The defending American League champions made their final decisions to get down to their 25-man Opening Day roster on Monday, and they didn't have to risk losing anybody they wanted. Chad Durbin won the final spot on manager Jim Leyland's 12-man pitching staff, while Neifi Perez held on to the second utility-infield role on Detroit's bench.
Infielder Ramon Santiago was optioned to Triple-A Toledo along with first baseman Chris Shelton and right-hander Zach Miner. Left-hander Bobby Seay, a non-roster invitee, was sent to Minor League camp. So were fellow pitchers Preston Larrison and Tim Byrdak, catcher Steve Torrealba and outfielders Timo Perez and Ryan Raburn. Lefty reliever Felix Heredia was released.
Both of the roster battles were close. In the end, they were close enough that roster factors came into consideration.
"I don't really look at it as a 25-man roster," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "I really look at it as a 30- or 32-man roster with the depth we need as an organization. So when you look at it this way ... I'd rather keep the depth if we're close [on two players]."
Durbin followed up his impressive 2006 season at Triple-A Toledo by enjoying a solid spring, capped by four scoreless innings on Saturday against an Astros lineup that included most of Houston's regulars. He has allowed eight hits over 16 innings this spring with a 2.81 ERA.
His spot came at the expense of Miner, who spent the final four months of last season on the club. He went 2-1 with a 5.79 ERA this spring, allowing 14 hits and six walks over 14 innings, but striking out 11.
Seay was the likely option had the Tigers decided to keep a second lefty reliever alongside Wilfredo Ledezma. He had given up just one earned run this spring before a two-run inning of work on Sunday against the Yankees.
"We think he's better than a lot of names that have come up this spring for guys that are available [by trade]," Dombrowski said.
In the end, however, they decided not to go with any lefty.
While Miner had one option left, Durbin had none, meaning he would've had to pass through waivers to be sent to the Minor Leagues. Asked if he expected Durbin would have been claimed, Dombrowski said, "I think there's a strong chance, yes."
The Tigers undoubtedly would've lost Perez, an 11-year veteran whose $2.5 million salary is guaranteed for this year under a two-year contract he signed with the Cubs before last season. The Tigers, however, wanted to see more out of Perez to justify keeping him.
Acquired last August in the wake of the Placido Polanco injury, Perez struggled down the stretch, batting .200 (13-for-65) in 21 games. When asked about him during the Tigers' Winter Caravan, Leyland said the trade might have been a mistake and that he needed to play better to make the team.
"I never got nervous," Perez said Monday, "because anything that happened was going to happen. But I knew I had to be three times better than the manager saw last year."
After a rough start to the spring, Perez responded. He entered Monday hitting .324 (12-for-37) with three doubles and four RBIs.
"He had to [play better]," said Dombrowski, who noted Perez came to camp in good shape and with a hop in his step. "We think he's played better than he did last year for us. If he hadn't, we would've made a different decision."
Because of his service time, Santiago had to clear revocable waivers to be optioned, but that didn't end up haunting Detroit. He batted .303 with eight walks and a .439 on-base percentage.
"Sometimes, you have to think the way they're thinking," Santiago said. "They can keep two players without losing one. When you've got options, sometimes you know you're doing right [and still get sent down]. From a business standpoint, it's bad for me because I'm the one sent down."
Shelton seemed to take the decision the toughest. After hitting two home runs last Opening Day and nine in just over two weeks, Shelton was left fighting for a bench spot. But what seemed like a longshot became more viable as Shelton continued to hit well.
Only Polanco entered the week with more hits than Shelton, who hit .388 with six doubles, two homers and five RBIs. At decision time, however, Leyland wanted two utility infielders.
"I hit almost .400 this spring," Shelton said. "What more could I possibly do? All I could say is I made this as tough as I possibly could on them. It still doesn't sit very well with me."
He still left the Tigers with a decision down the road.
"We still look at [Shelton] as our first baseman of the future," Dombrowski said. "He has the ability to do it. We think he can do it. When I say that, he still has to go out and perform."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less