybody knows I want to win,” Hunter told MLB Network, “so whatever team’s out there that wants to win and can use me and let me be a part of it, that’s who I want to be playing with.”
Hunter’s five-year deal with the Angels earned him $90 million. He has plenty of money, and he has a son who just committed to a football scholarship at Notre Dame.
That said, it’s expected to take a multi-year deal to sign Hunter, a fact which impacts his market at age 37. If he were to settle on a one-year deal, his field expands.
It leaves the Tigers with an intriguing decision. Detroit has two highly regarded, right-handed hitting outfield prospects with postseason hero Avisail Garcia and Futures Game MVP Nick Castellanos. Both are expected to have a chance to compete for a job in Spring Training, possibly a timeshare with Andy Dirks or Brennan Boesch in one corner outfield spot.
The other corner spot is open, and that’s where Hunter fits in. Add in Hunter’s clubhouse presence and track record of working with young outfielders — Mike Trout credited Hunter’s help as an impact on him during his Rookie of the Year interview Monday night on MLB Network — and he’s one potential signing that could improve two spots, not to mention his potential impact on center fielder Austin Jackson.
However, a two-year deal for Hunter likely would mean a longer wait for Castellanos or Garcia. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, an extra year or two of development, but it’s something the win-now Tigers have to weigh.
– Jason Beck
If the Tigers have offered a formal contract to Jeremy Bonderman, it seems to be a new development to him. He told MLB.com in a phone conversation Friday that he has left contract matters to his agent.
“I’m just seeing what all is out there right now,” Bonderman said. “But I have talked to Detroit.”
FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi cited sources Friday saying the Tigers have offered Bonderman a contract. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise if they did. When Bonderman became a free agent two offseasons ago, president/GM Dave Dombrowski had a standing offer on the table for a Minor League contract with a Spring Training invite. Bonderman was looking for a Major League contract at that time, and ended up simply staying home.
Bonderman admitted this past spring that he blew out his elbow while working out that offseason. He underwent Tommy John surgery this spring and has worked out ever since then in preparation for a comeback attempt. He said Friday he’s on schedule to be ready for full workouts come Spring Training.
He’s willing to accept a minor-league deal with a camp invite now, which could pave the way for a reunion with the Tigers. At this point however, it would make sense for him to watch the market and see what develops. If he can find a team with a rotation opening, it would give him a better shot at making the team than he might have in Detroit, where the Tigers already have enough established starters to fill out a rotation regardless whether they re-sign Anibal Sanchez.
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in an email Friday that he can’t comment on specific free agents, citing current Major League rules.
Dombrowski said last week that the Tigers could look for a starter to compete for the fifth spot if they don’t re-sign Sanchez. Most likely, though, that signing would be an insurance option in case Drew Smyly struggles or somebody gets hurt. The Tigers don’t have the same starter depth in the upper levels of their farm system that they had the past couple years, having traded Jacob Turner and watched Andy Oliver struggle mightily this past season. Duane Below and Adam Wilk are among the depth options they have right now.
Bonderman hasn’t pitched anywhere since 2010. Up to this point, he has spent his entire Major League career in Detroit since he crashed the Tigers rotation at age 20 in 2003. He turned 30 years old just two weeks ago.
– Jason Beck
The Tigers were among the teams with interest in Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson, one of the many right-handed role hitting outfielders on the market heading into the Trade Deadline. He ended up going to Atlanta in the Paul Maholm trade Monday night. The question is how close the Tigers came.
Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago reported that four teams, including the Tigers, made their “best offer” on Monday. However, Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters Monday afternoon that he wasn’t expecting them to make any additional deals before Tuesday’s deadline. Then again, it was noted that Tigers minor league pitcher Thomas Collier left his start for Class A West Michigan after just three innings Monday night, as USA Today’s Bob Nightengale pointed out.
By trading both Johnson and Maholm to Atlanta, the Cubs were able to obtain two quality prospects, something the Tigers would’ve most likely been unwilling to do for the outfielder alone.
Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski deferred questions on trade matters to Tuesday afternoon once the non-waiver deadline passes. By then, the Tigers will most likely have given at least one more try at a right-handed hitting outfielder in hopes of bettering their lineup against left-handed pitching.
– Jason Beck
The Tigers came into the July trading season looking to fill three needs: Second base, starting pitcher and a right-handed bat, in that order. By acquiring Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez from the Marlins Monday night, they addressed all three.
Thus, when a reporter asked team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski on the Tigers’ conference call Monday night if they could have any more trades in store, Dombrowski sounded like he had wrapped up his summer shopping.
“We’re set at this point,” he said.
Speculation had pegged the Tigers potentially in the market for another outfielder or a relief pitcher. However, Andy Dirks’ impending return after missing close to two months with an Achilles strain is expected to fill an outfield need, albeit with a left-handed bat. As for the bullpen, the Tigers announced Tuesday that Al Alburquerque, last year’s rookie strikeout specialist who became a huge part of Detroit’s relief corps, will begin a rehab assignment with Class A Lakeland.
– Jason Beck
The Tigers were interested in James Shields when the Rays debated whether to put him on the trade market last July, enough that Doug Fister was a Plan B of sorts when it became clear they weren’t getting Shields, at least not without selling the farm. Now that Shields could be on the market again, don’t expect the resurgence of Detroit’s rotation behind its top four starters to stop them from taking a look.
According to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Tigers special assistant Dick Egan was spotted at Tropicana Field for the Rays’ series against the Mariners, which Shields opened with 7 2/3 quality innings on Friday. Conveniently, Seattle left-hander Jason Vargas, another rumored Tigers trade target in their starting pitching search, started there on Saturday.
The Tigers usually send out Egan on special assignments, not simply to update reports on teams. If he shows up at a ballpark, it’s for a pretty good reason. You can find at least two reasons above why the Tigers would have him in St. Petersburg this weekend. Of the two, Shields would be the obviously bigger draw.
Though Shields’ ERA is up from last year, while other stats are down, he appeals to the Tigers for a lot of reasons. First, he’s a consistent innings eater, averaging better than six innings a start. Even during his recent struggles, he has lasted at least seven innings in four of his last five starts. He also has postseason experience, though he struggled in his last two Division Series starts.
The Tigers, moreover, have the pieces that would potentially appeal to the Rays, who covet a young catcher according to CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler. While the Tigers aren’t deep in a lot of areas in the upper levels of their farm system, they have 3-4 quality catchers in their system, led by Futures Game participant Rob Brantly at Triple-A Toledo and James McCann, last year’s top draft pick, at Double-A Erie. With 25-year-old Alex Avila holding down the job in Detroit, the Tigers can afford to part with a catcher and still have depth for down the road.
By contrast, the Tigers were never heavily involved in Vargas rumors last year, zeroing in on Doug Fister instead. If they’re going to acquire a starter to replace lefty Drew Smyly, doing so with another left-hander would have a major appeal to avoid an all-righty rotation. Vargas fits that, and he does it while averaging nearly seven innings a start. His ERA, hit totals and WHIP ratio are all significantly higher away from Seattle’s Safeco Field, including six innings with four runs at Comerica Park earlier this season. However, he has quality starts in his last three outings, all on the road, all of them victories.
– Jason Beck
This is the time of year when the Tigers usually send their scouts across baseball to look at potential trade targets. So it seems curious when the Tigers scout one of their own.
That was the scene Monday in Erie, where Tigers special assistant David Chadd — one of the organization’s top player evaluators — was in town. Presumably, he was watching top hitting prospect Nick Castellanos in his fifth game since moving from third base to right field. Another member of the Tigers scouting department was also spotted in attendance. For that matter, the Tigers had one of their big league scouts watching Castellanos last week while the SeaWolves were on the road.
How many scouts from other teams were watching Castellanos Monday night wasn’t immediately clear, but between the attention of their own officials and observations from other clubs, the Tigers aren’t likely to offer Castellanos as part of a July trade.
“They love him,” said one official with another club who has been in contact with the Tigers.
Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted Monday that the Tigers are telling teams that Castellanos is not available.
Castellanos broke out of a two-game mini-slump Monday with a home run as part of a two-hit game, raising his average back above .300 with Erie and .365 for the year between there and Class A Lakeland. He began the year as the Tigers’ top hitting prospect, but his .405 average over two months at Lakeland vaulted him among the top prospects in baseball before he won MVP honors at last week’s All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City with three hits and three RBIs, including a home run to center field at Kauffman Stadium.
– Jason Beck
The Tigers traded away Omar Infante five years ago in a deal that ranks among the most regrettable of Dave Dombrowski’s tenure in Detroit. Now, as they look for ways to stop their revolving door at second base, it’s conceivable that they could try to get him back.
Jayson Stark of ESPN suggests Infante is on the Tigers’ shopping list for second basemen. Now 30, Infante entered the weekend batting .290 for the Miami Marlins with 23 doubles, seven home runs and 30 RBIs, good for a .769 OPS. He’s two years removed from an All-Star selection with the Braves.
The Tigers signed Infante as a teenager in Venezuela and developed him in their system. At one point, he was among the top prospects in then-general manager Randy Smith’s system. The last time Infante was a Tiger in 2007, manager Jim Leyland said he’d make an ideal National League player with his ability to play all over the infield. He found that role in Atlanta, where he played three infield and three outfield spots in 2008 and 2009.
Since coming to Miami, however, his focus has been at second base, which was his starting position in Detroit in 2004 and part of 2005 until the Tigers traded for Placido Polanco midway through that season.
That left Infante as a utility player in Detroit until the Tigers traded him to the Cubs after the 2007 season for Jacque Jones, who was released about five weeks into the 2008 season.
It wasn’t a particularly painful deal because Polanco played second base so well in Detroit through 2009, after which the Tigers let him go as a free agent. The Tigers have run through a handful of second basemen in 2 1/2 years since then, from Scott Sizemore to Will Rhymes to Brandon Inge, and now a mix of Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn. The Tigers have always worried about Santiago breaking down physically as an everyday player, but Raburn has failed to hold down the starting job in two tries over as many years.
– Jason Beck
The Tigers indeed had interest in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed Monday, and had contract talks with agent Adam Katz. However, Dombrowski said, they eventually determined they weren’t going to meet their contract demands.
Cespedes agreed to terms Monday with the Oakland A’s on a four-year contract worth $36 million, passing on a reported six-year offer worth the same amount from the Florida Marlins. It ended a courtship that supposedly involved more than a half-dozen teams and made Cespedes baseball’s highest-profile free agent left on the market for the last couple weeks.
The interest was high enough that Dombrowski traveled to the Dominican Republic to personally watch Cespedes work out.
“We liked him,” Dombrowski told MLB.com Monday in a phone interview. “We talked contract with him, but we were not in a position to pay for him the amount they wanted.”
For a good part of the offseason, Cespedes was believed to be the Tigers’ top free-agent target. Dombrowski was one of about a half-dozen top Tigers officials to see Cespedes, either in workouts last November or at international tournaments over the last couple years. Last month, Cespedes listed the Tigers among a half-dozen teams showing the most interest in him.
The fact that the Tigers kept their comments limited on Cespedes, and the fact that Detroit didn’t get heavily involved on high-profile free agents early in the offseason, added to the intrigue.
That level of interest didn’t change after the Tigers signed Prince Fielder last month, Dombrowski said. However, he cautioned, they determined pretty soon where their talks were heading, despite reports labeling them among the favorites.
“I really wouldn’t have ruled us as a favorite to sign him, based upon where some of our preliminary conversations went with his agent,” Dombrowski said.
Those early talks apparently showed where Cespedes wanted to go — not just in terms of annual salary, but the length of contract. Dombrowski confirmed that a four-year deal was a big point, since it would allow him to hit the free-agent market sooner rather than later.
“That was pretty much always something that they outlined,” Dombrowski said. “If you were going to sign him, you would have to agree to that.”
With Cespedes off the market, the Tigers are now set with their position roster. Dombrowski said they were likely set before Cespedes signed, believing they weren’t likely to add him.
Katz told MLB Network Radio on Monday afternoon that the Marlins were the only team that met Cespedes in person during his visit to Miami last week.
– Jason Beck
Credit Angela Wittrock of MLive.com for getting Tigers president/general manager 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 Victor Martinez, who suffered what is expected to be a season-ending knee injury last week.
“We anticipate Victor Martinez coming back in 2013 and playing at the level he was at last season,” Dombrowski said.
As witnessed from the Johnny Damon saga two years ago, Boras has a talent for negotiating directly with owners. But given that experience, it’s hard to imagine Dombrowski making his remarks without feeling highly confident that’s not going to change.
“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.
– Jason Beck
Joel Zumaya’s comeback isn’t going to happen in Detroit, but he’s going to a very familiar place. The hard-throwing, injury-riddled reliever has agreed to terms with the Minnesota Twins, Zumaya told MLB.com.
The deal reached Saturday gives Zumaya the roster spot he wanted going into Spring Training with a bullpen that could use his services. He could make anywhere from $800,000 to $1.7 million depending on appearance-based incentives. The Twins can part ways out of camp and owe Zumaya about half his full salary.
A Twins official would neither confirm nor deny the deal to MLB.com, but said they’ve been in negotiations since December.
Zumaya had what he called “good offers” from three other clubs, but the Twins included guaranteed money rather than a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite. If he’s healthy, they’ll bring him to the same mound at Target Field where he last threw a Major League pitch. He fractured his elbow throwing for the Tigers against the Twins on June 28, 2010.
As it turns out, that was his last appearance as a Tiger. Though the Tigers had an offer out to him for a minor-league contract with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, they made it clear they weren’t going to guarantee him a spot. Zumaya told MLB.com in November he was most likely moving on, and in the end, the Tigers were not on his short list.
Zumaya joins a Twins bullpen in transition. having lost closer Joe Nathan to the Rangers earlier in the offseason. Minnesota re-signed Matt Capps at closer and returns Glen Perkins coming off an impressive season of middle and late-inning work, but while Perkins blossomed into a high-strikeout lefty last year, the Twins haven’t had a truly overpowering reliever in a while.
If Zumaya’s healthy, he has that potential. Though he hasn’t topped 32 games or 40 innings in a season since his impressive rookie season of 2006, he has been an effective reliever when he hasn’t been hurt. He was showing flashes of his old form in 2010 before he was hurt, striking out 34 batters over 38 1/3 innings while allowing 32 hits and posting a 2.58 ERA.
Zumaya underwent surgery after that July injury to repair a fractured bone at the tip of his elbow, a procedure that included inserting a screw to hold the elbow together. He had to undergo a follow-up surgery to replace the screw after complaining of elbow pain last Spring Training.
The surgery cost Zumaya the entire 2011 season. He threw for interested teams last month and reportedly hit the mid-90s on the radar gun. Since then, Zumaya and his agents, Randy and Alan Hendricks, have been negotiating with clubs, trying to land him a Major League contract in a situation where he could fit into a good bullpen role.
– Jason Beck