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01/21/08 5:35 PM ET

Mailbag: Where to slot Willis?

Beat reporter Jason Beck answers Tigers fans' questions

Nate Robertson's extension makes him eligible for an extra million in performance-based incentives, such as "X" number of innings pitched. Innings pitched is awfully dependent on what the manager intends to do, which leads me to believe this incentive is offered by upper management, not Robertson himself. So my question is, how do incentives get added in to contracts? Is it based on the player trying to find ways to get more out of the organization or the organization trying to get the player perform at his best?
-- Phil L., Toledo

Incentives are usually a way for an agent and a team to compromise when they can't agree to a salary figure or the length of a contract. A lot of times, they're used with players who have a history of injuries or bench players who might start if there's an injury. If they're healthy enough or valued enough to play in a certain number of games, they'll be paid like an everyday starter. The incentives are agreed upon by both sides, or else they wouldn't make it into the contract. Some agents like to deal with those, while other times, they come from the club. In terms of awards, a lot of contracts have the same bonus clauses if a player becomes an All-Star, wins a postseason award or whatever.

In Robertson's case, if he remains an innings eater and stays healthy, he'll make the money. If he's an effective pitcher in his starts, he'll get the innings.

Whereas I am glad the Tigers have signed Dontrelle Willis and Robertson to new "three-year contracts", in effect, isn't it only one year? They were already committed to the team until 2009. Now they are committed to 2010. Were the two years re-negotiated, or were they given more money for those two years in order to tie them up for one more?
-- James S., Detroit

The short answer is yes, they essentially bought an extra year of control on those guys. The long answer is that those other two years were arbitration years. They technically weren't under contract for those years, but they were under the team's control. The only question was what their salary would be. This sets and guarantees their salaries without having to negotiate or go to arbitration again next winter.

Being that Justin Verlander wears No. 35 and Mike Hessman wears No. 24, what numbers will Willis and Miguel Cabrera will wear?
-- Eddie R., Youngstown, Ohio

Willis will wear No. 21, as he did in his press conference last month. Cabrera will wear 24, and Hessman will wear 26.

I read the question from Chris F. this past week about Willis in the four spot in the rotation. He made valid points about how he's a workhorse, but I disagree with about the comparison with Verlander. Willis was a National League pitcher. It's not like he's coming from another American League team. Pitchers who switch leagues tend to have a difficult time their first year. For example, look at Barry Zito and Tim Hudson. Zito struggled to get used to the hitters in the NL. Hudson struggled his first year, but bounced back with a nice year last year for the Braves. Verlander knows the hitters in the AL and should be the No. 1 or No. 3 in the rotation with Jeremy Bonderman and Kenny Rogers being the other two. Let Willis prove himself against AL hitters. They can always rearrange the rotation after the All-Star break.
-- Joe R., Munster, Ind.

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I see your point, but I'm sticking by my answer. Whether Willis starts second, fourth or fifth, he's going to get the ball every turn through the rotation, and he'll generally face the same competition, regardless.

Johan Santana faced the Tigers six times last season. How many times did he face the Tigers' No. 1 starter? If you believe Detroit's No. 1 was Bonderman because he started on Opening Day, the answer is none. Verlander faced him once, but so did Jair Jurrjens, Yorman Bazardo and Andrew Miller. Mike Maroth faced him twice.

Now, let's change the opponent to C.C. Sabathia. Bonderman faced him once. Verlander faced him three times, but remember, Verlander was the third man in the rotation order when the season began.

The point is, again, that aside from the first week or two of the season, then the first week after the All-Star break, rotation order isn't necessarily a reflection on the quality of pitcher if all five starters pitch every turn through the order. The only time you can guarantee one No. 1 starter is going to face another is Opening Day. I'm not saying it's meaningless, because it means something. But to make a big deal out of whether someone deserves to start third, fourth or fifth is missing the big picture. There's a lot more that goes into it.

When do the Tigers report for Spring Training? I know that their first game is Feb. 26, but when do they report? I am trying to plan a trip to Lakeland.
-- Bill P., Raleigh, N.C.

Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 14, with the first workout the next day. Position players report on Feb. 19, with the first workout on the 20th.

A local retail store is selling Edgar Renteria No. 11 jerseys. I haven't heard anything on numbers for the newly acquired players, and I thought I certainly would have if Sparky's number was assigned.
-- Brad B., Muskegon, Mich.

If what you say is true, then they have the wrong number. Renteria will wear No. 8.

I don't have a question, rather a statement. My daughter, myself, my brother-in-law and my father-in-law went to TigerFest. We met the players and enjoyed the kids activities in the stadium. After TigerFest, we left the stadium, and due to the economy, there were homeless asking for handouts. My family went to Johnny Rockets across from the stadium to get a bite to eat before our 250-mile ride north. While we were sitting there, a gentleman in a very nice suit came in with one of those homeless people and bought them dinner. That person was Robertson. You hear about what the players do for the community, but you don't realize it sometimes till you see it first-hand. As my family left Johnny Rockets, we passed the Fox Theatre, where there is another restaurant where we saw Robertson with his wife. He took time away from his dinner and his wife to help this person who did not know who he was. Makes me proud to be a Tiger fan. -- Dan H., Leroy, Mich.

Thank you for sharing that. It's a nice way to close the mailbag. I don't think I need to add anything.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.