DETROIT -- Not only did the Tigers officially announce their one-year deal with free-agent starter Brad Penny on Tuesday, they ended any speculation over what it means for Armando Galarraga's standing in Detroit.
The Tigers designated Galarraga's newly announced contract for assignment, essentially cutting ties with the right-hander who came within a blown call of a perfect game for Detroit last June. The move opened up a spot for Penny on the 40-man roster, and it sets up a scenario where the Tigers will try to trade Galarraga in the next 10 days.
"In this situation, we thought long and hard," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said on a Tuesday conference call. "It was one that after Penny went through his physical and passed his physical, we were in a spot where for Armando, right now, we thought he goes in as a sixth starter. We don't really look at him as a reliever.
"This is probably a better time to try to move his contract somewhere he can find a spot in a rotation, rather than come into Spring Training."
Penny's deal includes a $3 million base salary, with the potential for another $3 million in incentives, and provides a little more certainty at the back end of Detroit's rotation. Barring a last-minute change of course -- remember the Johnny Damon signing last February -- the Penny signing wraps up Detroit's offseason additions with more than $100 million in free-agent spending.
While the Tigers publicly remained open about adding a starter to at least push Galarraga for the fifth spot in the rotation, and had made contact with ex-Tiger Jeremy Bonderman and fellow free agent Freddy Garcia, they had been focused on Penny for the better part of the winter. The Tigers were prepared to go into Spring Training with Galarraga as their fifth starter until Penny decided on Detroit among the three or four teams he was weighing.
Penny agreed to terms last Monday night, and passed his physical late last week, so an announcement on his deal was expected. What wasn't expected was that the Tigers would make a roster move with Galarraga so soon afterwards.
The Tigers had just avoided arbitration with Galarraga with a one-year, $2.3 million contract announced Tuesday morning. That deal, announced six hours before the roster move, was made before the decision to designate Galarraga, according to Dombrowski.
"We really didn't make this final decision until we came in this morning," Dombrowski said. "[Team legal counsel] John [Westhoff] was negotiating just to get a deal done, just to try to prevent going to arbitration in the case. I don't think [discussion of a roster move] came up at all."
Had the Tigers held onto him, Galarraga would've gone into Spring Training competing for a rotation spot or long-relief role. At the very least, he would've been insurance in case of injury.
By designating his contract, the Tigers now have 10 days to either trade him, release him, or outright him to the Minor Leagues. Aside from the contract, Galarraga would appear to be a low-cost trade candidate or waiver claim for a team needing a fifth starter.
"I'm confident," Dombrowski said when asked about his chances of making a trade. "You never know until you get it done. We've had enough clubs express some interest. It's not like I have a for-sure deal, but I do have enough clubs that have asked me about him."
A release sounds unlikely. If Galarraga goes unclaimed and is outrighted, he could still end up in Spring Training with the Tigers as a non-roster invitee. The Tigers -- or whichever team acquires him -- would owe him the $2.3 million to which he agreed unless he's released by the end of Spring Training, at which point he would be owed 30 or 45 days of termination pay.
It's a statement about Galarraga's standing, but it's also a statement about the Tigers' confidence in Penny's health. The 32-year-old right-hander made just nine starts last year for the Cardinals before a late-May oblique injury sidelined him. It wasn't expected to be a season-ending situation, but it never improved to the point where he could pitch again.
It was the second injury-shortened season in the last three years for Penny, but it wasn't an arm injury. And it wasn't something the Tigers felt would linger into this season.
"Healthwise, we feel very comfortable where he is at this point," Dombrowski said. "He had a lat injury and that had time to heal last year. We gave him very thorough physicals and he passed all of them."
In other words, the Tigers are confident Penny is healthy. Moreover, they believe his health is the key for him.
"When Brad Penny's healthy, we think he's a good pitcher," Dombrowski said. "And we think he's healthy. He's an established Major League pitcher. ... He does not have back-of-the-rotation stuff. "
Galarraga had a statistical conundrum of a season, and his would-be perfect game, ruined by umpire Jim Joyce's blown call, was just the start of it. Galarraga could never turn that June 2 outing into momentum for the summer, and finished the year with a 4-9 record and 4.49 ERA.
Not since Eric Hillman in 1993 had a Major League pitcher won four games or fewer in a season when he posted a 4.50 ERA or less over at least 140 innings. Just three others besides Hillman had pulled off that feat since 1985: Larry McWilliams and Zane Smith in 1989, and John Dopson in 1988. Galarraga was the first American League pitcher to do it since Frank Tanana in 1981.
Galarraga's puzzling 2010 season came two years after he came out of an obscure Minor League trade with Texas to lead the Tigers in victories in 2008, going 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA. He has gone 10-19 in the two seasons since, seen his walk-to-strikeout ratio deterioriate and struggled to pound the strike zone with the same effectiveness he enjoyed as a rookie.
Dombrowski said Galarraga "can be a successful Major League pitcher." But the Tiges clearly like what Penny brings more. And they don't believe Galarraga would be happy in the back of Detroit's bullpen.
"I've known Armando well enough in the past," Dombrowski said, "and I'm sure he would've come in and competed for a job. But I know well enough that he would prefer to be in a spot to start. So that's what we're going to try to do."