The Tigers remain on the lookout for a starter, which could lead to a Chris Tillman signing, Jon Heyman of FanRag tweets. Tillman threw for the Tigers on Saturday, Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun adds (via Twitter). Both Heyman and Encina note that Tillman is deciding among three teams and likely to sign within the next day or two, and they agree that a return to the Orioles is a legitimate possibility.
- Tigers right-handed relief prospect Bryan Garcia has suffered a torn UCL and will undergo Tommy John surgery tomorrow, the team announced (hat tip to MLB.com’s Jason Beck). Dr. James Andrews will perform the procedure. Garcia was a sixth-round pick for Detroit in the 2016 draft and was making a rapid rise through the organization, pitching at four different levels in 2017 including 13 1/3 innings at Triple-A Toledo. Over 73 2/3 pro innings, Garcia posted an impressive 2.20 ERA, 12.2 K/9 and a 4.00 K/BB rate. Unfortunately, the 22-year-old now faces a recovery period of 12-15 months.
- More than 10 teams are set to attend Tim Lincecum’s showcase on Thursday, it seems. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com and Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com respectively report that the Tigers, Twins and Orioles will have scouts in attendance (all Twitter links). Heyman adds another handful of clubs, listing the Rangers, Phillies, Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Brewers, Padres and Braves as attendees (links to Twitter for the last three), in addition to the previously reported Giants. If anything, it’s perhaps more notable which clubs have elected not to attend the showcase, as there’s no real downside to at least taking a look and the showcase is shaping up to be reasonably well-attended. To that end, the New York Post’s Kevin Kernan wrote over the weekend that the Mets aren’t planning to have a scout in attendance.
38-year-old former Tigers starter Andy Van Hekken is attempting to earn a job with an MLB club, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press writes. Anyone calling it a comeback attempt should note this bit of context: Van Hekken hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2002 and only has five career starts at that level. Still, the Holland native is reportedly training back in his home county, and a late-thirties push for MLB has been in his plans for a while. “I’ve been thinking about it over the last few years,” he said. “I always wanted to come back and give it another try to get back to the big leagues and see if I could do it. I would love an opportunity and hopefully there will be one.” As Fenech aptly points out, Van Hekken’s timing couldn’t be worse… there are well over a hundred free agents who have yet to sign during what has been a phenomenally slow hot stove season. The left-hander is best known for throwing a complete game shutout against the Indians in his major league debut. He’s mixed a high-80’s fastball with a forkball to great success in Korea during the past half-decade or so, posting solid ground ball and strikeout rates.
Some other items from around the league as we inch closer to spring training…
- Have fans been conditioned to accept half-hearted attempts at contention? Travis Sawchik attempts to answer this question in a piece for Fangraphs. Sawchik writes that while it’s typically for business owners to take great care in running their businesses efficiently and at a profit, baseball is not a typical business. Fans invest in ballclubs both emotionally and fiscally (with their taxes), so owners have a civic duty to put a competitive product on the field. He references former Tigers owner Mike Illitch, who at times spent irrationally on his club. He even kept a General Motors advertisement above the center field batter’s eye when the company could no longer afford it, in similar spirit of upholding the city’s identity. Sawchik then turns his focus to Nutting, who has gutted the club’s core to slash payroll by $20MM this season without paying for a single free agent. Sawchik suspects that the club could cover its current payroll without selling a single ticket, and points out its $50MM BAMtech payment from Disney (that also hasn’t been reinvested in the team). He posits that fans have been trained to accept the “small-market” excuse for not spending as a reality, when in fact it may not entirely explain a given club’s low payroll.
- The Rockies have built a contending club in part by betting on its youthful rotation, Daniel Cramer of MLB.com writes. Back in spring training of 2016, GM Jeff Bridich apparently told young right-hander Jeff Hoffman that the club wasn’t seeking any veteran upgrades. Fast forward to today, and the organization hopes to build on a “blossoming pitching culture with the potential for sustained success”. Cramer describes Colorado’s blueprint for pitchers as “a power arm supplemented with a mental confidence to pitch at Coors Field.” For their part, a group consisting of German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Tyler Chatwood, Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman, Antonio Senzatela, Tyler Anderson and Chad Bettis combined for 11.8 fWAR last season (good for 11th in the majors), and that entire group minus Chatwood is set to return for 2018.
- Shane Greene expects to be the Tigers’ closer in 2017, writes George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press. “I feel like I’m the closer and I’ve earned that job and it’s my job to lose,” said the 29-year-old Greene, who pitched to a 2.66 ERA with 9.7 K/9, 4.5 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9 and a 47.4 percent ground-ball rate in 67 2/3 innings for Detroit in 2017. New pitching coach Chris Bosio spoke positively of Greene’s stuff and makeup, and Sipple notes that the team’s decision to allow setup man Alex Wilson to compete for a starting job this spring only enhances Greene’s grip on the ninth inning. Speculatively, young Joe Jimenez will eventually be the biggest on-paper threat to Greene’s chances, but he was torched for a 12.32 ERA in 19 innings last year. Jimenez, though, turned 23 just two weeks ago and has a career 1.56 ERA with 13.0 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in the minors. He’ll need to prove himself in the Majors, though he could find himself in high-leverage situations sooner rather than later if he’s able to do so early in the year.
The Tigers announced Monday that they’ve signed left-hander Travis Wood to a minor league contract and invited him to Major League Spring Training. Wood was released by the Padres earlier this offseason. He’s represented by Frontline.
Wood, 30, signed a two-year, $12MM contract with the Royals last winter but struggled enormously both in Kansas City and in San Diego this past season. The former Cubs lefty posted an ERA north of 6.70 with both teams last year, working to an overall 6.80 ERA with 6.2 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 and a 1.8 HR/9 mark in 94 innings. He’s still owed $6.5MM in 2018, but the Royals agreed to pay the entirety of that sum when he was traded to San Diego, so Wood represents a lottery ticket for a Tigers staff that could use him in either the rotation or bullpen if he shows signs of returning to form in Spring Training.
Brutal as his 2017 campaign was, it wasn’t that long ago that Wood was an effective big league arm. From 2015-16, Wood totaled 161 2/3 innings with a 3.51 ERA, 9.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9 between nine starts and 122 relief appearances for the Cubs. Overall, he logged a 3.94 ERA in just shy of 700 innings in parts of five seasons in Chicago. For a Tigers club that is short on depth in both the rotation and the bullpen, Wood is a reasonable enough roll of the dice.
The Tigers’ rotation currently projects to contain Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Fiers, though Wood could certainly seize a spot in the event of an injury or some early struggles from the yet-unproven Norris and Boyd. In the bullpen, manager Ron Gardenhire has lefties Daniel Stumpf, Blaine Hardy and Jairo Labourt to choose from, but Wood can certainly push that trio for innings if he shows well in Grapefruit League play.
- Alex Wilson will stretch out as a starter in the Tigers’ spring camp, the right-hander tells Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. Just one of Wilson’s 231 MLB appearances has come as a starting pitcher, and even that was a three-inning emergency outing in 2015. Still, Wilson has been a durable multi-inning reliever and feels a transition is possible. As McCosky notes, it’s essentially “a no-risk experiment” for the Tigers since Wilson can always return to his previous bullpen role if the rotation move doesn’t pan out. Wilson posted a 2.47 ERA over 171 1/3 IP from 2014-16, though an inflated homer rate boosted his ERA to 4.50 over 60 frames last season. The righty also said that he is fully recovered from a broken right leg suffered last September.
- Tigers GM Al Avila said this week that his team could still make some additions to the 40-man roster, MLB.com’s Jason Beck writes. The GM didn’t cite a specific area of need, indicating that he could have room to add a starter, a position player or a reliever. What’s clear, though, is that the Tigers don’t plan on making any kind of move that would come with long-term ramifications. “I’m not trying to come across as saying we’re going to try to pick up a pitcher here, a pitcher there and it’s going to make us so much better that we have a chance to win a championship,” Avila stated. “At this point, we might try to pick up a player here or there to, quite frankly, get us through the season, and hopefully have a guy have a bounceback and be able to make a trade later on and acquire a younger player, a piece here, a piece there, to make ourselves better little by little.” Comments like that, of course, make the MLBPA and agents alike bristle, as they’re the type of non-competitive remarks that have often been cited as a reason for the historically slow free-agent market. The Tigers have spent a bit of cash this offseason, signing Leonys Martin and Mike Fiers to Major League deals, but they won’t come anywhere near their previous levels of spending as they embark on what figures to be a lengthy rebuilding effort.
We’ll track the day’s minor moves in this post:
- Outfielder Jacob May was outrighted by the White Sox after clearing waivers, Baseball America’s Matt Eddy reports. Likewise, Angels lefty Nate Smith is headed for Triple-A via outright. Both were designated for assignment recently.
- Infielder Ty Kelly is returning to the Mets, per SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo (via Twitter). The 29-year-old first reached the bigs in New York and also spent time in the majors last year with the Phillies. He has hit well at times in the upper minors but has yet to translate that to the majors in limited opportunities.
- The Tigers have purchased the contract of lefty Caleb Thielbar from the St. Paul Saints, per an announcement from the indy ball club. Soon to turn 31, Thielbar hasn’t seen the majors since 2015. In 98 2/3 total innings at the game’s highest level, though, he has pitched to a 2.74 ERA with 7.2 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. He was released by the Marlins just before the start of the 2017 season after competing for a job in camp.
- Righty Carlos Frias is re-joining the Indians on a minors pact, the club announced. The 28-year-old, who has not seen substantial MLB time since 2015, stumbled to an 8.05 ERA with an ugly 21:22 K/BB ratio at Triple-A last year with the Cleveland organization.
- The Angels have re-signed lefty John Lamb, Cotillo tweets. Once a well-regarded prospect, the 27-year-old saw his career derailed by back issues. He did throw 139 innings at Triple-A last year with the Halos organization, though he managed only a 5.44 ERA with 5.2 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9.
- Reliever Bryan Harper has re-joined the Nationals on a minor-league deal with a spring invite, Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post reports on Twitter. Bryce’s older brother has never been seen as a major asset, but he’s an accomplished minor-league reliever. He missed all of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but has allowed less than three earned runs per nine in over a hundred frames in the upper minors.
- Outfielder Matt Lipka is joining the Giants organization on a minor-league deal, Cotillo also tweets. A first-round pick in the 2010 draft, Lipka has not yet shown that he can hand the bat in the upper minors. He posted a .754 OPS in 370 plate appearances last year at the High-A level, but limped to a .160/.216/.223 slash over his 102 trips to the plate at Double-A.
The Tigers have reached a minor-league deal with veteran infielder Alexi Amarista, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free-Press (Twitter links). He’ll receive an invitation to participate in MLB camp.
Amarista, 28, spent the 2017 season with the Rockies. The Colorado organization declined a $2.5MM club option for the coming season, preferring instead to pay him a $150K buyout.
There’s little to love about Amarista’s offensive profile. He has never hit much, but his output has not even kept pace with the standard he set earlier in his career, when he was a heavily used player with the Padres. Over the past three seasons, Amarista owns a marginal .225/.268/.301 slash line with six home runs and 15 steals over 683 plate appearances.
Clearly, the work with the bat does not explain Amarista’s appeal. Rather, it lies in his defensive versatility. Amarista has spent most of his career playing the middle infield, especially short, and also has significant time at thrid base and across the outfield (including in center).
For Detroit, Amarista represents some much-needed veteran depth. He could challenge for a reserve role in camp along with fellow non-roster invitee Pete Kozma. Yet more opportunity could open up if the Tigers end up dealing shortstop Jose Iglesias.