Dontrelle’s End

After two and a half years of  expectations, hope, patience, and frustration the Tigers have finally cut bait with Dontrelle Willis as he has been designated for assignment to make room for Max Scherzer. Is this decision a move towards less tolerance for failure, or just a matter of “enough is enough”?

It may seem curious to ask the question about less tolerance for failure given Dontrelle’s track record. There have been season long DL stints for knees and anxiety. There has been additional coaching and stays down at A ball to get him out of the spot light. There was the decision to bring him north this season despite the fact he hadn’t out-pitched his competitors in spring training. Through it all the Tigers stuck with him and his large contract, until last night.


I think it’s fair to say the Tigers gave Willis every chance. While I don’t disagree with the move at all, the timing itself is a little surprising. After two seasons of implosions, Willis has an ERA, a FIP, and an xFIP that are all under 5.00. Not great or even good, but at least on the brink of serviceable. Given the contract it is disappointing to say the least, but he’s getting paid regardless.

Willis has at times looked good and at times looked out of sorts. Sometimes within the same game, sometimes even within the same inning. But the fact he looked good at times exceeded my expectations. His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2003 and his walk rate is the best of his Tigers career (a still miserable 6 BB per 9).

So my question is, what exactly were the Tigers hoping for out of Willis this season? Dombrowski’s comments on the matter are rather gray, and I doubt we’re getting the whole story. Given his entire career arc, I think Willis is pitching as well as could have reasonably been expected.

Quicker to move

Here’s where I make a logical leap. I hope you can join me because it may be encouraging. Given the Willis DFA, the Sizemore and Scherzer demotions, and the commitment to Brennan Boesch is it out of line to think that the organization is looking to be more swift in swapping out underperformers and maximizing talent on the 25 man roster?

There are still gaping holes at catcher and Adam Everett has been awful as well. With the catcher situation there isn’t an upgrade readily available. With Everett he’s receiving less and less playing time (he and Santiago have evenly split SS duties) and my guess is the Tigers are keeping Everett around to hedge their bets in case Carlos Guillen can’t stick at second and Scott Sizemore can’t fully find his hitting stroke. Throw in Danny Worth and Everett’s leash may be shortening as well.

Margin for Error

The Tigers have made a payroll commitment to “go for it” this year and they have some terrific players to build around. But there are also enough question marks that the team has very little margin for error relative to the Minnesota Twins.

It isn’t time for rash decisions, but the team has to move swiftly if they have chances for quick upgrades. For now that means dipping into their minor league talent pool and they’ve done a nice job of extending the 25 man roster for several weeks now.


  1. kathy

    May 30, 2010 at 10:07 am

    I like your question in the first paragraph, billfer. In this case, it looks like “enough is enough, not unless they are starting down a new road of intolerance for failure. We’ll see.

  2. Vince in MN

    May 30, 2010 at 10:21 am

    I think the Tigers DFA Willis with a somewhat serviceable record now because it gives them a slight chance of getting something in trade. The possibility is quite slight, but to wait longer reduces it to zero while he eats up a roster spot.

    The Tigers absolutley have to challenge from within their system this season – they can’t afford any more Huff/Washburn type FA disasters like last season which besides helping to gut the farm system could be argued actually lost them the division crown. Hopefully they are extremely gun-shy on signing free agents this year.

    Let’s hope Scherzer has found himself and isn’t just another AAAA player. Unfortunately the black holes in the lineup are another story.

  3. Keith (Mr. X)

    May 30, 2010 at 11:06 am

    I think the Tigers D’FA at the right moment. Willis leaves on a high note as Scherzer comes back with some fire. If Willis still wants to pitch he should have no problem finding a new team to play for. He’s leaving on a somewhat high note. He’s still a big name pitcher and he’s good sometimes. He’s just not what we want right now. He warranted too much attention from our bullpen. We had to get our pen ready in the 1st inning when he took the mound.

    I went to sleep last night feeling very disappointed with the Tigers. Willis getting DF’d was like waking up after getting a tooth pulled. I’m already feeling better.

    • stephen

      May 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm

      How did Willis leave on a high note?

      • Keith (Mr. X)

        May 30, 2010 at 1:21 pm

        He didn’t meltdown completely. He showed that he’s still good enough to pitch for someone else. Someone who doesn’t care about contending for a division title, such as Pittsburgh..

      • Keith (Mr. X)

        May 30, 2010 at 1:32 pm

        He left with a 4.98 ERA. For some teams that’s serviceable.

        • Only Tiger Fan in Mississippi

          May 30, 2010 at 7:43 pm

          Houston Astros here he comes!

  4. JCM

    May 30, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    A lex A Vila to AAA , where he belongs
    Raburn, DFA
    Worth , called back by 6/7
    Kelly, third base. Inge defensive backup for late inns.
    Perry , aaa trip to recovery his game
    Santiago , full time SS until he proves right the Tigers ( they believe his wont stand a full season)

    • Jonathon

      May 30, 2010 at 2:58 pm

      Ideally Avila would be in AAA but who would be coming up here to back-up? Diaz? St. Pierre? Neither of which can hit better or has more potential. Raburn is a fine 5th outfielder for the role that he is being asked to play. Kelly won’t hit enough to be a full-time 3b and his versatility is what leyland likes to have on the bench. I know Inge isn’t hitting a whole lot better but we have seen him when he is on and for someone to hit in the 7th or 8th spot who can hit 25 home runs is a plus. Perry will be fine, just get him in a situation to get some confidence, perhaps today.

      SS situation-Bilfer said it correctly that the team is assessing the situation with santiago getting more reps and making sure that guillen can play 2b and sizemore hitting in aaa. I don’t believe that Everett will be with this team for the rest of the year because if worth goes down and hits even .250, he will come back and be the ss if guillen can prove to stay healthy this year. Thoughts?

      • Vince in MN

        May 30, 2010 at 4:04 pm

        Pretty much agree. No C replacements to speak of in the system; Kelly is a spare part; Everett not long for Tigers world; Sizemore still learning to hit; Santiago not a full-time SS. It will be interesting to see where they play Worth in Toledo over the next few weeks. I see the potential for a revolving door between Toledo and Detroit for a sizable number of position players this year. The pitching staff seems to be stabilizing, but rotations there may not be entirely out of the question from now on either if needs be.

        • Jonathon

          May 30, 2010 at 8:15 pm

          I believe in the Leyland quote about Worth, he said he would like Worth to get more pt at SS. Which would lead you to believe that they want him to be ready to come up. Also to make sure sizemore is playing everyday. I don’t see Strieby coming up this year unless of detroit injuries or september. With the injuries, it would seem that they want him to get ab’s and likewise for Wells. Without the extension that Santiago signed in the off-season, I would think that Dlugach would get an opportunity at some point but he hasn’t hit either and needs more ab’s. It is very promising that the toledo team this year has the most potential prospects in many years.

  5. Scott

    May 30, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    finally!! D-train’s outta here! I was so sick of watching him; I’d curse when I heard which games he was gonna start. Almost like the Tigers were issuing a ‘throw in’ to their opponents when he’d pitch….and you can’t afford to do that in the majors. Hopefully Galarraga will do better….

  6. Jud

    May 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    hey D-Train best of luck to you. Hope you make it somewhere. Hopefully in the NL so we can see you hit…..

  7. jud

    May 30, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    I had a dream last night that The Mud Hens moved Worth to SS he comes up to Detroit and he and Jackson and Boesch finish 1-2-3 in any order for ROY

    • Keith (Mr. X)

      May 30, 2010 at 9:01 pm

      I had a dream that Tigers moved Austin Jackson to SS.

      • Coleman

        May 30, 2010 at 9:54 pm

        …and moved Johnny Damon to center, with Raburn in right and Guillen in left.

        There is a word for that type of dream: nightmare.

  8. Chet Lemon for HOF

    May 31, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Its pretty sad about the Dontrelle Willis thing. I am a little surprised that with his ability to hit, and the fact that he is battling an anxiety disorder, why don’t the Tigers just demote him again and develop his skills as a hitter or maybe even middle reliever. He could end up being another Rick Ankiel or a servicable middle releiver. Also, he seems like he wouldn’t reject a minor league assignment.