01/12/11 7:14 PM EST
Tigers have decision to make on Galarraga
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Galarraga went into the offseason looking to get back to the aggressiveness that helped him throw that near-perfect game, but he'll be heading into Spring Training with a situation that's far from perfect. With six established starters for five spots, somebody isn't going to be doing the job they want in Detroit. And looking at the situation now, Galarraga lines up as the sixth.
But this time with Galarraga, it isn't exactly simple for the Tigers, either -- not that depth in the rotation is a bad thing.
Club officials aren't going to comment on Galarraga's situation, even in theoretical terms, until they can officially comment on the Penny signing, which is expected to be formally announced on Thursday. Likewise, Galarraga didn't return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
Still, the Tigers' comments about Galarraga's situation this offseason have said something. When the Tigers were asked at last month's Winter Meetings about their starting pitching and any potential additions they could make, manager Jim Leyland said Galarraga was the fifth starter "as of now."
Last week, when the Tigers got back to the office and offseason business following the holiday break, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski indicated they felt like they had their five starters, but that they were "open-minded" about adding another pitcher.
As of Monday morning, it didn't look like that was going to happen. When the Tigers announced their non-roster invites to Spring Training, the intention was that it would complete their Spring Training roster that would go into Lakeland, Fla., next month. Had they not signed Penny, they were expected to stick with the starters they had rather than sign another free agent such as Jeremy Bonderman or Freddy Garcia.
Penny's decision Monday night suddenly changed those plans. The Tigers' plans with Galarraga will likely take quite a bit longer to unfold. Their options, and their restrictions, are pretty clear.
For now, the Tigers don't have to do anything. They usually employ more than five starters in Spring Training, anyway, so they can go into camp with Galarraga ready to compete for a job. Should Penny or someone else get injured, or should converted reliever Phil Coke struggle mightily, there's Galarraga.
Realistically, though, it's difficult to envision Penny not starting as long as he's healthy, given his $3 million contract. And the Tigers have remained steadfast in their comments about Coke as a starter, moreso than they have about Galarraga. If health holds, and Coke and Penny perform as hoped, then the Tigers have to make a decision.
Amazingly, though Galarraga has 78 career Major League starts, he has made only one Opening Day roster, having done so with the Tigers in 2009. It's easy to forget that he began last season at Triple-A Toledo and was making just his third Tigers start of the season when he retired Cleveland's first 26 batters on June 2.
That won't be a realistic option this year. Galarraga is out of Minor League options, so the Tigers would have to take him off their 40-man roster and hope he clears waivers to try to send him to Toledo this year.
Likewise, Galarraga has a financial complication with arbitration, which will give him a major raise at some point in the coming weeks. Though the Tigers might end up seeing Galarraga as a spot starter and long reliever going into the season, his arbitration case will be based on the better part of three seasons in the rotation. And long relief isn't a position where teams normally spend a lot of payroll.
Galarraga's arbitration case also has a major impact on any potential trade interest, which multiple Major League scouts have suggested would be limited at best. Interested teams could wait through Spring Training to see if the Tigers give in and release him by the end, allowing teams to sign him for far less as a free agent.
Depending on the roster, it's a more viable option than at first thought. As an arbitration-eligible player, Galarraga's salary isn't fully guaranteed. By rule, the Tigers would owe him 30 days' termination pay, or about one-sixth of his salary, if they released him by March 15. That rises to 45 days, or one-fourth of his salary, if he's released on or before March 30.
It's an amazing possibility for somebody who nearly pitched a perfect game just seven months ago. But then, so are all these moves.