12/31/2015: TIGERS ADD TWO FROM JAPAN
- Signed Michael Crotta (RHP) and Chad Huffman (OF) to minor league contracts
The Tigers added two players who spent 2015 in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan to minor league contracts. Both are more depth additions that will give the Tigers a couple of experienced players for the upper levels of the farm system.
Crotta did make it to the big leagues in 2011 but struggled, posting a 9.28 ERA in 15 games for Pittsburgh. Crotta was in Japan for the last two years, excelling in 2014, with a 2.62 ERA over 61 games including six saves, but struggling last year, with a 6.59 ERA in 30 games. Crotta fractured his elbow in 2011 and missed the 2012 season rehabbing, and after a solid season with Syracuse (the Nationals' Triple-A affiliate) he elected to go to Japan for a half million dollar contract. Crotta, 31, predominantly relies on plenty of sink in his game, with a fastball that used to get up to 96 before the injury but now is more low-90's.
Huffman, 30, also had a cup of coffee in the big leagues, getting 18 at-bats with the Yankees back in 2010. Also like Crotta, he spent two years in Japan, with a strong first season in 2014 (.270/.354/.443), but managed just 13 plate appearances last year. He has some pop in his bat, twice reaching the 20 home run plateau in his minor league career.
12/23/2015: TIGERS SIGN SIX MiLB FREE AGENTS
- Signed Logan Kensing (RHP), Dustin Molleken (RHP), Nate Schierholtz (OF) and Jordany Valdespin (UT) to minor league contracts
- Re-signed Alberto Gonzalez (IF) and Melvin Mercedes (RHP) to minor league contracts
The club continued to add reinforcements for the upper levels of the farm system and a handful of players with extensive big league experience who might have an outside shot to compete for one of the final spots on the roster. The club also re-signed Mercedes who debuted with the Tigers in 2014, but was removed from the club's 40-man roster last winter. Kensing has rather extensive big league experience at 33 years of age, and appeared in 19 games last year for Seattle, but has a career 5.80 ERA. Gonzalez returns to the club after serving as an infielder in Toledo and Erie last year, and also has substantial Major League experience, with over 1,000 big league at-bats, but none coming since 2013. Valdespin might be the most well-known to Tigers fans, though for nothing related to his production on the field. Instead he became known when he took a Justin Verlander spring training fastball to the groin a couple seasons ago. Valdespin has good speed and can play in the outfield as well as second base, but has hit just .216 with a .639 OPS in his career.
12/21/2015: TIGERS TRADE LOBSTEIN TO PIRATES
- Traded Kyle Lobstein (LHP) to Pittsburgh in exchange for cash considerations
After making the slightly surprising decision to designate Lobstein for assignment, the Tigers completed the deal by sending him to Pittsburgh for cash. As previously noted, Lobstein had been effective for stretches for the Tigers, but the belief is that they can fill his role with pitchers like Matt Boyd, who won't be penciled into the rotation but could well compete for a spot, and arguably have a higher ceiling than Lobstein.
12/18/2015: TIGERS SIGN MIKE AVILES
- Signed Mike Aviles (UT) to one-year deal
- Designated Kyle Lobstein (LHP) for assignment
The Tigers mentioned a need for a versatile utility player as possibly the last thing left on GM Al Avila's shopping list, and yet again they moved quickly to solve it, adding Aviles to the club on a one-year deal for an undisclosed amount. Aviles has experience playing all around the field, and spent time at three infield positions and all three outfield positions last season. At 34, Aviles has seen his offensive productivity continue to decline, posting a .266 wOBA last year, so he's not someone that can be relied upon for extensive offensive productivity. But as a right-handed hitter, he posted a more respectable .289 wOBA against left-handers last year, and with solid defense in left field last year (UZR/150 of 8.5), he could be a candidate for some starts in left against left-handed starters, potentially an improvement over what Tyler Collins or Anthony Gose could do.
To clear room the Tigers surprised some by designating Lobstein. While his numbers as a pro have been unremarkable with a 5.33 ERA and a 4.33 FIP, he's given the Tigers a couple of key stretches as a reliable starter, including in September 2014 to help secure the division crown, and in spring 2015 before hitting the disabled list. He doesn't possess imposing stuff, with a fastball that tops out in the high 80's and a K/9 rate of 4.5, there's not much reason to believe he's more than a swingman with a limited ceiling. And the club likely has more optimism about guys like Matt Boyd, Buck Farmer and Shane Greene to fill that spot. But still, for a club that had so much trouble getting outs last year, it's surprising they'd be willing to risk losing a pitcher that was actually able to keep the Tigers in most of the games he started.
12/11/2015: TIGERS SIGN 17 MINOR LEAGUE FREE AGENTS
- Signed Ruben Alaniz (RHP), Jake Brigham (RHP), Lendy Castillo (RHP), Eduardo Figueroa (RHP), Preston Guilmet (RHP), Cory Riordan (RHP), Drake Britton (LHP), Anthony Fernandez (LHP), Albert Cordero (C ), and Tommy Field (IF)
- Re-signed Endrys Briceno (RHP), Edgar De La Rosa (RHP), Rafael Dolis (RHP), Ross Seaton (RHP), Thad Weber (RHP), Miguel Gonzalez (C ), and Jiwan James (OF)
- Invited Drake Britton (LHP), Lendy Castillo (RHP), Rafael Dolis (RHP), Miguel Gonzalez (C ), Tommy Field (IF) and Preston Guilmet (RHP) to Major League spring training
While a number of these signings were expected and had actually been executed weeks ago, the Tigers made all of them official at once, including bringing back seven players from the farm system in 2015, as well as adding ten new members to the organization.
The two most noteworthy signings from a prospect standpoint are obviously Briceno and De La Rosa, as both are members of the 2016 TigsTown Top 50, and continue to maintain live arms with big league potential but have recently dealt with injury issues. Briceno was poised for a breakout season in 2014, but instead ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery and didn't return to the mound and face live action until midway through this past year. Being another year removed from the injury, there is hope that he'll regain his prior form. De La Rosa meanwhile missed most of the 2015 season with what was originally diagnosed as a strained lat.
Among those with invites to big league camp, Gonzalez and Field are largely depth additions at their respective positions. Dolis impressed the Tigers staff last spring, and turned in a respectable year in Toledo in 2015 (4.61 ERA, 54 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings). Meanwhile, Britton, Castillo and Guilmet all have prior big league experience, but all limited and none of the three enjoying any sustained success. Britton features a sinker/slider mix with a fastball that hits 93, while Castillo has a power four seamer that gets up to 95. Guilmet meanwhile made a handful of appearances in the big leagues in 2015, but doesn't have the same velocity, as he regularly sits in the high 80's and instead relies on movement for his success.
12/09/2015: TIGERS GET WILSON FOR CESSA, GREEN
- Traded Luis Cessa (RHP) and Chad Green (RHP) to the Yankees in exchange for Justin Wilson (LHP)
The Tigers were set on making a bullpen acquisition for a left-hander, and accomplished that via trade on Wednesday when they landed Wilson from the Yankees in exchange for a pair of pitching prospects. Wilson was very effective for New York last year, posting a 3.10 ERA with a 2.69 FIP, including a 9.7 K/9 ratio, with just under 3 BB/9. Wilson had issues with his command the year before with the Pirates, where he walked 4.5 per nine innings, but eased those concerns in 2015. He'll remain under team control for the Tigers for three more years.
In return, the Tigers gave up a pair of arms in Cessa and Green. Cessa was one of the recent additions at last year's trade deadline from the Mets. He has a live arm, but struggled in Triple-A for both the Tigers and the Mets, with a 5.97 ERA over seven starts in Toledo. While he's worked predominantly as a starter, his future is likely that of a reliever. Green meanwhile was a 2013 draft pick by the Tigers, and had good success at Double-A Erie, with a 3.93 ERA. He could make it as a back of the rotation starter, but might find more success in a late inning relief role, where his fastball would play up.
With the acquisition, the TIgers have most likely completed much of their off-season shopping. There's the possibility that they add a utility player with the capability of playing in the outfield, or possibly another low-risk reliever, but the Tigers have now hit on all of their big ticket shopping items.
12/07/2015: TIGERS SIGN SALTALAMACCHIA, LOWE
- Signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C) to a one-year deal
- Signed Mark Lowe (RHP) to a two-year deal worth $11 million
The Tigers made a pair of key free agent signings with the additions of Saltalamacchia and Lowe, especially Lowe, who will likely serve as the club's setup man behind recently acquired Francisco Rodriguez. Lowe has had a tumultuous career spanning the last decade, making his big league debut in 2006 with the Mariners, and also spending time with the Rangers, Angels, Indians and Blue Jays. In 2015, Lowe was outstanding, posting a 1.96 ERA (2.57 FIP) over 55 innings, with a 10 K/9 rate and under 2 BB/9.
Saltalamacchia was added to provide depth at catcher behind starter James McCann. The 30-year old signed a three-year deal with the Marlins in 2014, but the club released him just a month into the 2015 season, and he finished out 2015 with the Diamondbacks, where he hit .251 with a .348 wOBA, posting a 1.1 WAR in just 194 at-bats. Saltalamacchia will battle with Bryan Holaday for the backup spot, with the loser likely heading to Triple-A Toledo.
12/04/2015: TIGERS ADD MIKE PELFREY
- Signed Mike Pelfrey (RHP) to a two-year deal worth $16 million
Just days after reaffirming that the club planned to add another starting pitcher, the Tigers agreed to terms with former Twins starting pitcher Pelfrey on a two-year deal, pending a physical. Pelfrey made 30 starts for the Twins last year, with a 4.26 ERA and 4.00 FIP, with a 4.70 K/9 ratio and 2.5 BB/9 ratio. Pelfrey is viewed as a back of the rotation starter that induces plenty of ground balls but also doesn't strike many batters out, which will put plenty of pressure on the Tigers infield defense to support Pelfrey.
While $16 million sounds like a lot, the reality is that a pitcher that when healthy earns 1-2 wins is worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $8-$10 million per season on the free agent market, and Pelfrey simply fits that price tag.
With Justin Verlander, Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez all locked into rotation spots, and the expectation that Daniel Norris will hold one as well, the addition of Pelfrey should solidify the Tigers starting five, barring injury.
12/02/2015: ALBURQUERQUE, FELIZ NON-TENDERED
- Al Alburquerque (RHP) elected free agency
- Neftali Feliz (RHP) elected free agency
The Tigers announced that they won't be extending a contract to either Alburquerque or Feliz for the 2016 season, providing both players with the option of becoming free agents and pursuing any opportunity with another club, which they both chose to do. Alburquerque was projected to make over $2 million in 2016 through arbitration, while Feliz was projected to hover around $5 million.
Neither Alburquerque nor Feliz were particularly effective for the Tigers last season. Feliz, who was signed as a free agent midway through the year after being released by the Rangers, posted a 7.62 ERA in 30 appearances in Detroit. He did have a an FIP of 3.95, and the Tigers did express some interest in bringing him back at a lower contract amount, but the two sides couldn't come to terms.
Alburquerque meanwhile had a tough year in 2015, with very limited use in the first couple months of the season in particular while he battled control issues. His advanced performance wasn't that bad, with an FIP of 3.75 and an ERA of 4.21, but he walked nearly five batters per nine innings and his strikeout rates plummted from a high of nearly 13 K's per nine in 2013 to just over 8 K's per nine last year.
11/30/2015: TIGERS SIGN ZIMMERMANN
- Signed Jordan Zimmermann (RHP) to a 5-year contract worth $110 million
While all Tigers fans were anticipating a starting pitcher being added to the mix, few likely expected the Tigers were ready to spend enough to land a pitcher of the caliber of Zimmermann, but that's exactly what the Tigers did when they inked the 29-year old right-hander to a five-year deal. For his career, Zimmermann has a 3.32 ERA with a 3.40 FIP, logging nearly 1,100 innings, almost all of which coming in the last five years where he averaged over 30 starts and nearly 200 innings.
Zimmermann will earn $18 million each of the next two years, and then that jumps to $24 million in 2018, and two years of $25 million. The contract also comes with a no-trade clause, which includes full protection over the first three years of the contract, and limited protection over the final two years.
For additional details of the addition and what it means for the Tigers, see the full article here: Tigers Sign Jordan Zimmermann to 5-Year Deal
11/20/2015: TIGERS ACQUIRE MAYBIN FOR KROL, SPEIER
- Traded Ian Krol (LHP) and Gabe Speier (LHP) to Atlanta in exchange for Cameron Maybin (OF)
Completing a busy week for the club, the Tigers added a player that will be a key member of their outfield, though the exact role isn't yet known. The former top prospect in the Tigers system, Maybin broke out a few years ago with San Diego, posting a 4.3 fWAR in 2011 before being traded to Atlanta prior to last season. He had a solid season with the Braves in 2015, hitting .267 with a .307 wOBA, including 23 stolen bases. The Tigers said that Maybin's role will be determined in spring training, but it'd seem a safe bet that he'll bounce between left field and center field, sharing time with Anthony Gose in center and Tyler Collins in left.
Financially again, the Tigers got a deal better than what they likely could have gotten on the free agent market, as they'll pay only $5.5 million of Maybin's $8 million salary in 2016, the final guaranteed year of his deal. Maybin has a $9 million option for 2017, or the Tigers can buy that out for $1 million. It's yet another move where the Tigers acquire a soon-to-expire contract of a player that doesn't create a long-term financial commitment, is likely more cost affordable than the free agent alternative, and carries with it the added hope that the player will be focused heading into a contract year.
In exchange, the Tigers gave up a pair of lefties. The first of whom, Ian Krol, Tigers fans know well and are probably not sad to see him go. Krol was supposed to be a key part of the bullpen after being acquired from the Nationals in the Doug Fister trade, but that never materialized. Krol bounced between Toledo and Detroit last year, posting a 5.79 ERA in the Majors, with control issues once again popping up, walking 5.5 batters per nine innings. Speier, who the Tigers got in the Rick Porcello/Yoenis Cespedes swap, had a strong year for Class-A West Michigan, with a 2.86 ERA and is a decent pitching prospect. But not the sort of pitcher that you worry extensively about losing in a deal for big league talent like Maybin, that should give the Tigers 500-plus at-bats.
11/19/2015: TIGERS PURCHASE CONTRACTS OF FULMER, LABOURT, ROBERTSON
- Purchased contract of Michael Fulmer (RHP) from Erie and added to 40-man roster
- Purchased contract of Jairo Labourt (LHP) from Lakeland and added to 40-man roster
- Purchased contract of Montreal Robertson (RHP) from Erie and added to 40-man roster
In anticipation of the Tigers making some moves to protect more players from next month's Rule 5 Draft, the club added three guys to the 40-man. Fulmer was the key prospect received in exchange for Yoenis Cespedes, and given his stellar performance and lofty status, there's no surprise he was protected. Labourt was also acquired in the deadline selloff, and while further away from the big leagues and not enjoying the same success, still has a high-powered arm that is well regarded.
The one slight surprise of the group is Robertson, who has maintained the "keep an eye on" status for several years, but has only started to translate that into legit potential. Robertson moved to the bullpen for good last year, and has been able to utilize his high velocity fastball in short bursts more effectively in that role. His ceiling is likely limited to that of a 7th inning reliever, but a live arm that is approaching the big league level after posting a 3.31 ERA across Lakeland and Erie is one worth hanging onto.
11/17/2015: TIGERS TRADE BETANCOURT FOR RODRIGUEZ
- Traded Javier Betancourt (IF) and player to be named later to Milwaukee in exchange for Francisco Rodriguez (RHP) and player to be named later
The Tigers didn't like what they were seeing on the free agent market for a closer, and they were able to acquire "K-Rod" for a relatively reasonable price, with a limited contract to go with it. The Tigers will owe Rodriguez only $5.5 million in 2016, and can either pick up his 2017 option for $8 million (still very reasonable price tag for an above average closer), or buyout the option for $2 million. It's a limited financial commitment, especially compared to what someone like Joakim Soria was looking for, reported to be 3-years, $27 million.
Of course, the Tigers aren't just losing money in the deal, as they're giving up a solid infield prospect in Betancourt, plus another prospect that will be named later. Betancourt has a good approach at the plate and very good contact skills, and good project to be an above average hitter, but has shown very little power in his game. He's also a somewhat limited athlete without great speed and average arm and range, which likely will limit him to second base as he moves up the ladder. Assuming the PTBNL isn't a top prospect, the Tigers traded a prospect they could afford to lose to hopefully solidify the 9th inning in the bullpen at an affordable price.
11/5/2015: JONES VIOLATES MiLB'S DRUG PROGRAM, SUSPENDED 50 GAMES
- JaCoby Jones (SS) suspended 50 games following a positive test for a drug of abuse, violating Minor League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program
After a stellar 2015 campaign and a strong start in the Arizona Fall League, the news about Jones is very disappointing, and means he'll be sidelined for much of the first of the 2016 season. The Tigers issued a very brief statement; "The Detroit Tigers recognize the suspension of JaCoby Jones for violating Minor League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program as a measure taken in the best interest of the game, and the ballclub continues to fully support this policy. The Tigers' organization will provide no further comment on Jones’ suspension.”
Jones was an unlikely candidate to seriously challenge for a spot on the 25-man roster or contribute at the big league level in the timeframe of the suspension , but questions will now of course arise about him as a prospect, and he'll have to answer those with his performance on the field when he returns, and avoid any other missteps in the meantime. He was likely ticketed for Toledo before the news of the suspension.
11/3/2015: TIGERS PURCHASE CONTRACT OF CESSA
- Purchased contract of Luis Cessa (RHP) from Toledo and added to Detroit's 40-man roster
- Declined 2016 option of Joe Nathan (RHP), making him a free agent
The news about Nathan comes as no surprise, given Nathan's surgery and questions about his ability to return to pitch at all, the club wasn't going to pay him $10 million, and instead will pay his $1 million buyout. At the time of the injury, Nathan expressed his interest to return to baseball.
The move to add Cessa to the 40-man roster was an inevitable one, as he would have been eligible for free agency, and even if re-signed he would have been eligible for the Rule 5 draft had he not been protected by being placed on Detroit's roster. Cessa was one of the two arms the Tigers acquired from the New York Mets, in exchange for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cessa has a live arm, but struggled at Triple-A this for both New York and Detroit, posting a 6.45 ERA for Toledo over seven starts. He did however strike out 34 in 37 2/3 innings and could be a bullpen option in Detroit in 2016 if he fixes a couple things.