Inside Pitch: Radio Options, Tiger Stadium

The Tigers are in the process of working out a new radio deal, and after many fans have expressed frustration over the weak signal of WXYT 1270, the Tigers could be moving down the dial. Plus, will fans get another chance to visit the ballpark at Michigan and Trumbull?

In case you haven't been paying attention, a pattern has emerged in Dave Dombrowski's offseason contract negotiations with his Tigers.

Gary Sheffield? Wanted him, traded for him, signed him to a two-year extension (three years total). The price was seen as slightly high in November but very reasonable by Christmas.

Brandon Inge? Possible free agent at the end of the 2007 season; signed to a four-year deal at market wages. The above-average defender said he never considered leaving.

Jeremy Bonderman? Eligible for free agency after 2008 season; signed a four-year contract that will pay him $12.5 million in both 2009 and 2010. Pitcher with tremendous work ethic who liked what's going on with Detroit and is aware he needs to refine one more pitch (changeup or split-finger) to lump himself with the elite.

Placido Polanco. Obtained from Philadelphia in 2005 and before the season was over was signed for four additional years at the same salary.

Don't forget the earlier free agent signings of catcher Ivan Rodriguez (four-year deal) and right fielder Magglio Ordonez (seven-year contract) as well as left-hander Kenny Rogers and closer Todd Jones (elder statesmen signed to two-year contracts).

It's not laziness on the part of Dombrowski, a disinclination to negotiate 15 tough contracts every winter; it's a plan to get his key players signed to deals that meld age, market value, productivity and value to the team.

There's some advance planning in there, too. Right-handers Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya just completed their rookie seasons, while center fielder Curtis Granderson is a couple of months past that. If they continue to develop, they, too, will be in line to afford prime coastal mansions three to four years down the road. Potentially, left-hander Andrew Miller is right behind them.

The Tigers GM wants to show his key players he appreciates them while at the same time retaining some year-to-year flexibility to fine-tune a roster he feels can remain a contender in the tough AL Central for years to come.

--RHP Jeremy Bonderman agreed Dec. 18 to pass up two years of eligibility for free agency by signing a four-year deal worth $38 million.

Bonderman, 24, has improved in each of his four seasons in the majors and is now under contract to pitch for the Tigers through 2010. He will get paid $4.5 million next year, $8.5 million in 2008, then $12.5 million in both 2009 and 2010, the first two years he would have been eligible to be a free agent.

"I'm thrilled to know that I'm going to be around here for a long time," Bonderman said. "I knew that if I took care of business that I'd have an opportunity to stay here and take care of my family. This is where I want to be.

"There's always the idea of free agency, but I love the guys here. I love the team. I love everything about playing for the Tigers right now. They're a great organization."

Bonderman lost 19 games as a rookie in 2003 but has improved his record each subsequent season. He was 14-8 with a 4.08 ERA in 34 starts last summer. He was second in the American League with 202 strikeouts and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings and ninth with 214 innings. Bonderman was the first Tigers pitcher to strike out at least 200 batters in a season since Jack Morris fanned 208 batters in 1987.

Bonderman started three games during the playoffs, posting a 1-0 record and a 3.10 ERA.

"We thought this was an important year to attempt to sign him," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "The closer a player gets to free agency, the more a player decides to explore the opportunity. We wanted to keep our young pitching together."

--Free agent CF Brandon Watson, 25, signed a minor league contract with Detroit.

Watson has played in 35 games in the majors for Washington in 2005-06 with a .176 batting average.

He gives the Tigers depth in the outfield as a center fielder and is a left-handed hitter, another attraction to a team that just let go left-handed-hitting OF Alexis Gomez. Watson is likely to be the starting center fielder for Triple-A Toledo.

--DH Gary Sheffield enters the 2007 season fifth among active players in RBIs with 1,501, 15 behind LF Manny Ramirez. That total puts him in the top 50 all-time, 24th among right-handed hitters.

--The Tigers are negotiating a new radio contract after their old one fortuitously expired following Detroit's surprising 2006 season.

Ratings were up dramatically on radio and more than doubled on television, where they again will be carried by the local Fox Sports Network cable outlet.

Detroit baseball games were originated locally by WXYT (1270 AM), but the signal drops noticeably at dusk and large portions of the metro area can only pickup scratchy sound at best. Portions of Michigan also are uncovered despite a large number of stations that pick up the broadcasts.

WJR, which for years broadcast the Tigers but apparently is out of the running again this time, has a clear channel signal that can be heard at night all over the state and in large portions of the country east of the Mississippi.

The proliferation of stations owned by a single entity could mean the Tigers will be aired by an AM-FM combination. Detroit Lions games are carried by an FM station in the metro Detroit area.

The Tigers show among the fewest games on television of any team in baseball.

Only 110 Tigers games were carried by the team's cable television outlet last season, and the same number will be shown again in 2007. An additional 20 were eventually produced by FSN Detroit and fed to an over-the-air station, but whether that happens again this season is being discussed.

--The city of Detroit will open Tiger Stadium to fans one more time before it's torn apart and pieces are sold off to help pay the cost of demolition.

"People will be able to go out on the pitcher's mound and take snapshots," Matt Allen, press secretary to Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, said Dec. 18.

No date was set, but indications were it will take place just before the Tigers' 2007 season home opener, April 2 at Comerica Park.

The city conducted tours of Tiger Stadium on Dec. 18 for about 60 representatives of 10 auction companies that must submit bids by Jan. 11 on what memorabilia they intend to sell from the stadium, and how they would conduct the sale.

An auction is expected by the end of 2007.

--LHP Felix Heredia, who pitched for manager Jim Leyland with the World Series champion Marlins in 1997 but hasn't pitched in the majors since 2005, signed a minor league contract with the Tigers as a free agent.

The 31-year-old veteran, was released in May after posting a 6.75 ERA in six games for Buffalo, the Indians' Triple-A affiliate. He only worked 2 1/3 innings for the Mets in 2005. Heredia owns a 28-19 career record in the majors with six saves and a 4.42 ERA for six teams.

Also signing minor league contracts with Detroit were LHP Jason Davis and RHP Jason Karnuth, who both pitched for the Tigers' Triple-A Toledo club last season, plus free agent C Dane Sardinha and former San Diego RHP Dennis Tankersley.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Extra dollars Tigers fans must pay for "premium" spring training games, all contests on Friday through Sunday plus all home games against Atlanta and both New York baseball teams. Ten of Detroit's 17 home spring games fall into the "premium" category, including split-squad contests.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "A lot of the stadium is going to come down. People have to understand that." -- Matt Allen, spokesman for Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, in announcing Detroit was hosting a tour for firms interested in running an auction of memorabilia from Tiger Stadium to help finance the city's partial demolition of the historic home of the Tigers from 1912 through 1999. The city wants to put housing and commercial development on most of the 8 1/2-acre site.

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