Pursuing Japanese slugger not a 'priority'

December 10th, 2019

SAN DIEGO – The Tigers have an eye on Japanese free-agent slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo in their search for offensive help. But general manager Al Avila downplayed Detroit’s chances of adding the outfielder/first baseman.

“I think that’s something that gets overplayed a lot,” Avila said Monday from baseball’s Winter Meetings at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. “We do scout the leagues a lot internationally and we know the players well. I think because we do have people out there following and we have reports and we follow very closely, we always are linked somewhere.

“At the same time, the timing of it all, where we’re at right now, I can’t say it’s the biggest priority.”

For the Tigers and plenty of other teams, there’s a lot to like about Tsutsugo, who emerged as one of Japan’s greatest power hitters with 149 home runs over the last four years. What makes him stand out, though, is his ability to complement that power with plate discipline. He has averaged 87 walks a season over the last four years, and kept a relatively low strikeout rate until fanning 141 times this past season.

The Tigers have shied away from Japanese players through the posting system, in part due to posting fees. Under the current system, the “release fee” is a flat 20 percent for a player who signs for $25 million or less. For players that sign for between $25 million and $50 million, the fee includes 17.5 percent of the guaranteed money beyond $25 million. For contracts beyond $50 million, the posting fee includes 15 percent of that money.

Farewell, 'El Felino'
Ronny Rodriguez was a Tigers sensation in May, crushing six homers, eight doubles and two triples in his first 21 games of the season. On Monday, he became a former Tiger, claimed off waivers by the Brewers as Detroit tried to clear space on its 40-man roster.

Also claimed off waivers was reliever Marcos Diplan, who never appeared in a game for the Tigers after being claimed off waivers from the Twins in mid-September. He was claimed by the Orioles on Monday.

Rodriguez spent the last two seasons between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo after signing a Minor League contract with the Tigers before the 2018 season. His .221 average and .690 OPS this year was essentially the combination of a hot start and a cold stretch run.

Rodriguez, called up in mid-April as an injury replacement, was batting .312 (24-for-77) with a 1.058 OPS on May 14, including a two-homer game on May 11 and a three-hit, four-RBI game against the Angels three days earlier. He hit just .186 (37-for-199) with 64 strikeouts over his final 63 games as the aggressive right-handed hitter struggled with breaking balls and offspeed pitches.

The move leaves the Tigers potentially in need of infield depth if Niko Goodrum earns the starting shortstop job and Willi Castro gets more seasoning at Triple-A Toledo.

The 23-year-old Diplan was essentially a depth addition last September after splitting the 2019 season between the Brewers and Twins organizations at the Double-A level. He posted a 4.85 ERA and 73 strikeouts over 68 2/3 innings, but also walked 44 batters.

The moves leave the Tigers with 37 players on their 40-man roster. They could use the open spots to sign a free agent or two, or they could set themselves up for multiple picks in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, beyond their first overall selection.

Tigers trainer honored
Newly promoted Tigers athletic trainer Chris McDonald received a prestigious honor Monday, when he received the Minor League Baseball Athletic Trainer of the Year award from the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.

McDonald spent this past season as the head athletic trainer at Toledo, his fifth season with the Mud Hens and his 18th in the Tigers organization. He has been named International League Trainer of the Year by PBATS in each of the past two seasons.