One of the biggest challenges for a Major League general manager is to find the flexibility to pivot when a plan goes awry, and to turn adversity into opportunity. For Dave Dombrowski, it was the ability to quickly land Prince Fielder before the 2012 season -- helped in no small part by owner Mike Ilitch’s willingness to expand payroll -- after Victor Martinez suffered a season-ending knee injury during offseason training.
Before that, it was the quick decision to land Sean Casey at the 2006 Trade Deadline once it became clear the Tigers wouldn’t grab Alfonso Soriano. Even further back, it was the signing of Magglio Ordonez in '05 after missing out on a slew of free agents, including Carl Pavano, Steve Finley and Adrián Beltré.
Now it’s Scott Harris’ turn, as his first season as Tigers president of baseball operations winds down.
There was no Plan B when Eduardo Rodriguez exercised his no-trade clause to block a deal with the Dodgers on Tuesday.
The combination of Rodriguez’s 10-team no-trade clause with the $49 million left on his contract over the next three seasons if he doesn’t opt out -- a decision that might only happen if Rodriguez struggles down the stretch or if he is injured -- presented a different market than for Michael Lorenzen. The Tigers had to focus on teams willing to take on the potential risk of Rodriguez’s remaining contract, or help take some of that financial risk off the table.
Rodriguez said the Tigers presented a couple of teams to him, and they honed in on the Dodgers leading into Tuesday’s Deadline.
That left the Tigers at the mercy of Rodriguez, who ultimately decided to stay in Detroit. On the flip side, the club now has a highly regarded veteran pitcher with a World Series ring and a history of clutch performances who has decided he’d rather stay in Detroit than head for Los Angeles. In the process, Rodriguez has raved about Detroit as a great place for him and his family, and he’s characterized the Tigers as a comfortable organization for him.
For a Major League executive trying to build a strong culture and a welcoming perception in a place that has often been low on free agents’ preference lists, there’s a potential opportunity in that.
“He wanted to stay in this organization, and he wants to help us in the second half,” Harris said. “At this point, I think we need to focus on what’s in front of us right now. If that means that Eduardo Rodriguez is going to stay with us and help us win every five days, that’s a big win for us.”
The Tigers headed into the Deadline with three options with Rodriguez: Trade him, extend him or potentially let him opt out and go elsewhere for nothing. That first option is now off the table. So the team and Harris have to focus on keeping him beyond this season. That might not begin in earnest until later in the season, when it becomes clearer whether he’ll opt out -- based in large part, no doubt, on his stretch run.
“We are having conversations with our players all the time,” Harris said when asked if he plans to pursue an extension before season’s end. “The nature of those conversations, I think, should remain confidential.”
If Rodriguez opts out, he will become a free agent available to any team, and the Tigers will have to deliberate how much of their post-Miggy payroll to devote to starting pitching at a time when they need to improve their offense. But when you consider how hard Detroit has had to work to convince top free agents to seriously consider the team, having Rodriguez with a favorable view of the city and the organization is a nice starting point.
And if the Tigers can keep Rodriguez, he will become arguably their best recruiting tool to encourage free agents to give Detroit a look.
According to Baseball Reference, Lorenzen is the second player ever to play for the Reds, Angels, Tigers and Phillies. Who was the first?
A) Octavio Dotel
B) Alex Johnson
C) Orlando Peña
D) Fernando Rodney
MINOR LEAGUE SPOTLIGHT: JACE JUNG
Jace Jung’s opening week at Double-A Erie brought back memories of Spencer Torkelson’s tear upon arrival two years ago.
In that first week, Jung posted seven hits, three homers and seven RBIs, though the best example of the tenacity the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect has brought to the SeaWolves was arguably on display Thursday.
Jung had a foul tip on the first pitch of his third at-bat, then he fouled off a 96 mph fastball for an 0-2 count. But he was just getting started on spraying foul balls around UPMC Park. Jung fouled back a couple more 95 mph fastballs. He sent a slider foul towards the Harrisburg Senators’ dugout. He drilled another offspeed pitch deep down the right-field line, but on the wrong side of the pole.
Jung fouled off the first eight pitches he saw, all in the strike zone, before reliever Odalvi Javier tried to get him to chase. The slugger laid off a 95 mph high fastball and a slider down and in. Then, he took a changeup that was barely off the plate. With the count full and the SeaWolves’ bench on the dugout railing, Jung fouled back another 95 mph heater over the plate before taking ball four off the corner for a 13-pitch walk.
It was a good example for Jung’s embrace of the Tigers’ organizational credo of dominating the strike zone while still being aggressive at the plate.
“I’m trying to be more aggressive,” Jung said before the game. “I have to get back in that mindset of getting on pitches early, driving them with authority into the gaps. I have to be on those pitches from the moment I step in the box, not let one pass.”
While Jung’s unorthodox hitting stance -- his bat held high over his head -- raises eyebrows, his quick bat buys him time to wait on pitches. The 22-year-old hit just .254 at High-A West Michigan, but his 56 walks in 366 plate appearances boosted his on-base percentage to .377. He has struck out 12 times in his first nine Double-A games, but he still puts together solid at-bats.
“He’s got incredible bat speed,” SeaWolves manager Gabe Alvarez said. “Everybody knows that he can hit. I think people see the unorthodox stance, but I think it’s just unique to him. He makes it work. There’s a lot of great hitters that have their own stances, and those are the stances that kids and players end up trying to mimic.”
B) Alex Johnson
Johnson attended Northwestern High School in Detroit and played for eight teams in his 13-year MLB career, including the Phillies (1964-65), Reds (1968-69) and Angels (1970-71). He finished his career with his hometown Tigers in '76.
FORWARDED FROM A FRIEND? SUBSCRIBE NOW
To subscribe to Tigers beat, visit this page and mark "Tigers Beat" from our newsletter list. Make sure you're following the Tigers or that they're checked as your favorite team.