Bruce Rondon Rumors

AL Central Notes: Ingram, Kluber, Tigers, McGowan

Condolences go out to the family and friends of Twins Minor League instructor/manager Riccardo Ingram, who as MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger writes, lost a battle with brain cancer yesterday at the age of 48. Ingram spent 17 seasons in the Twins organization as a manager, coach and roving hitting instructor. “It’s very sad news,” said GM Terry Ryan. “…He’s one of those guys where it would be very difficult for me to find somebody who had a bad thing to say about Riccardo Ingram.” Originally diagnosed in 2009, Ingram overcame his first bout with the disease and returned to his post with the Twins through the 2014 season. Said manager Paul Molitor: “I think we were all blessed we were able to get those five or six years with him after the original diagnosis. But it’s not easy.”

Here are a few more items from around the AL Central…

  • There’s been “some progress” between the Indians and ace Corey Kluber on an extension, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link), but it remains unclear whether or not the team will strike a deal by the reported Opening Day deadline. Kluber is not yet arbitration-eligible, but a repeat of anything close to his 2014 Cy Young season would make his first price tag in arb enormous, so there’s some benefit for Cleveland to seek cost certainty at this juncture despite the fact that Kluber is a late bloomer and thus older than most extension candidates.
  • Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander will open the season on the disabled list due a right triceps strain, writes MLive.com’s Chris Iott. Incredibly, this will mark the first DL stint of Verlander’s exceptional career. Though the injury is not considered serious, it’s an ominous start for the former ace after he led the AL in earned runs allowed in 2014 and struggled to a 5.63 ERA (10 runs in 16 innings) this spring. He’s tentatively slated to come off the DL on April 12.
  • Also opening the season on the DL will be flamethrowing righty Bruce Rondon, who is experiencing biceps tendinitis. The injury appears to be unrelated to last year’s Tommy John surgery, but Rondon didn’t throw back-to-back days all spring and won’t be activated until he is able to do so. Manager Brad Ausmus said he doesn’t know when Rondon will throw again, via Iott. The Tigers already have a precariously thin bullpen, and the loss of Rondon for any significant chunk of time would further cloud the outlook.
  • The Twins are “kicking the tires” on right-hander Dustin McGowan, who was recently released by the Dodgers, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (via Twitter). Via Wolfson, the Twins had interest in McGowan back in November, but their interest faded later in the offseason as he remained unsigned. Perhaps disappointing Spring Training efforts from some internal bullpen candidates have rekindled some of that interest. McGowan recorded an uninspiring 4.17 ERA in 82 innings (eight starts, 45 relief appearances) with Toronto last season, but he was much better out of the ‘pen than in the rotation, as he has been throughout his career. McGowan’s 3.79 ERA as a reliever is nearly a full run lower than his 4.78 mark as a starter, though xFIP feels he’s about the same pitcher in either role (4.30 vs. 4.32).

Dombrowski On Tigers’ Offseason Plans

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski addressed a number of points with the media yesterday, and Jason Beck of MLB.com provides a transcript of his comments. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Dombrowski listed the team’s top three priorities. First among them is deciding on an approach in center, which he said could either mean finding a platoon partner for the right-handed hitting Rajai Davis or going with a new, full-time option. Second: improving the bullpen, with some new arms potentially coming from within. And finally, the team wants to add another left-handed bat in some capacity. The GM rejected the notion that the club’s contention window is closing, saying he has confidence in its veteran core.
  • Explaining that he is more concerned about Alex Avila‘s concussion issues on a human level than in terms of planning, Dombrowski said that he is confident in the team’s situation behind the plate. He expects Avila to be able to man the position next year, but also likes prospect James McCann as a long-term piece.
  • Dombrowski said that he does not know whether Torii Hunter will retire. If he elects to play, the club values his clubhouse presence immensely but has yet to make any decisions as to whether it would pursue him in free agency. Dombrowski also discussed prospect Steven Moya, who could be a long-term replacement for Hunter. “I don’t know if he’s going to be ready or not,” Dombrowski said of Moya. “You can hope and he may be ready, but I’m not really sure. His performance in the Arizona Fall League, then going to winter ball will be important for him.”
  • Soon-to-be free agent starter Max Scherzer appears set to test the market, and Dombrowski did nothing to curb the idea that he could be headed for a new team. “Well, we had thorough conversations before the season, and I don’t know that it’s all dictated by us at this point,” said Dombrowski. “I think we made ourselves pretty well known at the time where we stood. … I think we probably made more of an effort to sign Max earlier in the year. So I don’t think your odds improve [from] what they were earlier. Why would they improve if we have one-on-one ability to speak with you, compared to having 29 other clubs speak with you? Only time will tell.”
  • In terms of a possible replacement in the rotation, Dombrowski said the team has internal options and may not feel the need to add an arm via free agency. “I think we have some young pitchers we feel pretty comfortable with at this point,” said Dombrowski, “… but I feel comfortable staying internal with the four guys we would have at that point. But again, we haven’t made that decision.”
  • The prognosis on shortstop Jose Iglesias is positive, says Dombrowski. Though he will allow manager Brad Ausmus a chance to evaluate him in the spring, the GM says that he expects Iglesias to take the everyday job “if he returns to the form of the past.” On the other hand, Dombrowski said the team needs to be prepared if Iglesias is not at full strength.
  • Detroit’s closer situation will probably not undergo changes over the offseason, said Dombrowski. Joe Nathan will likely have the ninth inning job going into the year, but will need to “perform up to the capabilities required” to keep it. Elsewhere in the relief corps, young power reliever Bruce Rondon, who underwent Tommy John surgery, is expected to be ready for the year, says Dombrowski.

Bruce Rondon To Undergo Tommy John Surgery

The Tigers will be without setup man Bruce Rondon for the 2014 season, as Tom Gage of the Detroit News reports (via Twitter) that the flamethrowing right-hander will undergo Tommy John surgery. It's a major blow to a bullpen that already contained plenty of question marks, but general manager Dave Dombrowski tells reporters that he'll look to fill the void with internal candidates (per the Detroit Free Press on Twitter).

The news increases Joba Chamberlain's importance to the Tigers and likely that of right-hander Al Alburquerque as well. This is the third major injury to a member of the Tigers' projected 25-man roster already this spring, as Andy Dirks will be sidelined up to three months after back surgery, and stress fractures in each of Jose Iglesias' shins will likely cause him to miss the entire 2014 season.

Rondon, 23, posted a 3.45 ERA with 9.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9 and a 46.8 percent ground-ball rate in 28 2/3 innings out of Detroit's bullpen last year, and he had fired seven scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and no walks thus far in Spring Training. Rondon's innings can be replaced, but it will be virtually impossible to replace his velocity; his 99.3 mph average fastball was the highest among all big league pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched — even Aroldis Chapman (98.3 mph).

While Iglesias' injury led many to speculate on a Stephen Drew signing for the Tigers, the free agent market for relievers is more bleak. Ryan Madson and Joel Hanrahan represent a pair of potential impact arms, but each is coming off major surgery, and Madson hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2011. Dombrowski continues to repeat the "internal options" refrain, but at some point one has to wonder if the growing number of injuries will cause him to make a somewhat notable move to regain some of the lost production.