"Thanks everyone for all the positive messages," Penny tweeted. "Go Tigers."
The possibility of Penny in Detroit seemed dim on Monday, when the team released the list of non-roster invitees who were expected to finalize its Spring Training roster. Detroit's chances at adding a starting pitcher abruptly improved on Monday evening, when Penny closed in on a decision.
The Tigers' interest in Penny has been known since last month. They also had been linked to free-agent starters Jeremy Bonderman -- who pitched for Detroit the past eight years -- and Freddy Garcia, but always appeared more focused on Penny. Talks never progressed far on Garcia or Bonderman.
Penny, who has seen his Twitter following more than double since the beginning of the year, ranked among the better free agents left on the market in these final weeks of the offseason. He certainly has a familiarity factor in the Detroit front office. President/general manager Dave Dombrowski gave Penny his first shot in the big leagues more than a decade ago as GM of the Florida Marlins, who acquired Penny from Arizona in a trade for Matt Mantei in 1999 and put him in their rotation a year later.
Since then, the right-hander has spent all but 24 starts of his 11-year career in the National League, including nine solid starts last year with the Cardinals before a strained right lat and back issues in late May persisted into a season-ending injury.
Penny, who had signed with St. Louis on a one-year deal and worked with renowned pitching coach Dave Duncan, ran off a string of seven quality starts to begin what ended up being a lost season. He finished with a 3-4 record and 3.23 ERA, averaging better than six innings per start.
Penny's lone American League experience was a stretch in 2009 with the Red Sox, for whom he posted a 7-8 record and 5.21 ERA before getting his release and promptly finding his form in a late-season stint for the Giants.
Still, as long as he's healthy, there are good reasons to believe the 32-year-old is more than an NL pitcher with AL struggles. First, the AL experience was less than a full season in Boston, with a hitter-friendly home ballpark and a selection of formidable lineups in the AL East. His .487 slugging percentage allowed with the Red Sox was by far the highest of his career, while his .838 OPS allowed in the same stretch was 97 points above his career number in that category.
Just as important, at this point in his career and coming off injury, he fits the profile of a low-risk/high-reward signing that fits the Tigers' needs. Dombrowski said last week that any signing the Tigers made would most likely be with a one-year contract. That would especially follow for starting pitching as long as they hold on to top prospects Andy Oliver and Jacob Turner, both of whom could be ready for the big leagues by season's end and compete for rotation spots in 2012.
The Tigers have allowed for the possibility that Oliver could compete for a rotation spot in Spring Training this year. Without Penny, though, Oliver would have been the only realistic competition for Armando Galarraga, who reached fame with his would-be perfect game last year but struggled for much of the summer from low run support and some inconsistency pounding the strike zone.
Now, as long as Penny is healthy, he's the clear favorite to win the fifth spot. What happens with Galarraga if he doesn't win a starting role is unclear. He's out of Minor League options, and multiple Major League scouts have indicated in recent days that he'd draw little to no trade interest.
The Tigers could move Galarraga to the bullpen, perhaps as a long reliever. Since his contract is not guaranteed, Detroit could even release him in Spring Training and pay a fraction of his Major League salary. Galarraga is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, and the two sides have yet to negotiate an agreement.
The deal with Penny is expected to finish the Tigers' offseason dealings. Detroit is believed to be set with its position players, including invitees, barring an unforeseen development. They briefly had interest in Fred Lewis earlier this offseason as a reserve outfielder, but talks never progressed.