DETROIT -- The Tigers face a Thursday night deadline to offer contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. But barring a surprise, it isn't expected to be a late night debating what to do with pitchers Joel Zumaya and Armando Galarraga.
Baseball's nontender date has taken on added importance in recent years, as teams look at the arbitration process with more trepidation. By not tendering arbitration-eligible players as part of the process, teams can avoid pay raises -- but it immediately makes the players free agents, free to sign with any club without compensation to their old team. Thanks to the new deadline as part of an accelerated offseason calendar, those players will be free agents heading into baseball's Winter Meetings, making nontender decisions all the more important.
The Tigers have taken a proactive approach, usually trying to sign arbitration-eligible players ahead of the deadline. The Tigers have had one arbitration hearing and no arbitration rulings since Dave Dombrowski took over general manager duties in 2002. He doesn't like the process of criticizing a player in a hearing to argue over salary -- and it shows in his dealings.
It isn't expected to get to that point this year. Zumaya told MLB.com on Tuesday morning that his agents were talking with the Tigers about a contract, presumably a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. He said he was told the Tigers have no plans to nontender him. Galarraga said on Wednesday that he didn't know if talks were ongoing.
Dombrowski has not indicated his decisions either way. He said on Wednesday that if they were in talks about a contract, he would not discuss it publicly.
Despite the injuries that have shortened Zumaya's last four seasons, including a fractured bone in his elbow last summer, keeping Zumaya makes sense. Team officials have talked about Zumaya all offseason with optimism, that he'll be ready for Spring Training. While there's a risk to paying a million dollars or so to somebody who hasn't had a full, healthy season since '06, there's another risk of watching Zumaya finally put together a healthy season for another team -- reaping the benefits of all the time the Tigers put into getting him healthy.
The decision on Galarraga most likely comes down to his status on the Tigers' pitching staff. While team officials haven't said Galarraga has a rotation spot, Dombrowski has given signs that the rotation is pretty much set. That would probably put Galarraga in the open spot after Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Phil Coke.
While Andy Oliver could also be a fit for that job, team officials aren't convinced he's ready to pitch regularly in the Majors quite yet. At the very least, a one-year contract for Galarraga would give Oliver time to continue developing at Triple-A Toledo, where he ended the season after a brief summer run in Detroit's rotation.
The mere question of keeping Galarraga is an odd one for someone who came within a blown call of pitching a perfect game in June. But Galarraga went 2-8 with a 4.82 ERA in 21 starts after that memorable night. Part of his struggles came from a lack of run support, but Galarraga also struggled down the stretch, before pitching eight innings of two-run ball at Baltimore over the season's final weekend.
Technically, the Tigers will have at least one nontender. Zach Miner, designated for assignment by the club on Monday, will officially become a free agent on Thursday night. Miner and Detroit have mutual interest in a reunion, so he could be back as a Tiger before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in February.