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Tigers ink Saltalamacchia to Minor League deal

MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers had a familiar face in the lobby Friday morning when Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked into the Tigertown headquarters with team medical director Kevin Rand and headed upstairs to the offices. The switch-hitting veteran, Detroit's backup catcher in 2016, has joined the club on a Minor League contract with a non-roster invite to big league camp.

The Tigers already have a surplus of veteran catchers in camp with non-roster invites Derek Norris and Brayan Pena. Saltalamacchia said the Tigers approached him and offered the role of an insurance catcher at Triple-A Toledo, giving the Tigers options should James McCann or John Hicks be injured. 

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers had a familiar face in the lobby Friday morning when Jarrod Saltalamacchia walked into the Tigertown headquarters with team medical director Kevin Rand and headed upstairs to the offices. The switch-hitting veteran, Detroit's backup catcher in 2016, has joined the club on a Minor League contract with a non-roster invite to big league camp.

The Tigers already have a surplus of veteran catchers in camp with non-roster invites Derek Norris and Brayan Pena. Saltalamacchia said the Tigers approached him and offered the role of an insurance catcher at Triple-A Toledo, giving the Tigers options should James McCann or John Hicks be injured. 

"Go to Toledo and get some playing time and stay ready in case something happens," Saltalamacchia said. "It's just basically an opportunity, which is all I've ever asked for."

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Another option is a three-catcher roster, an idea manager Ron Gardenhire used in some seasons in Minnesota and has floated as a possibility here this season, depending on how much time Hicks might see at first base or designated hitter.

The 32-year-old Saltalamacchia had been working out at the MLB Players' Association's free-agent camp in nearby Bradenton, Fla. That camp was scheduled to close Friday.

Saltalamacchia batted .171 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs for the Tigers in 2016, backing up McCann. He went to the Blue Jays last year and batted 1-for-25 in 10 games before being released.

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"To be honest, my mind wasn't there," said Saltalamacchia, who said his wife was dealing with health issues that drew him back home.

Saltalamacchia then spent part of last summer in television, filling in as an analyst on Red Sox telecasts on NESN.

Had no playing opportunities come about, Saltalamacchia was pondering returning to television work. But he made it clear he wanted to give his playing career every opportunity to play out. He reconnected with his old hitting coach this offseason in an effort to get back to his old swing after working with J.D. Martinez's hitting coach a year earlier.

"I was kinda tossing things up," Saltalamacchia said of his career options. "My wife made it clear that it's not her decision, it's my decision. [Television work] was in my head, but we were going to give [playing] every shot. I was going to try here in the big leagues or Minor Leagues, and if that didn't work, I was going to try to do something overseas in Japan. If that didn't work, I wasn't sure about independent ball, but to be honest with you I probably would've done it, just to give myself every opportunity."

His opportunity surfaced back at the spot where he last enjoyed success. Saltalamacchia got off to a hot start at the plate in 2016, hitting six home runs in his first 12 games to go with 15 RBIs and a .282 average. He hit just .150 the rest of the season.

"This is great," Saltalamacchia said of his return. "It felt like I got called up again, and all I did was just come to Spring Training. They were great to me here in 2016. I enjoyed my time here and wanted to come back, but I understood the situation. It feels good to come back to a familiar place."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia