Bullpen search could come down to numbers game
Leyland has nine candidates to fill as many as four open spots
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Aside from the infamous Ty Cobb photo with the tear in it, one of the fixtures in Jim Leyland's office in Spring Training is a list of pitchers and position players. The pitchers' list includes the side work they do in early workouts before the games begin.
One by one, Leyland looked down the list at potential bullpen candidates. By the time he got to the bottom of the list (alphabetically) with Brayan Villarreal, he had nine candidates for three or four open spots.
"If people are healthy, we're going to have a real good problem on our hands," Leyland said Wednesday morning, "because we've got a lot of guys. … This is not going to be easy, I'm telling you."
The safe spots belong to the setup guys: Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel. After that, in no particular order, there's Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Villarreal, Darin Downs, Duane Below, Rule 5 Draft pick Kyle Lobstein, Drew Smyly -- if he doesn't make the rotation -- the much-praised Jose Ortega and Luis Marte, who made the team last year before straining his hamstring on the last day of Spring Training. That adds up to nine candidates for four spots.
One could also make the case for non-roster lefty Jose Alvarez, which would bring the field to 10.
The questions are almost as numerous, from how much of a lefty-righty balance the Tigers need, to whether the Tigers' vaunted rotation reduces the need for a long reliever, to whether a closer-by-committee situation would require more setup relievers.
For that reason, Leyland cautioned that the decisions at the end of Spring Training might not come down to the best pitchers, but the best fits for the roles the Tigers are trying to fill.
"How does our whole puzzle figure out the best," Leyland asked. "It might be that somebody that's a better player doesn't make it over a lesser player, because the lesser player is suited for that role better than the better player."
Dotel apologizes to Cabrera for critical comments
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Four months after Octavio Dotel first talked about the Tigers possibly needing a team meeting, he was meeting with his teammates before a Spring Training workout. He wished he didn't have to.
In this case, it was Dotel doing the talking, because of comments he made to Yahoo! Sports a few days ago about Miguel Cabrera's leadership. He apologized to Cabrera, Dotel said, and he did it in front of his teammates.
"I just want to apologize to Miggy because somehow I made him mad about the comments," Dotel said Wednesday. "I really am sorry. I hope Miggy doesn't hate me for that."
Cabrera accepted the apology and later downplayed the remarks. His brevity made it clear he wasn't all that happy talking about the situation.
"He can say whatever he wants. It's not a big deal for me," Cabrera said moments after Dotel talked with reporters.
Dotel was quoted by Yahoo! as saying Cabrera is "more about his game," and mentioned other players such as Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander possibly taking on more vocal leadership roles.
Dotel indicated the quotes were taken out of context, suggesting that leadership wasn't a major issue for him, but became one in the story.
"I personally don't like the way it came out [to read]," Dotel said. "This is not what I was meaning to say."
The remarks brought back memories of the exchange between Dotel and Cabrera in the clubhouse in Oakland after the Tigers' walkoff loss in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. Dotel suggested to Cabrera in Spanish after that game that he needed to talk to reporters and convey a sense of calm to the team. Cabrera declined.
Dotel told MLive.com after the Division Series that he suggested a team meeting, but the efforts were rebuffed. Though the Yahoo! story said Dotel also asked for a team meeting after Game 2 of the World Series, Dotel said that wasn't true.
"Not against the Giants. Never against the Giants," Dotel said. "I was hoping [for a meeting]. That's what I was saying."
Dotel and Cabrera seemingly had fun about the postseason matter when Cabrera reported to camp last week. As Cabrera talked with reporters last Friday morning, Dotel teased him from across the clubhouse, joking that Cabrera spoke English now that he had a Triple Crown and an MVP Award.
Cabrera laughed at Dotel that morning and called him "loco."
"He's got a Triple Crown and an MVP; now he's got to talk, because you guys want to talk to him because he just got here," Dotel explained that morning. "Before, he didn't have to, but now he has to, an obligation for what he's done."
That seemingly put the matter to bed until Wednesday.
"That's what hurt me. It's the way he sees it," Dotel said Wednesday. "You don't want to get your main guy ticked off or mad about a comment. I'm not that type of person. Everybody knows what kind of person I am. I'm a funny guy trying to have a good time in the clubhouse, inside or outside. Once again, I feel bad because I made my guy ticked off, and that's not what I'm looking for."
Manager Jim Leyland said he had no problem getting apologies like that out in the open when a situation pops up.
"I think that kind of stuff's great," Leyland said. "I love that kind of stuff."
The Tigers have never been big on meetings under Leyland, who prefers to talk to players individually when there's a problem he feels he needs to address.
The Yahoo! article went on to question whether the Tigers clubhouse needed more leadership, but made no mention of offseason acquisition Torii Hunter, whose leadership abilities have been praised. Victor Martinez, meanwhile, was mentioned only in passing, though his absence last season left the Tigers looking in other directions for clubhouse leadership.
"We won't have problems with that this year," Dotel said.
• While Leyland said they'll stretch out two or three extra pitchers in camp this spring to prepare as insurance starters in case of injury, he added that he had been optimistic that ex-Tiger Jeremy Bonderman was going to be in their camp on a Minor League deal. "We thought we had Bonderman," Leyland said. Bonderman talked with the Tigers before signing a Minor League contract with the Mariners, opting to stay close to home with a team that had an opening in the rotation.
• Sunday's Tigers-Phillies matchup at Joker Marchant Stadium is on track to pit Verlander against Roy Halladay in a matchup of former Cy Young Award winners.
• Former Tigers closer Jose Valverde, still on the free-agent market, will reportedly pitch for his native Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.