Detroit Tigers - PlayerWatch
C Alex Avila left Detroit's final game of the year Oct. 5 with concussion symptoms for the third time in the season. Avila is arbitration-eligible for the final time in 2015 and could become a free agent at the end of next season. His pattern of getting hit by foul balls and a history of concussions the last two years indicate the Tigers will have to get medical clearance for him to continue to play. "Unfortunately, I've had a few concussions over the last few years and it's something that I have to monitor and be aware of," Avila, 27, said. "It's nothing to take lightly, and something I've obviously thought about. It's always in the back of my mind. I love playing this game. And I'm going to keep playing as long as I can and as long as there's no risk to my health."
LF J.D. Martinez seemingly came out of nowhere to become a major part of Detroit's offense this season, and the Tigers feel they can count on him to be a big run-producer in 2015. Let go by Houston in spring training, Martinez was signed by Detroit because third base coach Dave Clark and assistant GM Al Avila were familiar with him. After hitting 10 home runs in 17 games for Toledo, Detroit brought him up and in a few weeks he powered his way into regular playing time as the No. 5 hitter in the order. Martinez played 123 games and hit .315 with 23 home runs and 76 RBIs and a propensity for hitting late, meaningful home runs. He had eight in ninth innings.
Torii Hunter, who will be 40 next season, may choose to retire next season if Detroit won't offer him another contract. "I thought about that a lot," he said. "I'll just talk it over with my wife, see what happens." He still dreams of a World Series ring and with son Torii Jr. a wide receiver at Notre Dame, Detroit is one of the few places that fits if he wants to keep playing. His strong play down the stretch earned praise from his manager, Brad Ausmus, and that would seem to be a plea for management to bring him back for one more year. His return could also be tied to whether the Tigers feel their right fielder of the future, Steven Moya, is ready to make the jump from Double-A next season.
DH Victor Martinez had a career-high 32 home runs, drove in 103 runs and posted a .335 average that was second-highest in the American League, a good season to have entering a free agent year. "They know," Martinez said of whether he wants to return to Detroit. "They know. So we'll see what happens." Martinez signed a four-year deal with Detroit as a free agent (from Boston) and even approaching his age 36 season could command a similar deal. He has struck out as many as 60 times only once since 2009 and works hard enough at keeping in shape to make one believe he'll still be a productive hitter for another 2-4 seasons.
CF Rajai Davis finished the season with an injury to his right pelvic region that severely compromised his ability to play playoff games. Davis also struggled making the transition from left to center when CF Austin Jackson was traded July 31. He got better as the season ended and manager Brad Ausmus quit playing CF Ezequiel Carrera. Detroit may shop for help in center but it seems likely to be willing to enter 2015 with Davis, in the last year of a two-year deal, as the man in the middle of the outfield.
RHP Anibal Sanchez pitched two solid innings of relief in the American League Division Series that indicate he'll be ready to return to the rotation on a regular basis in 2015. Sanchez pitched just one late September inning after suffering a right pectoral muscle injury Aug. 8. The Tigers will be counting on him to return to his status as one of the league's better starters next season.
RHP Max Scherzer was expected to be one of the headline free agents in baseball. He turned down a long-term extension worth $144 a year ago in a gamble he could get more this off-season. It paid off with an 18-5 season, 3.15 ERA, career-high 220 1/3 innings and 252 strikeouts. "I love being in this clubhouse," Scherzer said when asked if he'd like to return to Detroit. "I'd love to be back." He'll draw big offers. Financially astute and with Scott Boras as his agent, he won't be returning to the Tigers on the cheap.
RHP Joakim Soria has a $7 million option for 2015 Detroit has to decide whether to exercise in the near future. Soria was obtained from Texas in late July for top prospects RHP Jake Thompson and RHP Corey Knebel, and paying the $500,000 buyout would mean the Tigers gave away two top young pitchers to rent a reliever who didn't help them all that much. Soria was 1-1 with one save and a 4.91 ERA in 13 games with Detroit, although he missed time with a sore side muscle.
RHP Joba Chamberlain signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with Detroit last winter and produced his best ERA, 3.57, since 2011 with the New York Yankees. He got off to a slow start, then pitched very well until faltering late in the season and into the playoffs. He got his fastball up to 93, touching 94, on a somewhat regular basis but his slider came and went and that's his 'out' pitch these days. "This team is very special to me, and I can't thank them enough," Chamberlain said. "This game is fun, but having these guys around made it extremely fun. Getting to know these guys made it a very special year for me. This year had its ups and downs (on the field), but that's life -- and it's also the game of baseball." He pitched in the setup role most of the season and Detroit must decide whether what he gave them was enough.
LHP Phil Coke is eligible for free agency when the World Series ends and may not return to the Tigers next season. Detroit probably won't offer him a contract high enough to qualify for a draft choice should he sign elsewhere, and he could be part of a major remake of the back end of the Detroit bullpen. Coke started slowly this season but finished strong to post a 3.88 ERA and 5-2 record with one save. He throws a mid-90s fastball with a nice slurve and those kinds of left-handed relievers are in demand.