The addition of veteran right-hander Jose Mesa not only gives Detroit more experience and depth in its bullpen, it also shows the Tigers want to shorten games from six to five innings in 2007.
Pitching was the foundation of Detroit's success last season, featuring a solid rotation backed by a bullpen that rarely showed weakness.
The Tigers were very good at protecting leads last season, using Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney in the seventh and eighth innings followed by Todd Jones closing out. Left-hander Jamie Walker also figured into that equation at times along with right-handers Jason Grilli and Zach Miner.
The addition of Mesa, at a cost of $2.5 million, means manager Jim Leyland will have a solid alternative in the final three innings but also can bring in the 40-year-old for the sixth and then finish up with the final three.
Detroit thus will have an excellent chance to win games it leads after five innings.
Leyland likes to limit use of his bullpen if he can. It was his trademark in Pittsburgh and Florida, and it was something he tried to do with Detroit last season.
Zumaya rarely worked two innings. Rodney also seldom worked more than one inning.
The Tigers' starters routinely pitched into the sixth and seventh last season, making the workload on the bullpen lighter.
History suggests teams rarely pitch at the same level from one year to the next. But the addition of Mesa means Leyland might be able to lessen the innings the starters have to throw from time to time, which could help them retain their effectiveness.
--RHP Jeremy Bonderman, who was eligible for free agency after the 2008 season, agreed to a four-year, $38 million contract extension that keeps him with the Tigers through 2010.
--RHP Jose Mesa wasn't thrilled about becoming a sixth-inning pitcher, but he agreed to do so for Detroit for $2.5 million.
"We are excited to add Jose Mesa to the Tigers organization," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "He brings a veteran presence and a wealth of experience in a variety of roles to help strengthen our bullpen.
"His stuff's very good and he's a quality individual. He closed for Lloyd McClendon (former Pirates manager and now Detroit's hitting coach), and Mac really likes him. Anybody you speak with about Jose Mesa talks in glowing terms."
Mesa, 40, pitched a career-high 79 games for Colorado in his 18th major league season. He went 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA, including 2.41 at Coors Field. Mesa allowed just three home runs in 41 1/3 innings in 46 appearances before the All-Star break with a 3.05 ERA, but in the second half he had a 4.94 ERA.
Manager Jim Leyland spoke with Mesa about his role with Detroit before the deal, and the veteran accepted the fact he'll work most of the time in front of RHPs Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones.
"We wanted to get another veteran to give us some stability and to help Zumaya and Rodney along in case they need days off," Leyland said. "He's kind of an insurance policy, another veteran arm. I'm tickled to have him. We think it's a nice fit for our bullpen."
Mesa has worked for seven other teams and has a 78-106 career record with a 4.27 ERA and 320 saves in 966 career appearances.
--OF Alexis Gomez was not offered a 2007 contract by the Tigers, making room for RHP Jose Mesa on the 40-man roster, but Detroit indicated it would still like to sign the left-handed-hitting outfielder to a minor league deal.
"We have interest in trying to re-sign him in the organization," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "I'm sure (Gomez and his agent) will digest that and get back to us."
Detroit designated Gomez for assignment once last season, and he elected to accept an outright assignment to Triple-A over becoming a free agent. He was recalled in late August and went on to help Detroit win Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against Oakland.
Gomez, 28, went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBIs in a start at DH after 1B Sean Casey went out with a calf muscle injury.
In 62 games with the Tigers last season, Gomez batted .272 with a home run and six RBIs. He hit .288 with 11 home runs (four in one game) and 36 RBIs in 58 games for Toledo.
--3B Brandon Inge officially passed up a chance at free agency following the 2007 season to sign a four-year contract with Detroit worth $24 million.
Inge reached career highs with 27 home runs and 83 RBIs, mostly batting out of the ninth spot in the lineup, while posting the eighth-highest assist total of all time by a third baseman, 398.
"Brandon is a tremendous athlete and a quality individual," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "He has continued to improve both offensively and defensively each season, and we are thrilled he will remain part of the Tigers organization."
"To be honest with you, there's no place I'd rather be," Inge said. "They stuck with me when I was probably not the best, and I've improved every year for them. This is the best place for me. It never crossed my mind that I'd want to be anywhere other than Detroit. It's all I've known. It's all I really want to know."
The six-year veteran batted .290 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs after the All-Star break. He did make 22 errors, second most in the league, but his exceptional range and cannon-like arm more than made up for that.
--Detroit made contract offers to all four of its remaining arbitration-eligible players by the Dec. 12 deadline, assuring they would remain under club control for at least the 2007 season.
The Tigers signed RHP Jeremy Bonderman to a 4-year, $38 million extension earlier this week, which will keep Bonderman in Detroit through 2010.
--DH Gary Sheffield will have $12.5 million of his salary paid out over a 10-year period starting in 2010 after his three-year deal with Detroit runs out.
Sheffield will be paid $8.5 million in 2007 plus $4.5 million in deferred money. The two-year extension he signed with the Tigers upon his trade from the New York Yankees calls for $14 million in 2008 and 2009 with $4 million deferred. The deferred money accrues 3 percent interest compounded annually.
Payouts begin in 2010 and call for escalating amounts starting at $1 million the first year and $2.5 million the last.
Sheffield also was granted a limited no-trade clause. Each year he will be able to submit a list of 10 teams to which he cannot be dealt.
--RHP Joel Zumaya's sore right wrist was probably caused by excessive playing of a video game, not gripping the ball too tightly, the Tigers now believe.
"That was probably what was taking place," GM Dave Dombrowski said on the radio and in a newspaper last week.
During the radio interview, Dombrowski said the Tigers' athletic training staff discerned Zumaya's forearm pain was more consistent with the action of a guitar player than a baseball pitcher. Once during the regular season and another time during the postseason, Zumaya had to quit pitching because of forearm pain.
Zumaya, 22, was known to play "Guitar Hero," a PlayStation 2 game in which a player uses a guitar-shaped controller to simulate the performance of popular songs. The Tigers asked Zumaya to quit playing the video game, and the reliever then pitched pain-free during the World Series. The company, not unexpectedly, said it has seen a spike in sales since Zumaya's story came out.
The pitcher's agent, Steve Springer, noted Zumaya "felt fine in the World Series, to tell you the truth. I didn't even think twice about it."
BY THE NUMBERS: 12.5 -- Millions of dollars DH Gary Sheffield will receive in deferred payments from Detroit when his contract expires following the 2009 season. The Tigers will spread the payments over 10 years, beginning with $1 million a year and ending with a $2.5 million payout in the final year. Interest is 3 percent compounded.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We wanted to get another veteran to give us some stability and to help (Joel) Zumaya and (Fernando) Rodney along in case they need days off. He's kind of an insurance policy, another veteran arm. I'm tickled to have him. We think it's a nice fit for our bullpen." -- Manager Jim Leyland on Detroit's addition of veteran RHP Jose Mesa to its bullpen.
Detroit filled its two primary offensive needs quickly, moving Nov. 10 to acquire DH Gary Sheffield from the Yankees for three minor league pitchers and getting free agent 1B Sean Casey to agree on a one-year contract to return to the Tigers six days later. The Tigers made a long-shot move to fill the hole left when LHP Jamie Walker left for Baltimore as a free agent by getting LHP Edward Campusano out of the Rule 5 draft. Veteran RHP Jose Mesa was signed to beef up middle relief.
ARRIVALS: DH Gary Sheffield (trade with Yankees), LHP Edward Campusano (Rule 5 acquisition from Cubs via Brewers), RHP Jose Mesa (free agent from Rockies; pending physical).
DEPARTURES: LHP Jamie Walker (free agent, signed with Orioles), OF Matt Stairs (free agent, signed with Blue Jays).
BIGGEST NEEDS: Left-handed-hitting bench help. There is an open rotation spot but no shortage of candidates on hand to fill it, including LHP Mike Maroth. These are not major needs, and GM Dave Dombrowski would be willing to start the season with his current roster.
FREE AGENTS: RHP Troy Percival, OF Alexis Gomez (non-tendered). Percival's career ended in 2005 with a torn elbow muscle.
ARBITRATION ELIGIBLE: LHP Nate Robertson, RHP Fernando Rodney, INF Omar Infante, INF Ramon Santiago, OF Craig Monroe.
3B Brandon Inge was arbitration-eligible and could have become a free agent after the 2007 season but opted to sign a four-year deal worth $24 million. Jeremy Bonderman's contract was up after 2008, but the Tigers signed him to a four-year, $38 extension. Monroe also is up after 2008, so look for GM Dave Dombrowski to seek a multi-year contract for him, too. Dombrowski keeps his arbitration cases to a minimum, so Rodney and Infante probably will agree to one- or two-year deals. Santiago avoided arbitration by signing a one-year deal and will contend for a roster spot as a backup infielder in the spring.
Perez is not assured of a roster spot despite a guaranteed $2.5 million contract. Infante could be dangled as bait to land a left-handed-hitting spare outfielder, while Maroth's status will depend on the health of his surgically scoped left elbow. Miner will have to beat out Rule 5 LHP Edward Campusano for the last bullpen spot, and the addition of RHP Jose Mesa meant he could be dealt. Thames is also a trade candidate as Detroit seeks left-handed help for its bench or a young catching prospect.
PROSPECT WATCH: CF Cameron Maybin is seen as the best position player in Detroit's system, and he was outstanding as a teenager playing his first year of pro ball in the low Class A Midwest League. He is targeted for arrival in 2008 or early 2009. LHP Andrew Miller, the Tigers' first choice in the June draft, had a contract clause that would have brought him to the majors in September, but his three games of high Class A relief were so impressive Detroit brought him up before Sept. 1. He'll go to spring training as a starter, but he probably will open 2007 in Double-A, with a jump to the majors possible by midseason. OF Brent Clevlen performed better with Detroit in a brief trial than he did in most of a season at Double-A and could make the team as a reserve with another good spring training.
LHP Mike Maroth (left elbow surgery) made a late-season comeback after having bone chips removed on June 2 but wasn't effective enough to make the postseason roster. He needs to show a winter of rest can restore him to full duty.
RHP Roman Colon (herniated neck disk surgery) is expected to be pitching by March 1.
SS Tony Giarratano (right knee ACL surgery) could be ready by the start of spring training.