For the third consecutive year, Tigers catcher Danilo Sanchez finds his name on the unemployment list. Unfortunately, his abysmal showing at AA-Erie this summer may have ended his run with the Tigers. Despite all the hope for his bat, Sanchez will be 26 next season and has yet to show any reasonable consistency. Danilo is joined on the free agent heap by fellow catchers Max St. Pierre and Marcos Duverge. A native Canadian, St. Pierre was a 26th round choice of the Tigers in the 1997 draft, and has routinely been praised for his exceptional defense. Max's defense may be Major League ready, but his bat has stagnated in a big way. With his defensive prowess and tremendous leadership skills, I'd put pretty good odds on Max returning to the organization for one more year. The release of Marcos Duverge is a bit of a surprise. At only 19-years old, and coming off a solid –if short – stint in the DSL this summer, Duverge has an extremely raw skill set that has shown promise. The Tigers have a ton of your catchers floating around, and that could have played a factor in Marcos' demise.
Moving around the diamond, two of Toledo's big boppers from the corners of the infield are out looking for new work. Following an exceptional season at AAA, 28-year old slugger Josh Phelps should have no trouble finding a gig elsewhere. In fact, odds are pretty good that some power hungry team could give him a legitimate shot to make a big league roster. Phelps' teammate, Mike Hessman, has always had Major League power, but the rest of his offensive game has lagged behind. The Tigers have grown wary of his high strikeout rates and low batting averages, and I don't expect to see him return to the organization.
Two players that have both showed promise as speedy, slap-hitting second basemen, find themselves side-by-side on the free agent list. Juan Francia and Gil Mejia were both released by the organization, and look unlikely to return. Francia's speed and breakout seasons at West Michigan and Lakeland in 2004 and 2005 respectively, had bought him additional chances, but after a horrible showing on a bad Erie ball club, he looks to have fallen out of favor. Mejia was once considered a pretty solid middle infield prospect; one with the tools to make some noise in the minor leagues. While the organization still loves his ceiling, he's getting squeezed by more advanced players moving up behind him.
The list of outfielders leaving the organization reads like a who's-who list of minor league veterans. Long time Tiger Kurt Airoso may have finally seen his days in the organization end. With a full crop of outfielders waiting for their chance at AA, the Tigers may struggle to find room for the 31-year old slugger. Airoso departs as Erie's all time homerun leader for both a career, and a single season. Also joining Airoso on the list, were James Essian, Jackson Melian, and Victor Mendez. Melian provided enough offensively between Lakeland and Erie, that he may warrant another shot in 2007, should a roster spot present itself. Neither Mendez nor Essian has done much in their careers, and may struggle to find work before spring training opens. The outfield list was rounded out by two guys with Major League experience; Ryan Ludwick and Dustan Mohr. Ludwick put together a very nice season for the Mudhens, and rumor has it he has expressed an interest in returning. Mohr was a mid-season pickup who was needed to fill gaps in the Toledo outfield created by injury and promotion.
Nearly all of the pitchers leaving the organization are minor league veterans who should be easily replaceable. Righties like Lee Gardner, Steve Green, Jason Karnuth, and Mike Nannini are a dime-a-dozen at the AAA level, and I'll be mildly surprised if any return in 2007. Left-handers Lance Davis and Bobby Jones are likely to find work, simply because they aren't right-handed, but I doubt that work comes with the Tiger organization. Two additional righties looking for work are former prospects Jeremy Johnson and Mark Woodyard. Johnson was on the fast-track to the big leagues, motoring through the minor leagues and reaching AA at age 20 in 2002. A series of serious arm ailments ended his run, and he has yet to recover the stuff or control he possessed before surgery. Woodyard was high on the Tigers list of relief prospects during the 2004 and 2005 campaigns, but as his velocity dipped from the mid-90s to the high 80s, and his control deserted him, the shine of success quickly faded.
All-in-all, the Tigers are not losing much in the way of significant talent at this time. Most of the players would generally be considered roster filler, and can be replaced quite easily. The organization could stand to try and keep guys like St. Pierre, Phelps, Ludwick, and Woodyard around as insurance against injury, but they may opt to challenge younger players to fill these roles in 2007.
As we dive into the off-season, there are sure to be more releases and additions to the minor league system; so check back with TigsTown.com to get all the updates and analysis.