It's crazy, but the Tigers soon might have to tell customers they can't buy a season ticket for 2008.
"We've sold (the equivalent of) 4,500 full-season tickets since the day we made the trade (for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera)," general manager Dombrowski said as the Tigers' annual winter press caravan ended last week. "Last year, we had the largest season-ticket base we've ever had, about 19,500, so that 4,500 is on top of that.
"Now we don't have everyone renewed yet because they have until Feb. 15, but we anticipate (most of them renewing) -- and I will tell you that we're having conversations about having to cut off our season-ticket sales.
"We're in a position where if you get into the postseason, you have to be able to give a certain number of seats away, so we're approaching that number."
Season-ticket holders get first shot at postseason seats, but Major League Baseball requires teams to reserve about 10,000 tickets for each playoff for use by MLB, sponsors and others. Comerica Park holds slightly more than 41,000, so Detroit's cutoff point would be about 30,000.
Tickets for individual games would not be affected because they carry no postseason options. Single-game tickets will go on sale in early March.
"When they go on sale in March," Dombrowski said, "I would suggest that you buy your tickets quickly because they're going to go quickly.
"It's almost hard for me to talk about how much we're selling. The excitement is phenomenal. Our TigerFest sold out in a couple of days. Our sponsorship gathering was the largest we've ever had."
The Tigers have never had to cut off season-ticket sales before. But they never drew 3 million fans in a season until 2007, either.
--LHP Nate Robertson has signed a three-year contract, worth potentially $22.25 million, that will bind him to the Tigers through 2010. The agreement takes the only Detroit player to live year-round in the area a year past his free agent-eligible year and means four-fifths of the Tigers' rotation is signed or obligated to the team through 2010. Only LHP Kenny Rogers, 43, is on a one-year deal. Robertson, eligible for arbitration, signed for $4.25 million this year, $7 million in 2009 and $10 million in 2010 with a bonus of $1 million if he pitches a combined 400 innings in 2008 and 2009 or 200 innings in 2009. Robertson has averaged 6.18 strikeouts per nine innings pitched with Detroit and also ranks 15th among all American League pitchers with 134 games started since the start of the 2003 season. "Nate has been a quality starter during his time with the Tigers," said GM Dave Dombrowski. "We are excited to sign him to a long-term contract and we look forward to him being part of our rotation for years to come." Robertson was 9-13 with a 4.76 ERA in 2007 but missed some time with what was described as a "tired arm" and has scaled back his offseason throwing. His career record is 42-54. "I'm 30 years old, and I still think my best days are ahead of me," Robertson said.
--LF/1B Marcus Thames avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year contract for an estimated $1.25 million with a $25,000 bonus for 500 plate appearances. Thames played 86 games last season, a dropoff from 110 the year before, and had a .242 batting average, 18 home runs and 54 RBI. He hit .315 with runners in scoring position. He has 61 home runs in four seasons with the Tigers along with 163 RBI. He is averaging one home run per 14.57 at-bats. Thames is projected to play mostly against left-handed pitchers this season because of the acquisition of left-handed hitting LF Jacque Jones. "I'm happy that we've got Jacque, to balance the lineup out," Thames said. "Whenever I get in there, and my name's on the lineup card, they're going to get 100 percent from me."
--UT Brandon Inge might be asked to report to spring training with Detroit pitchers and catchers. "If I was Brandon Inge's best friend," GM Dave Dombrowski said on the Tigers' winter press tour, "I'd tell him, 'You should catch.' I say that, not thinking he can't play third, but because to me, this guy can be an All-Star catcher. Not only is he good defensively, but his offense takes on a different meaning at that position. Last year was a down year for him, but if he puts up the same offensive numbers as a catcher, he might be an All-Star. My plan for Brandon would be to say we'd like to have you reporting (to spring training) with our catchers because that gives him another chance to play. He's a very gifted athlete who can play a lot of positions. My thought process would be to take advantage of that and talk to him about moving around, like playing the outfield and catching -- which he would be very receptive to at that point because if you say you're only a third baseman, you're not going to play very much. You owe it to him to try to make (a trade) work, but once it doesn't, you need to make your club the best it can be, and in my estimation, we're a better ballclub with him moving around." Backup C Vance Wilson has talked to Inge and notes, "He's gone from being our starting third baseman, to thinking he's going to be with another team, to finding out there's no market for him. But I think once he gets back, he's going to realize he's actually wanted. It's just all moved so fast for him."
--C Vance Wilson might not be able to throw well enough to play in exhibition games, manager Jim Leyland believes, which is one reason the Tigers are trying to talk UT Brandon Inge into getting back into catcher's gear again. "I would predict it's very unlikely he'd be usable very early on," Leyland said of Wilson. "I'm hoping after the first couple of weeks he'd be ready to go, but I'm not sure of that. He's done a lot to keep himself in great shape, but I'm concerned. He's in great shape. He lost a little weight. He looks good. He looks younger. But I'm a little concerned." Wilson missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery and suffered a setback in his recuperation during the holidays. "Up until then," Wilson said, "everything had gone really well. I just overloaded it. It's not that I've learned to be patient. I've learned that I have to be. It's more of an inner fear of 'What if I'm not ready?' I can catch pitchers, I just haven't thrown it back. I don't know what my program will be in spring training." Leyland said Wilson's right arm has felt fine on throws to 60 feet, but there was some tendinitis when he stretched out to 90 feet. Leyland added, "I'm hoping by the time spring training is over that he can get enough time in."
--RF Magglio Ordonez has set up an annual $2,500 scholarship to a Southwest Detroit high school graduate to use toward a college education. "I want to give something back to the community and the people here in Detroit," Ordonez said. "They've been really nice to me. They've supported me over the last three years. (This) is the way I can give something back. If you want to be somebody in your life, you have to have an education." Ordonez and the Detroit Tigers Foundation established the fund through the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. One student from a Southwest Detroit high school -- public, private or charter -- will receive the four-year, renewable, $2,500 scholarship for full-time study at any university in the United States. "I know it's going to be here for the rest of my life," Ordonez said. "It has my last name." The southwest portion of Detroit contains a large majority of Spanish-speaking residents.
--3B Miguel Cabrera agreed to a one-year contract with Detroit for a reported $11.3 million, avoiding arbitration while the Tigers go through the tricky process of trying to sign the star to a long-term deal. "We've not had to go to arbitration since I've been here (since 2002)," said Tigers vice president John Westhoff. Detroit is exploring a long-term deal with Cabrera, but it's likely to be a long process involving settling on duration (6-10 years) and a salary average that probably would be in the neighborhood of $20 million. Cabrera, 24, was paid $7.4 million for hitting .320 with 34 home runs and 119 RBI for Florida last year.
--LHP Bobby Seay, who had been the last Tiger eligible for arbitration, settled on a one-year contract for a reported $780,000. Seay, 29, posted a 3-0 record and 2.33 ERA in 58 outings for the Tigers while completing a full season in the major leagues for the first time in his career. He earned just over the major league minimum last season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Players on the current Detroit roster who were with the Tigers when they lost 119 games in 2003. SS Ramon Santiago was traded and then returned to the Tigers, but the other four -- RHPs Jeremy Bonderman and Fernando Rodney, LHP Nate Robertson and UT Brandon Inge -- have been on the roster continuously.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm very impressed. He's not letting things get too big in his head. It's neat to see a young kid get all the attention and not start acting a certain way. He's a smart kid. He wants to achieve big things. That's an important factor in being great." -- Tigers pitching coach Chuck Hernandez on the makeup of RHP Justin Verlander, who has won 35 games in two full seasons in the Detroit rotation, including a no-hitter last season.
Detroit created immediate high expectations for itself with the addition of 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis to the roster without giving up anyone who figured to play a significant role in 2008. Brandon Inge, forced off third base by the acquisition of Cabrera, wants to be dealt so he can play full time somewhere, but the Tigers might end up making him a high-priced super-sub for lack of a suitable suitor. Willis filled out the rotation along with the re-signing of free agent LHP Kenny Rogers. Four of the five starters (Rogers being the exception) are signed or controlled through 2010.
Re-signing RHP Todd Jones as the closer eliminated a chief need that arose when RHP Joel Zumaya was forced out until at least midseason by shoulder surgery. The acquisition of LF Jacque Jones added a decent left-handed outfield bat to the lineup. The club solved its shortstop problem with the acquisition of SS Edgar Renteria to facilitate the shift of Carlos Guillen to first base. Detroit gambled RHP Francisco Cruceta can provide a cheap, viable alternative to a high-priced late inning reliever.
ARRIVALS: SS Edgar Renteria (trade with Braves), OF Jacque Jones (trade with Cubs), RHP Denny Bautista (trade with Rockies), 3B Miguel Cabrera (trade with Marlins), LHP Dontrelle Willis (trade with Marlins), OF Freddy Guzman (trade with Rangers).
DEPARTURES: RHP Jair Jurrjens (traded to Braves), INF Omar Infante (traded to Cubs), RHP Jose Capellan (traded to Rockies), LHP Andrew Miller (traded to Marlins), CF Cameron Maybin (traded to Marlins), C Mike Rabelo (traded to Marlins), 1B Chris Shelton (traded to Rangers), RHP Chad Durbin (non-tendered free agent, signed with Phillies).
FREE AGENTS: 1B Sean Casey, IF Neifi Perez, RHP Chad Durbin.
Casey and Perez were not offered 2008 contracts. Durbin became a free agent after declining a salary offer and not being offered arbitration by Detroit.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: None remaining.
3B Miguel Cabrera agreed to a one-year deal worth $11.3 million, and LHP Bobby Seay signed for $780,000. LHP Dontrelle Willis and LHP Nate Robertson signed three-year contracts, RHP Tim Byrdak signed a $700,000 one-year deal and LF-1B Marcus Thames agreed to a $1.25 million, one-year deal. IF Ramon Santiago was an early subtraction from the list when he agreed to a split contract. LF Timo Perez was designated for assignment (pushed off the roster by acquisition of OF Jacque Jones) but re-signed a split contract with the Tigers.
IN LIMBO: 3B Brandon Inge asked to be traded following the acquisition of 3B Miguel Cabrera and the Tigers agreed to try, although they won't pay any of the $19.1 million he is owed over the next three years and don't feel they have to give him away. OF Marcus Thames signed for one year, but the Tigers might try to trade him because they could feel he's too high-priced to be a part-time player. C Vance Wilson doesn't know if he'll be able to throw well enough to catch early in the spring.
RHP Joel Zumaya (right shoulder AC joint surgery) has recaptured 95 percent of his range of motion and hopes to begin light throwing by early February; he will still be out until at least midseason.
C Vance Wilson (Tommy John surgery) reports progress in his comeback, but management doesn't know whether he'll be able to throw with any authority by the end of spring training.
DH Gary Sheffield (right shoulder surgery) continues rehabilitating his right shoulder and should be able to hit when spring training begins.
RHP Jeremy Bonderman (right elbow strain) has been strengthening his forearm and elbow muscles and says he feels good.
LHP Kenny Rogers (left elbow) ended the season pitching with an elbow that wasn't 100 percent and is working more on arm and shoulder strength than just throwing.
RF Magglio Ordonez (sore left heel) says he's ready to go.