Archive for December, 2007

Jason Grilli Q&A

Hopefully everyone had a nice holiday.  I’ll probably touch on this in a year end piece later this week, but with Christmas coming and going, it’s now time to get back to it and it’s going to be a busy next couple of weeks with work on both the Hardball Times Season Preview and Tigers Corner 2008 winding down, it means I have to get a few things done to meet some deadlines.

In the meantime, here’s an interesting Q&A with Tigers relief pitcher Jason Grilli.  A lot of people forget that Grilli was the fourth overall pick way back in the 1997 draft before he had arm problems.  And while this isn’t Tigers related, I had the chance to sit down with Lansing Lugnuts general manager Pat Day over the summer and the chat transcript is up at the Hardball Times today.

Tigers Sign Dontrelle Willis Through 2010

The Tigers have rumored to have given Dontrelle Willis a three year, $29 million contract extension.  More on this tonight.


Alright, I’ve had some time to digest the extension and my initial thought is that it’s a good thing.  You have a solid pitcher with a pedigree (that 2005 season has to have Tigers salivating) and while his worst season was just this past season, it is a bit of an outlier.  At $10 million per, it looks expensive but not if you look at what inferior pitchers like Carlos Silva are going for.

I’m working on the Tigers section for the Hardball Times Season Preview 2008 and while I won’t be writing up Willis, I’ve seen his projections and while I can’t go into details, if he hits the projection, then the deal won’t look that bad.

An Interview With Ron LeFlore

I’ve been working with Bill Dow, a freelance baseball writer, on the 2008 Edition of Tigers Corner and when he mentioned he had an interview with Ron LeFlore that one of the big papers didn’t end up running, I asked him if he’d like to put it up on Tigerblog.  Fortunately for us, he was nice enough to agree and I found the interview pretty interesting.  I didn’t know LeFlore’s first minor league manager was Jim Leyland and I found LeFlore’s thoughts on the trade that sent him out of Detroit particularly noteworthy.  Anyway, here it is:


By Bill Dow  ******Just prior to his arrest for unpaid child support following an autograph show in Mt. Clemens, Michigan this past May, freelance writer Bill Dow interviewed Ron LeFlore. 

How we remember him:    

While serving a 5 to 15 year sentence at the Southern Michigan Prison in Jackson for armed robbery, and having never played organized baseball, the Detroit native starred for the prison team and was given a one day tryout at Tiger Stadium in June of 1973 thanks to then Tiger Manager Billy Martin.

Impressed with his speed and power, the Tigers signed LeFlore and he was released from prison on early parole after serving three years in prison.  After playing briefly in the minor leagues, (134 games) the following year he became the Tiger’s lead off hitter and centerfielder.

In 1976 Leflore hit safely in 31 straight games, the longest American League hitting streak in 27 years, and he started in the All Star game. Two years later LeFlore lead the league in stolen bases with 78 and the major leagues in runs scored (126). In his Detroit career he batted over .300 three times, stole 294 bases and batted .297.  In 1978 CBS aired the movie on his life, “One In A Million.”

After the Tigers:   To the shock of Tiger fans, Detroit traded LeFlore to Montreal for pitcher Dan Schatzeder following the ’79 campaign. In 1980 LeFlore lead the N.L. in stolen bases with 98, making him (still) the only player to lead both leagues in stolen bases. Following the ’80 season he signed a multi-year free agent deal with the Chicago White Sox but he played only parts of two seasons before being released.  

LeFlore later coached at baseball clinics, played in the short lived Seniors League in Florida, and managed in the Independent Leagues.  Immediately following the Tiger Stadium closing ceremonies in 1999, LeFlore made the news when he was arrested for not paying back child support. The following year he and his wife Emily were nearly killed in a head on collision caused by a drunk driver who was killed. She still suffers from brain trauma, while LeFlore has seven herniated discs, and will require knee and hip replacements.

Today:  Leflore lives with his wife Emily near St. Petersburg, Florida.  He makes charity appearances with the Ferguson Jenkins Foundation and other charities, speaks to troubled youth, and does autograph shows. His dream is to get back into major league baseball as a coach. 

On his June 1973 tryout at Tiger Stadium:  “It was a one day furlough on my birthday and I took batting practice in front of Al Kaline, Jim Northrup, and Norm Cash.  I’ll never forget walking out of the dugout tunnel and seeing that green grass and the enclosed stands.  A week later I got another furlough and played an exhibition game at Butzel Field in Detroit in front of Bill LaJoie. I hit the ball well and was timed in the 60 yard dash. Bill told me I was the fastest guy he ever clocked.”   

On lying about his age:  “When I signed with the Tigers they told me to lie and say I was 21 years old and born in 1952. But when I was traded to Montreal Jim Campbell (GM) revealed that I was actually four years older. When I filed for my baseball pension at age 45, I had to straighten it all out.”

On Jim Leyland, his first manager in the minor leagues (Clinton, Iowa 1973):  “Jim worked me to death. He took me out in the morning and hit fly balls to me and threw batting practice. He’s the one who got me to the major leagues so fast because he gave me the work ethic that was the determining factor in me making it.”

On his first major league game:  “I joined the team in Milwaukee on July 31, 1974 when Mickey Stanley broke his hand.  I went 0 for 4 and struck out the first three times against Jim Slaton the next day. His curveballs scared the hell out of me because I .had never really seen a great curveball before. I learned to hit the curve in Winter Ball in Puerto Rico from my manager Harvey Kuenn.”

On his 1976 All Star season:  “I’m very proud that my parents saw me play in the All Star game but I am also proud of my 31 game hitting streak. It was difficult to concentrate because my younger brother had been killed during the streak.  I don’t think anyone will beat DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak record with all the specialty pitchers now and the fact that you rarely face the same pitcher four times in a game.”

On his base stealing prowess:  “Nobody taught me how to steal bases and nobody had really done it on the Tigers since Ty Cobb. I always had the green light. Stealing bases was the most fun I had in baseball. I remember having a cheering section at Tiger Stadium with the fans always yelling, ‘Go, go, go.’”

On his trade to Montreal:  “It was one of the most demoralizing things that happened in my life. I loved playing in Detroit and wanted to finish my career there, but to be traded for Dan Schatzeder? If they had received Steve Rogers or somebody like that it would have been more of an even deal. I guess it was in part because I was going to be a free agent the next year. I also know Sparky didn’t like the fact that I didn’t shave my mustache off but I did do it in the off season.”  On how his career ended:  “When I became a free agent, Chicago is the only team that contacted me and I believe there was collusion. I ended up partying too much and using drugs, something a lot of people were doing. I was also frustrated with Tony LaRussa because he wouldn’t play me. If I had to do it all over again, I would have taken better care of myself and I would have played a lot longer.” 

On his arrest at the closing of Tiger Stadium:  “My child support case was transferred to Florida and I was paying there but they didn’t take it out of the computer in Detroit so I was arrested because of their negligence. What really upset me is that I was trying to place my wheel chair bound mother in the car and the officer said ‘you can’t do that you’re going to jail.’  I said, ‘ Look, ‘I’m putting my mother in the car, shoot me.’ It really hurt to see my name in the paper on the front page after the closing of the ceremony.”

On his dream of getting back into baseball:    “Looking back, had I not joined the prison baseball team and if Billy Martin had not believed in giving people chances I’d probably be dead. I still love baseball and watch it closely.  It’s frustrating to see players making base running errors and failing to hit the cut off man.  I believe I have a lot to offer. Maybe I already had my opportunity, but hopefully someone will give me another chance.”

*******Bill Dow is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Michigan. He is a regular contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page and his work has appeared in Baseball Digest magazine.  His article on the 1952 no-hitters thrown by Tiger hurler Virgil Trucks  was republished in the 2006 book, The Best of Baseball Digest,  Edited by John Kuenster and published by Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, Chicago Illinois.

Gary Sheffield, Four Former Tigers Named In Mitchell Report

The much anticipated (for a variety of reasons) Mitchell Report was put out yesterday and at least in my opinion, it didn’t live up to the hype.  Most of the report centered around Kurt Radomski’s testimony and while he had evidence, you’re talking about a lot of fringe players to go along with a few stars and one Hall of Famer.

The big name on the Tigers was Gary Sheffield but he’s already admitted his use so that wasn’t a huge surprise.  Fernando Vina, Rondell White, Nook Logan and Hal Morris although Morris’ purchase was when he was with the Reds where as the other three players were linked to steroids while with the Tigers.

Nook Logan is probably the most interesting case and when you combine his instance with the suspension of Alex Sanchez a few years back (he had just been cut by the Tigers) you have a couple of guys who break the stereotype.  That should make everything think who’s a potential steroid user (which really could be just about anybody).

Tigers Sign Tim Byrdak, Non-Tender Chad Durbin

The Tigers had until last night to make a decision on their non-arbitration eligible, non-free agents and the they signed one and non-tendered the other.  Tim Byrdak, who eventually filled the gap left when Jamie Walker left the team as a left handed relief specialist, signed a one year, $712,500 deal.  Byrdak had 49 strikeouts in 45 innings and he set career marks in just about everything because he had never thrown 30 major league innings in a season prior to 2007.  He did his job against lefties though, who held to just a .176 batting average against.

Chad Durbin wasn’t offered a contract so he’s now a free agent.  With the pick up of Dontrelle Willis, there is no longer a hole at the back of the rotation and while Durbin was decent as a reliever in 2007, the Tigers must have felt they had better options.  Durbin is an interesting story though and I profiled him last spring so if you want to see where the guy came from, clink on the link.

Tigers Talking to Pirates About Chad Durbin Trade

This news report talks about how the Tigers are in talks with the Pirates about a trade that would include Chad Durbin.  They don’t specify who the Tigers would get in a deal but whenever I hear about the Pirates in a trade, I think of the Jack Wilson fiasco last year.  The Pirates already trade Salomon Torres to the Brewers and that would have been one of the guys the Tigers might be interested in. 


As expected, it also looks like Brandon Inge is on the table with the Pirates.

Mike Green at the Comedy Castle

I’m a huge fan of live comedy and one of the best shows I ever went to was back in 2005 when we saw Mike Green at Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in Royal Oak.  Mike is from the Detroit area and he’s both a Tigerblog reader and a big Tiger fan (even though at the time, he made a point to poke fun at the Tigers.  It’ll be interesting to see what he does with them now or if he just replaces them with the Lions).  Anyway, Mike is going to be back in town performing at the Comedy Castle Thursday through Saturday.  I was really hoping to get out to catch his show but unfortunately we have plans every day this week.  Hopefully he’ll come back again soon so I can check out to see what how he’s perfected his act.

You can check out more on Mike at his website and his myspace page.

Tigers Lose Out On Latroy Hawkins and the Hardball Times Baseball Annual

One of the relievers the Tigers were talking too, veteran Latroy Hawkins, signed with the Yankees earlier this week.  At this point, the free agent market for reliever is a little thin so we’ll see what the Tigers do to fill this final hole in the 2008 team.

Jason Beck has his latest mailbag installment and it focuses mainly on the fate of Brandon Inge.  He also touches on the contract status of both Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

The latest installment of the Hardball Times Baseball Annual is now out and if you’re a stat head, this year’s is probably the best.  I’m not sure how Dave does it, but he somehow manages to cram more and more into the book while still making things look great and this year’s statistics sections is the deepest ever.  Plus you get a ton of essays, including a AL Central division review and a Business of Baseball Year in Review what I had the opportunity to write.  And if you frequent the site, buying the book is a great way to support the site and still get something in return.

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Brandon Inge Wants Out

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but Brandon Inge has told management that he’d rather start for someone else rather then play a reserve role with the Tigers.  Jason Beck talks about the Giants being the team that’s most likely to want him and it’ll be interesting to see what we can get for him with that contract the Tigers gave him last year.

I have mixed feelings because I’ve always been a Brandon Inge fan.  He’s been on this team longer then anyone and he was one of the guys who helped get the Tigers there in 2006.  Still, there’s little doubt that he’s on the short end of the stick after the Tigers made this deal with the Marlins.

Tigers Lose Three To Rule Five Draft

Randor Bierd was the best of the three players the Tigers lost in the Rule 5 draft yesterday.  Bierd could turn out to be a solid middle reliever for a big league team and while he wasn’t a huge loss, this is a guy who could have played a role with the Tigers in the next couple of years.  The other two guys the Tigers were lost came in the Triple A portion of the draft.   Juan Cedeno and Benjamin Fritz were the other two guys and neither look to be a major loss.

Kevin Goldstein broke down the Rule 5 draft in a nice column.  Be sure to check it out.

Tigers Trade Chris Shelton to Rangers

This isn’t a huge surprise with the Tigers designating Chris Shelton for assisgnment but they dealt him to the Rangers for minor league outfielder Freddy Guzman.  Chris Shelton is one of the more interesting players the Tigers have had in a while.  A Rule 5 pick, Shelton put together a solid 2005 season then took the world by storm with an incredible first couple of weeks to the 2006 season.  He came back down to earth quick and never even became the player he was in 2005 and he put together a mediocre season for the Mud Hens last year.

Freddy Guzman is hardly a prospect anymore and he’ll turn 27 in January.  He’s a speedy outfielder with 253 career minor league stolen bases.  Kind of looks like a Triple A equivalent of Juan Pierre. 

In a Perfect World

First off, Detroit Tigers Weblog compiled a lot of the blogger comments from yesterday’s trade.  It’s worth checking out.

In a perfect world, a trade works out for both teams so it’s interesting to speculate on how this trade should go for both the Marlins and Tigers.  For the Tigers, they sign Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabera to longer term deals and Willis reverts back to his 2005 form and becomes a front line starter and Cabrera keeps doing what he’s doing.  With these two guys as corner stones, the Tigers could go on to win five straight division titles, three pennants and one or two World Series.  Again, we’re being optimistic but that’s not out of the realm of possibility.

For the Marlins, the upside probably won’t become evident for a few years but what if Andrew Miller is a Cy Young contender.  And if Dallas Trahern and Eulogio De La Cruz are the real deals, you could see them at the back of the Marlins rotation.  For Cameron Maybin, he could become the centerfield equivalent of Miguel Cabrera in a few years.  That’s four vital cogs on a team that already has some solid young talent.

So my question to you is, is it possible, or even probable, that the Tigers and Marlins square off in a World Series in say 2012 with the impetus for both team’s success coming from this trade?  I know I’m painting a rosy picture but it certainly is a possibility.

A Few More Thoughts On the Trade

What happens to Brandon Inge?  You have to think he might be on the way out unless he’s willing to revert back to a super sub like he did back in 2004.

How does this lineup look:

1)  Curtis Granderson  CF – Should Have Been an All Star
2)  Placido Polanco 2B – 2007 All Star
3)  Gary Sheffield  DH – Former All Star, Future Hall of Famer
4)  Magglio Ordonez  RF – 2007 All Star
5)  Miguel Cabrera  3B – 2007 All Star
6)  Carlos Guillen  1B – 2007 All Star
7)  Jacque Jones/Marcus Thames  LF
8)  Ivan Rodriguez  C – 2007 All Star, Future Hall of Famer
9)  Edgar Renteria  SS – Former All Star (five times)

And you also have to like this rotation

1)  Justin Verlander
2)  Kenny Rogers
3)  Dontrelle Willis
4) Jeremy Bonderman
5)  Nate Robertson

Do you think this team is going to be good next year?

Tigers Pull Off Blockbuster Trade

Well, the deal isn’t done quite yet, but what looked like a deal that wasn’t going to happen this afternoon turned into a fact when the Tigers traded Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin, Dallas Trahern, Eulogio De La Cruz, Mike Rabello and Burke Badenhop to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

Wow, the Tigers gave up four of their top eleven prospects in a deal which will essentially gut their minor league system of top quality talent.  In exchange, the Tigers get a front of the rotation starter as well as one of the best hitters in baseball.  Miller and Maybin were the cornerstones of the deal but Eulogio De La Cruz had a ton of talent as well.  Trahern was a wait and see type of guy because he wasn’t a hard thrower. 

Willis came close to winning a Cy Young back in 2005 and Miguel Carbera has belted at least 25 homers and driven in 110 runs the last four years.  Cabrera won’t be 25 until after the start of the season and Willis will be 26 in January so this isn’t a one or two year buy.  You have to figure that the Tigers wouldn’t have made this deal if they weren’t going to sign both guys to at least three year deals.

In conclusion, this is a hard deal to digest because none of the guys that the Tigers gave up had even a full year with the big league club outside of Rabello as the team’s backup catcher.  Still, I like the way this sets up the Tigers for the next couple of years at least.  This should vault them over the Indians as the favorites in the Central next year and they should be at least in the top five talent wise in all of baseball so you have to be happy about that. 

Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera Trade Rumors

There’s a rumored deal I heard on WXYT that would have Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin going to the Marlins for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera.  This would be a huge deal if they could pull it off.


Jason Beck is on the radio now and he indicated that this deal is unlikely and that the Tigers don’t have enough to get both Willis and Cabrera.  He noted that Maybin and Miller wouldn’t be enough and that the Tigers don’t have enough to offer for both guys.

1968 Tigers Tribute

2008 marks the 40th anniversary of the Tigers World Series win in 1968.  Similar to what I did for both the 1984 and 1935 Tigers, I’m going to a run a day by day diary of that team’s exploits.  I set up a seperate website for the diary and I’ll also be writing season retrospectives throughout the postseason.  My first retrospective is up on Denny McLain.

It seems like I’ve done more work on the 1968 Tigers then any other subject.  I wrote a brief synopsis of the 1968 Tigers in Tigers Corner 2007 and I have two articles in the 2008 edition coming out next March.  I also wrote two biographies (Les Cain and Wayne Comer) for an upcoming book that contains biographies of all of the 1968 Tigers that’s also being published by Maple Street Press.  Finally, if you want a lead in, you check out the 1967 American League Pennant Race website because a lot of the guys on that 1967 were key players in 1968.

Dave Dombrowski Hints at Fifth Starter

Okay, he didn’t come out and say who the front runner is, but he did say that he expects it to be one of the Tigers youngers players who are already in the fold.  Jon Paul Morosi mentions Andrew Miller, Yorman Bazardo, Jose Capellan, Chad Durbin and even Macay MacBride in the notes column.

He also talks about how the Tigers have a full 40 man roster so for the first time in a while, they won’t be taking part in the Rule Five draft.  Last year’s pick, Edward Campusano, emerged as a dark horse left handed relief specialist before he was shut down in spring training because of an injury.  Since then, he was given back to the Cubs.

Curtis Granderson – Ambassador

Here’s a cool column by Jason Beck on Curtis Granderson’s work to promote the game overseas.  Last year he was in Europe and this year he’s headed to South Africa.  The deal doesn’t sound like all work and no play because he’s going to get some time to check out the local scene.

It’s almost kind of surreal how in just two seasons, Granderson has turned himself into one of the primary faces of the franchise.  Not too bad for a kid who wasn’t supposed to be able to handle centerfield every day.

Arbitration Time

While the midnight deadline that a lot of team’s face to offer arbitration to their free agents doesn’t affect the Tigers, they do have five guys who the Tigers have yet to sign and are automatically eligible for arbitration.  As Jason Beck explains, Dave Dombrowski hasn’t let a single player go to the arbitration table and my guess is that the same happens this year.

The biggest name on that list is Nate Robertson, who will be the Tigers fourth strarter next year.  He looked like he was set to breakout with an impressive April this past season but then he fell apart and while he had his share of nice starts, he also had his share of poor ones.  He eventually found his way onto the disabled list and while he started putting it together in the second half, he still finished with a less then stellar 9-13 record.

Marcus Thames is next on the priority list and we’ll see him platoon with Jacque Jones in left field.  Thames is the guy who, if used correctly, can be extremely productive.  Thames has a career .512 slugging percentage against left handed pitchers and that’s how he’ll mostly be used.

Tim Byrdak, Chad Durbin and Bobby Seay are the other three guys and while all three are fringe players, they should all be in the bullpen this year.  Durbin might even get a shot at the fifth spot in the rotation.

My guess is, Robertson gets a three year deal while the other four all sign for one year.  Robertson is in his last year of arbitration so if they don’t lock him up now, he could himself on the open market after the 2008 season.

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