Saturday Non Sequiturs: Memories of 2003, Infante’s Future and Wang Chung Tonight

Catching up on this and that while the temperature hits 111 on my back porch — in the shade.

Earlier today I tweeted the recap of the June 29, 2003, Tigers/Diamondbacks game at Comerica Park. The most notable nugget from the boxscore was Jose Valverde‘s six-pitch, four-strike, three-batter save. What a difference 10 years can make. Of the players appearing in that game, only Valverde, Andres Torres, Ramon Santiago and Fernando Rodney are still in the majors.

Then-Dbacks manager Bob Brenly is back in Arizona’s TV booth (from where he was plucked in 2001 to replace Buck Showalter). Alan Trammell and his Tigers bench coach Kirk Gibson have swapped roles and now lead the Diamondbacks. And, we know where Jose Valverde is these days.

Baseball really is the game of retreads.

***

Every time I see Omar Infante make a nifty play or have a multiple-hit game, I can’t help but think back to 2009 and Placido Polanco. Coming off a Gold Glove season in which he hit .285, the Tigers didn’t offer him a contract and handed the keys to second base to the (still) unproven Scott Sizemore.

Are we heading toward a replay after this season with free-agent-to-be Infante? I sure hope not.

When the Tigers cut Polanco loose after five-ish seasons, he was 33. Infante turns 32 the day after Christmas. Why would they part ways with him again? Hernan Perez is hitting. 299 at Erie these days and earned a sip of coffee last season with Detroit, but is he the answer at second base? I’m not so sure.

I’d like to see Infante re-signed for two more seasons and keep at least part of the keystone combo intact for awhile … and avoid another Sizemore situation.

What do you think?

***

Like most Tigers fans, I’m waiting for Victor Martinez to thaw from his low-.200s freeze. He will, right? Yes, I think he will and it will likely be after the All-Star Game. I don’t mind Jim Leyland riding it out with Martinez in the five hole. What other option do they have? None, really.

***

When Leyland selects reserves for the All-Star Game in two weeks will Drew Smyly be among the final roster? I think he should be. I mean, look at his line coming into play today:

W L W-L% ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP BB/9 SO/9
3 0 1.000 2.25 28 7 2 48.0 36 12 12 1 14 48 1.042 2.6 9.0

Yeah, that’s an All Star.

***

By any chance did you catch this story last week on Gary Sheffield, Baseball Agent, in The New York Times? Sheff’s only client is Jason Grilli and here’s some gold from the agent himself:

As a middle reliever in Detroit, Grilli had used sinkers and curveballs to minimize his pitch count and save the rest of the bullpen.

Sheffield did not approve. As with everything, he was blunt in his assessment of his client.

“I told Jason my honest opinion of his pitching style, and he knew I didn’t like it,” Sheffield said. “I let him know, ‘Your stuff and your results don’t match up.’ He’s a big guy with a hard sinker and filthy slider, and when I see that, I think that’s closer stuff — he just had to believe it. Just because someone tells you you’re not that type of pitcher, that don’t mean anything to you.”

Man, I miss Sheff.

***

Finally, enjoy this bit of ’80s goodness courtesy of Dr. Frasier Crane:

Have a great weekend.

A Tigers Birthday Roundup

It’s been quite a week for birthdays in the Tigers’ galaxy, starting with May 2. Let us review.

Remember these guys?

  • Jim Walewander, 46 — A fan favorite in 1987 and ’88, Walewander captivated the media with tales of his aluminum-foil window treatments and affinity for the Dead Milkmen, described in Wikipedia as a “satirical punk band.” The prototypical good-glove-no-stick guy, Walewander played exactly 162 games in his career — 141 with the Tigers, nine with the Yankees in ’90 and 12 with the Angels in ’93 — with a .215 average, one homer and 14 RBI. He actually had one more steal than RBI. He wore number 32 with Detroit.

    Gater.jpg

  • Keith Moreland, 54 — This short-timer had a brief Tigers career (90 games, wearing number 30) in the awful 1989 season. The Tigers traded Walt Terrell to the Padres for Moreland and Chris Brown. He was traded to the Orioles near the trade deadline for Brian Dubois.
  • Steve Grilli, 59 — Jason‘s dad pitched in 69 games for the Tigers (wearing the same number 49 that Jason would wear 30 years later) over the 1975-77 seasons with a 4-3 record, 4.51 ERA. He also pitched in one game for the Blue Jays in 1979.

  • Gates Brown, 69 — Who doesn’t love the Gator? Left-handed hitting, number-26-wearing William James Brown played 13 seasons with the Tigers as a pinch-hitter extraordinaire. His two best seasons were 1968 (.370) and ’71 (.338). For his career (1963-75) he finished with a .257 average, 84 homers and 322 RBI. He later served as hitting coach, leaving after the 1984 season because the Tigers wouldn’t give him a raise into the obscene $70,000 range. I may be off on the dollar amount. If I am, my brother will remember it precisely.

And some others…
RickLeach.jpg

May 4

  • Brian Maxcy, 37
  • Rick Leach, 51

May 5

May 6

  • Phil Clark, 40
  • Tom Bolton, 46

May 9

  • Ron “Action” Jackson, 55

On This Date in Tigers History

Garner.jpgSo what do Jason Grilli, Zach Simons, Jack Burns and Chief Hogsett have in common? They are the only players in Tigers history to be involved in a trade on April 30.

By now you’ve heard about the Grilli-to-Colorado trade, but you probably haven’t heard about the April 30, 1936 trade that sent LHP Hogsett to the Browns for infielder Jack Burns.

Burns played only 138 games for the Tigers — all in ’36 — and batted .283, 36 doubles, four homers and 63 RBI. He was done in the bigs after that season.

Hogsett, on the other hand, had a longer career in Detroit. He pitched nine years with the Tigers — save for the season and a half with the Browns and one year with the Senators. His final record: 67-88, 5.02 ERA and 33 saves.

But Wait! There’s More

Continue reading “On This Date in Tigers History”

Breaking: Grilli Traded to Rockies

The prayers of many Tigers fans have been answered: The Tigers have traded Jason Grilli to the Rockies for minor-league pitcher Zach Simons.

More soon…

Update: This move makes room for Francisco Cruceta to join the Tigers on Thursday.

[Tip of the Fungo Fedora to Ian for the text message — which arrived moments ahead of the MLB.com Mobile Alert.]

Game 10: Bully!

ScorecardXSmall.jpgThe Gist: The bullpen reversed its recent trend of hideous performances and bailed out the now officially gimpy Dontrelle Willis to beat the White Sox 5-2 in Reykjavik. Aquilino Lopez shut down the White Sox over four innings and Clete Thomas (2-5 and a rifle throw to cut down Jermaine Dye at second) continues to make a name for himself on this team.

The Quote: “I’m all right.” — the wobbly Willis, moments before Jim Leyland removed him from the game after only 14 pitches.

The Stat: 0. The number of hits allowed by much-maligned Jason Grilli.

Bonus news nugget: Macay McBride out for the year.

Game 4: Oh-Four Pete's Sake

UPDATE: ESPN highlights available here.
ScorecardXSmall.jpg
The Gist: The Tigers drop to 0 and 4 on the year thanks to Jason Grilli‘s incendiary seventh-inning performance in which he gave up three runs on five hits — including a bomb to A.J. Pierzynski — and a walk on just 22 pitches. Nate Robertson wasn’t much better in his first start of the year: 5 IP, 7 H, 5 R/ER, 2 BB, 5 K.

The Quote: “Grilli should be serving coffee somewhere tomorrow.” — Ian Casselberry via text message.

The Stat: .556 – That’s rookie Clete Thomas‘s average after going 3 for 4 (with a run scored and an RBI) on Friday.

Was it realistic to think the Tigers could get well against the White Sox? Coming off the sweep by the Royals it’s clear there are at least two teams in the American League Central that have the Tigers’ number.

Three Reasons Not to Worry About the Tigers Bullpen

FireballXSmall.jpgOkay, we get it. The Tigers bullpen is to the team’s championship aspirations as an anvil is to a skydiver.

But what, pray tell, if it’s not?

I, for one, refuse to buy into the bullpen as Achilles’ heel conspiracy theory, and here are three reasons why:

  1. Healthy starters
  2. Dave Dombrowski
  3. Zach Miner

1. Healthy starters. Among the many problems last season, the one that stands out most prominently for yours truly is the regularity with which Jim Leyland had to go to his bully in the sixth inning or sooner. Not only did it wear a path from the dugout to the hill, it prevented the bullpen from getting the rest required to be fresh when it was really needed. Instead, by Aug. 1 the Tigers bullpen was spent and Joel Zumaya‘s return proved to be too little, too late.

Oh, we’re all concerned that the Tigers staff has lingering questions including Kenny Rogers‘ age and ability to pitch deep into games — and the season. There’s concern over Dontrelle Willis‘ declining stats the past two seasons and whether he’ll pitch closer to 35 rather than his actual age. And, let’s not forget Fungo-favorite Nate Robertson. Can he at last shed the Tough Luck Nate label and win some close games?

By all acounts, Jeremy Bonderman‘s elbow is sound and should be helped by the change-up he’s supposedly improved — if not mastered. That leaves Justin Verlander. So far, so good and let’s keep it that way.

In all, the only health concerns surround Rogers and he appears good to go. The healthy outlook of the starting five should mean more quality starts, more starts lasting into the seventh or eighth innings and a more-rested relief corps.

2. Dave Dombrowski. Let’s assume — for a moment — that the bullpen underachieves. Then what? I’m betting that Dave Dombrowski will find the right arms (or, I suppose, left arms) to keep the bullpen afloat until either Zumaya or Fernando Rodney get healthy.

By now hasn’t Dombrowski proven to Tigers fans that, with the exception of Neifi Perez, he’s pulled the trigger on the right deals for the Detroit Nine?

And let’s not forget that Dombrowski has a potentially rock-solid chip to parlay into bullpen depth: Brandon Inge. Whether it’s May 1 or July 31, Inge will be gone and you can bet in return the Tigers will have acquired the reliever they need.

And who knows, Francisco Cruceta might have resolved his visa issues by then and logging valuable work in the seventh and eighth.

If I had to have GM at the wheel in this scenario, I’d want it to be the Tigers’.

3. Zach Miner. I’m a Zach Miner Fan Boy. There. I said it. Miner, in my view, is the Tigers most versatile and under-appreciated pitcher. All he’s managed to do since he came to Detroit is eat innings and fill the roles of spot starter and middle-relief guy with aplomb. Sure, he cratered in the second half of the 2006 season — his first in the bigs — but according to Baseball Prospectus 2008:

Miner kept the ball down on the way to an effective [2007] season, posting a 2.3 G/F [groundball to flyball ratio] and allowing just 14 extra-base hits in 232 opponent plate appearances. Miner was also effective with runners on, stranding 24 of the 30 he inherited. Of the Tigers three garbagemen, Miner has the most upside.

(In their assessment of Miner, BP included Chad Durbin and Jason Grilli as the others in the Garbage Time Trio.)

Granted, it’s not a rousing endorsement but if nothing else, the Baseball Prospectus folks do their homework. If they thought Miner was a dog, they’d say it.

Bottom line: If the first two in my recipe fail to hold up their end of the bargain, I feel considerably better knowing that Zach Miner is around to start, mop up or close shop.

Emptying Out the Mental Notebook

There have been lots of thoughts percolating around my head lately. Now that I’ve cleared my driveway of snow for the third time today, it’s time to get those thoughts out to the masses.

Brandon Inge
If you recall prior to the 2004 season Mr. Inge acted like a petulant little child when the Tigers signed Pudge Rodriguez. He whined and complained about how the catching job was his and he wasn’t giving it up without a fight. Of course he turned into a super-sub of sorts (playing 139 games, logging 400+ ABs at five different positions) and eventually won the starting third base job.

Fast forward four seasons and Mr. Inge no longer wants to be a catcher; he fancies himself a third baseman apparently. Though not as loudly, he appears to be lobbying to move out of town now that Miguel Cabrera appears to be the Tigers’ new third baseman. I don’t believe for a minute the Tigers can trade him and the $18 million left on his contract and receive anything close to good value. With that said, I suggest Brandon close his yap, buy a few extra gloves, learn how to scoop balls at first, play all three outfield positions, and get comfortable in the tools of ignorance again. Return to the role of super utilityman for this season. Milwaukee Brewer Bill Hall logged over 500 ABs in a similar role in 2005, playing three different positions. If Inge can play 3B, 1B, OF, and even a bit of C, I would expect enough at bats will come his way to keep him happy.

The goal, or promise to Inge, is that he becomes your full-time catcher effective 2009. He’ll have this year to study the pitching staff, pick Pudge and Vance Wilson‘s brains, and relearn the position. With the offense that will be surrounding him, Inge would merely have to concentrate on his fielding — any hitting would be a bonus. And if you’re really trying to do the hard sell, remind him the staff he would have to catch would include Justin Verlander, Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, and — at some point — Rick Porcello.

Dontrelle Willis

I heard Willis’ first interview on local radio following the trade. WXYT had him on and I liked what I heard. He has a passion for the game, he has a personality, he’s energetic, and he should endear himself to the Detroit fanbase. Will he be able to pitch? The good news, I suppose, is that Detroit isn’t counting on him to be the ace. All they really need from him is 200+ serviceable innings. Ideally (with the bullpen the Tigers have) that’s what they’d like to get from all five starters — save Rogers I suppose. Chew up innings boys. The bats should get enough runs to keep this team in virtually every game.

One other item about Willis. Don’t underestimate the impact another African-American will have on the Tigers’ fan base. Willis is an inner-city kid and, like Curtis Granderson, has a personality that will make him popular. For a city that’s attempting to make a comeback, I think it’s outstanding the youngsters in town will have a couple of role models on the home team to look up to.

By the way, has anyone else noticed an entire Hispanic infield? Non hablas Espanol?

The Mitchell Report

Nothing surprises me (nor should it), but I’d like to launch a conspiracy theory on Roger Clemens. I wonder if his decision to stall his comeback each of the past couple of seasons was due merely to making sure he had it in him or rather he had it in him? I’m certainly no expert on performance enhancing drugs, but doesn’t it suddenly seem plausible that The Rocket was taking a late-winter cycle of PED’s before deciding to come back? Are unsigned free agents subjected to the testing? If not, it wouldn’t surprise me if Clemens got his body finely tuned and then gave his body time to flush the evidence before signing. So much for all those stories of his legendary workouts that I always admired as a younger man.

Mitchell Report Part II

Nook Logan? Mark Carreon? Alex Sanchez? This is our Detroit connection? No wonder our home team stunk during the Steroid Era!

Clearly Carreon wasn’t on the juice when he was a Tiger. He hit a career-low .232 that year.As for Sanchez — the first to be busted — it’s a good thing he was on the stuff, otherwise half of those swinging bunt singles he had would’ve rolled foul at the plate, right?

And Nook? Well, I got nothing for Nook.

Bullpen

If the starters can get into the seventh inning I don’t feel too bad about things. It’s that middle/long relief that gives me the Guillermos. I know Zach Miner will be serviceable and I shouldn’t fret about Jason Grilli, but neither instill a lot of confidence — especially if they get thrown into roles they’re not comfortable in.

I actually feel pretty good about the two situational lefties they’ll enter camp with: Tim Byrdak and Bobby Seay. Seay was especially effective the last half of the season when used correctly. Speaking of using folks correctly, Memo to Jim Leyland: Todd Jones can only pitch one inning this year and it should be at the start of the inning, not mid-inning with runners on base.

I’m not expecting Joel Zumaya to contribute anything this year.

Should the Tigers Call Percival Again?

Three years ago this week the Detroit Tigers signed Troy Percival as the club’s new closer. Unfortunately his career in Detroit was a short-lived one due to injury.Fast forward to last year and Percival’s comeback with the Cardinals (many thought he’d return to Detroit out of loyalty, if nothing else. [Insert punch line here]). Relying on nothing but the history of pitchers making comebacks (remember Jim Palmer in 1990?), I expected Percival to fizzle out.Surprise, surprise.The 37 year old put together a solid (shortened) year: 3-0 in 34 games (40 IP, 24 H, 10 BB, 36 K). According to ESPN.com’s Rumor Central he’s looking for another contract and several teams are interested:

The Yankees, Brewers, Giants, Astros and Rays are among the teams in the running to land Troy Percival, who first must decide what he wants in his next deal, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports.

Why aren’t the Tigers in the mix? They have one more bullpen slot to fill and, based purely on 2007 performance, isn’t Percival a stronger bet for 2008 than Jason Grilli?Discuss.

The Monday Report

My son woke me up at 5:45 this morning so I had some time to catchup on my reading and thinking…

  • Call me naive, but I thought the Kenny Rogers thing would be a slam dunk, even with The Scott Boras Factor. Now that Rogers, who turned 43 on Saturday, is testing the market — the market for a mid-40s pitcher coming off a season virtually lost to serious injury that is — one has to wonder if the Tigers have used up the patience they reserve for dealing with Boras. From everything I’ve read, most still expect a deal to get hammered out. And I tend to think so too if only because Dave Dombrowski doesn’t seem to be a cut-off-the-nose-to-spite-the-face kind of guy.Speaking of Rogers, I thought I’d stumbled upon major news over at Yahoo! Sports when I read in this Tigers rumor:

    According to the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit Tigers and free agent lefty Kenny Rogers have parted ways.  

    If you read to the story referenced in the piece you’ll see that nowhere does it say Rogers isn’t coming back. Perhaps a little fact checking would help.I’m intrigued by the Dontrelle Willis thing but can’t fathom what it would take to acquire him (for starters, Brandon Inge, perhaps?). Sure seems like a drastic change of course going from re-signing Rogers to dealing for Willis.Ah, but you gotta love the smell of hickory on the Hot Stove.

  • Our man Ian Casselberry notified me of the Omar Infante-for-Jacque Jones trade this afternoon. I think it’s safe to say Ian and I were both underwhelmed by the move. As Jon Paul Morosi suggests, this is likely a stop-gap solution until Cameron Maybin is ready for prime time, all the time. If that’s the case, I supposed I can live with it.

Still, you have to believe that somewhere in the Dominican Republic, Timo Perez is wondering what he has to do to become more than a September call up.But probably not in those words.

  • If you missed it, Joel Zumaya turned 23 on Friday. Here’s hoping his birthday wish was for health and wellness. And, while the Lions were stinking up University of Phoenix Stadium yesterday, Jason Grilli and Chuck Hernandez were celebrating birthdays. A belated #31 to Grilli and #47 to Hernandez. To help you plan your card and gift shopping, here are the upcoming Tigers birthdays of note: Nov. 18 – Gary Sheffield (39); Nov. 19 – Preston Larrison (27); Nov. 29 – Tony Giarratano (25); Nov. 30 – Ivan Rodriguez (36). 
  • Mr. Casselberry and I also wondered aloud who the Tigers backup catcher would be on Opening Day. Vance Wilson should be ready to come back and reclaim his job, but Mike Rabelo certainly made a case for himself in 2007. Too bad one of them can’t play another position — or that Ryan Raburn can’t catch. Ian thinks Rabelo comes North. I’m undecided but tend to think Wilson will rejoin the team if he has anything that resembles a decent spring.