Tiger News & Notes: 11/29

Inside, find out the latest on the Tigers offseason developments, including Ugueth Urbina, who might be headed in a different direction than originally thought. Plus, the latest on the redesign at Comerica Park, and which members of the Tigers Arizona Fall League players have a shot at making an impact with the big league club in 2005.

The prevailing perception is that Detroit will deal its old closer, RHP Ugueth Urbina, now that it has a new one, RHP Troy Percival.

Maybe not.

First, the Tigers exercised the $4 million option on Urbina's contract for 2005. He's on their roster.

Second, even though the Tigers guaranteed Percival $12 million for the next two seasons, they can't be as unaware of the closer's age and frailties as some writers and opposing clubs seem to be.

Percival spent time on the disabled list last year. And at age 35, he's probable for revisits even if monitored closely.

Surely Detroit has seen the numbers that show his strikeout/walk ratio has declined steadily in each of the last three seasons. He averaged less than six strikeouts for every nine innings pitched last season.

The last two years Percival has worked less than 50 innings, and one recent reported quoted an anonymous assistant general manager as saying "he can't pitch three days in a row."

It's also perceived that Detroit was the only team willing to offer Percival two guaranteed years, an assumption that can't be verified because the pitcher never let it play out.

Teams, especially those in Detroit's position, have to roll the dice.

Last year, the Tigers gambled signing 2B Fernando Vina to a two-year contract, and they could wind up eating half of it. On the one hand, that might have been bad because the club could only get a 29-game return on its investment. On the other hand, it could be seen as having paid $6 million for credibility because the Vina signing paved the way for additional club improvements last year.

Detroit also gambled on signing C Ivan Rodriguez to a four-year deal last spring, and that signing looks a whole lot better today to the teams that passed on him at that time.

But no matter how the signing of the new closer turns out, the Tigers might wind up hedging their bet for one year by retaining Urbina and using him both as a setup man and to close those games where it might be prudent to give Percival a night off.

Detroit learned the lesson of not having a viable backup closer last year when Urbina missed the last month of the season because of his mother's kidnapping and the bullpen fell apart.

--Detroit will play its first exhibition game next spring on March 2, against traditional local opening foe Florida Southern College.

Detroit's first game against a major league team is March 3 at Clearwater, Fla., against Philadelphia, with the Phillies returning the favor for Detroit the next day in Lakeland.

The Tigers have booked 17 home Grapefruit League exhibition games for the spring. Included are three visits by the American League East Division champion New York Yankees (March 5, 11 and April 1) along with home games against the Atlanta Braves on March 19 and the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals the following day.

Detroit will play three night games at Joker Marchant Stadium, two featuring the defending NL wild-card winners, the Houston Astros.

Detroit will also host the newly relocated Washington Nationals on March 7.

--The Tigers have yet to make an official announcement, but information sent to season-ticket holders indicates the bullpens will be relocated from right field to left with the old area being converted into an additional 650-950 grandstand seats. The seats would cost $15, the same as those that will overlook the new bullpen area in left field. That area has been vacant for two years after the Tigers moved in the left-field fence about 20 feet in response to criticism it was too far for hitters. The additional seats would boost Comerica Park's capacity from its listed 40,120 to about 41,000.

President/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski said he couldn't comment on what the new bullpen area in left field might look like but said "planning is in the final stages. All of our thought processes on this is that it's going to happen."

The season-ticket brochure indicated ticket prices would rise for the first time since Comerica Park opened in 2000.

The left-field seats above the relocated bullpen cost $14 last year, while single-ticket prices for infield boxes were boosted $5 to $35. All other ticket prices remained the same.

Season-ticket packages go on sale Wednesday (Dec. 1), and individual ticket sales begin March 5.

--1B/C Chris Shelton appears to have used his time on Detroit's bench wisely.

Shelton was named winner of the Arizona Fall League's Joe Black Most Valuable Player Award, slightly less than a year after the Tigers selected him from the Pittsburgh organization in the Rule 5 draft.

The Grand Canyon Rafters utility player won the league batting championship at .404 and also led the AFL in RBI (33), hits (46), on-base percentage (.470) and slugging percentage (.667).

"It's always an honor when you get an award like this around this group of talent," Shelton said. "It's pretty special.

"I didn't play a whole lot during the season. I don't want to say I was more fresh than other players, but I really needed to be here and was really looking forward to it.

"Something just happened for me. I saw the ball real well here, got a lot of pitches to hit and I didn't miss them. Maybe I put some pressure on the Tigers to keep me around next year."

--CF Curtis Granderson was one of six finalists for the Arizona Fall League's Dernell Stenson sportsmanship award, won by Kansas City minor league 3B Mark Teahen.

Granderson missed the first week of action but finished with a .321 batting average. He worked on improving his plate discipline and improving his bunting, following through on instructions from the Tigers' coaching staff. Granderson could contend for a job as Detroit's center fielder and leadoff hitter at some point next year.

--2B Ryan Raburn played in the Arizona Fall League and worked on improving his ability to make contact and become more consistent in the field. He worked with Grand Canyon manager and Tigers hitting coach Bruce Fields to reduce some motion in his swing. Raburn went from a .200 average to .250 during the last week. Seven of his 16 hits went for extra bases, including four home runs. He made just one error in 20 games.

--RHP Mark Woodyard led Grand Canyon with three victories in the Arizona Fall League. He and fellow Detroit farmhand RHP Rick Kirsten appeared in 11 games each and had identical 3.86 ERAs.

Woodyard struck out 18 batters in 16 1/3 innings, walking seven, and Kirsten walked just three in 14 innings with five strikeouts. Kirsten had one save.

The other Detroit pitcher, Lee Rodney, was 0-3 with a 7.41 ERA, allowing 28 hits in 17 innings.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17 -- Home Grapefruit League exhibition games Detroit will play at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla., in the spring.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want to have a good camp and see what happens. If the Tigers send me to Toledo, I'll go there, play as well as I can and force the issue a little bit." -- Chris Shelton, who batted just 46 times last year as Detroit's Rule 5 choice, after winning the MVP award in the Arizona Fall League.

Detroit signed closer RHP Troy Percival as part of its drive to upgrade the bullpen and would like to do more, especially if it trades last year's closer, RHP Ugueth Urbina. Acquiring a middle-of-the-order hitter who could play solid defense at third base or center field remained a top priority, and the ability of Brandon Inge to handle either position gives the Tigers flexibility. Adding a top-of-the-rotation starter would give Detroit some depth in that area, possibly enabling it to make a deal to strengthen another spot.

ARRIVALS: RHP Troy Percival (free agent from Anaheim), RHP Colby Lewis (waiver claim, from Texas), OF Byron Gettis (waiver claim, from Kansas City), OF Dewayne Wise (waiver claim, from Atlanta), CF Alexis Gomez (waiver claim, from Kansas City).

DEPARTURES: RHP Al Levine ($100,000 buyout of club option).

BIGGEST NEEDS: A second left-handed reliever, solid middle-inning relievers, a slugging third baseman who can field, a center fielder whose defense and offense are in balance, a solid upper-tier starting pitcher.

FREE AGENT: RHP Esteban Yan.
Yan had trouble closing games in September when RHP Ugueth Urbina went home to Venezuela to deal with the kidnapping of his mother but was very good in early and middle relief, and the Tigers would like to have him back in that capacity -- if the price is right.

ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: CF Alex Sanchez, UTIL Brandon Inge, 1B Carlos Pena.
Inge and Pena will be back, but Sanchez is a tough call. He's in line for a bigger raise than Detroit would like to pay for someone who barely played after July 7 (40 at-bats), has lots to learn about defense and sometimes doesn't make good decisions on the bases. Sanchez's return could depend on who Detroit gets to play third or center field.

IN LIMBO: CF Alex Sanchez might not be offered arbitration -- especially should the Tigers land a power-hitting third baseman or a skilled defensive center fielder. 3B Eric Munson is a man with considerable power potential but is without a solid position defensively; he could be waived or traded. OFs Craig Monroe and Marcus Thames are trade material, as are RHPs Gary Knotts and Jason Johnson. Detroit wouldn't mind dealing RF Bobby Higginson but would have to pay most of his $8 million salary to make it happen. RHP Ugueth Urbina could be traded now that the Tigers have signed RHP Troy Percival.

MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Colby Lewis (rotator cuff surgery in mid-April) hopes to be ready to pitch in the spring. SS Carlos Guillen (right knee ACL surgery Sept. 28) will be prepped in the spring with Opening Day in mind. CF Alex Sanchez (right quadriceps) will be ready for spring training. 2B Fernando Vina (right hamstring, 2/3-torn left patella tendon) declined surgery, which was iffy as far as a recovery, and will try to come back in the spring knowing his career could be over. RHP Nate Cornejo (right shoulder labrum surgery) will be brought along slowly in the spring. RHP Fernando Rodney (right elbow ligament transplant) is throwing again and hopes to be ready in spring training. RHP Chris Spurling (right elbow ligament transplant) is throwing again and hopes to compete for a job in the spring.

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