When Octavio Dotel throws his first pitch for the Detroit Tigers -- and that could happen on Opening Day at Comerica Park against the Boston Red Sox -- he will break a record. Dotel will have played for more Major League franchises than any other player in history. And it's very likely that he will smile.
That's because Dotel is set to clinch a lucky No. 13.
The 38-year-old right-handed reliever, who broke in as a 25-year-old starter with a world of potential on the 1999 Mets, has since played for the Houston Astros (2000-04), the Oakland A's ('04-05), the Yankees ('06), the Kansas City Royals ('07), the Atlanta Braves ('07), the Chicago White Sox ('08-09), the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies (all in '10), the Toronto Blue Jays ('11), and, of course, the team he helped pitch to a World Series title last season, the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Tigers will be his 13th team, which will break a four-way tie at 12 between Dotel, former slugger Matt Stairs and retired pitchers Mike Morgan and Ron Villone. It's been a long but rewarding career for Dotel -- one full of different-colored caps, U-Haul contracts, packed suitcases lugged along with the help of his wife, Massiel, frequent-flier miles, room service and reams of paperwork for his agent, Dan Horwits.
And despite the fact that Dotel has been traded six times, he wouldn't trade a minute of it.
"After being all over the place, [it's] good," Dotel said after signing with the Tigers in the offseason for one year and $3.5 million. "I'm very happy I've got the record, and I hope to keep going."
Don't bet against it. First off, Dotel is still very good. Last year, he had a combined 3.50 ERA and 62 strikeouts and only 36 hits allowed in 54 innings. With only 17 walks, it made for a WHIP of 0.98. Right-handed hitters flailed way at Dotel in 2011 to the tune of a .154 average. In the postseason, he gave up three earned runs in 10 1/3 innings, striking out 14 and walking two. It fell in line with Dotel's career ERA of 3.74 and his career strikeouts (1,077) and innings (888 1/3).
|March 20, 1993: Signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent.|
|Dec. 23, 1999: Traded by the New York Mets with Kyle Kessel (Minors) and Roger Cedeno to the Houston Astros for Derek Bell and Mike Hampton.|
|June 24, 2004: Traded as part of a three-team trade by the Houston Astros to the Oakland Athletics. The A's sent Mark Teahen and Mike Wood to the Kansas City Royals. The Astros sent John Buck and cash to the Royals. Kansas City sent Carlos Beltran to Houston.|
|Oct. 28, 2005: Granted free agency.|
|Jan. 4, 2006: Signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees.|
|Oct. 30, 2006: Granted free agency.|
|Dec. 8, 2006: Signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Royals.|
|July 31, 2007: Traded by the Kansas City Royals to the Atlanta Braves for Kyle Davies.|
|Nov. 7, 2007: Granted free agency.|
|Jan. 22, 2008: Signed as a free agent with the Chicago White Sox.|
|Nov. 9, 2009: Granted free agency.|
|Jan. 20, 2010: Signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.|
|July 31, 2010: Traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates with cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Andrew Lambo (Minors) and James McDonald.|
|Sept. 18, 2010: Traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Colorado Rockies for a player to be named later. The Rockies sent Anthony Jackson (Minors) (Nov. 15, 2010) to the Dodgers to complete the trade.|
|November 1, 2010: Granted free agency.|
|January 4, 2011: Signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays.|
|July 27, 2011: Traded by the Toronto Blue Jays with Edwin Jackson, Corey Patterson, Marc Rzepczynski and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for Trever Miller, Colby Rasmus, Brian Tallet and P.J. Walters.|
|Oct. 31, 2011: Granted free agency.|
|Dec. 9, 2011: Signed as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers.|
It also made Dotel's impending mark seem, well, more than a bit strange. In other words, if this guy is so good, why is he bouncing around so much? Why don't teams keep him for a while?
The answer isn't as complicated as one might think. The curious career of Octavio Dotel, after all, must be taken on a case-by-case basis.
"That's the odd part of the story," Horwits said. "It's not a journeyman guy who's bounced around that we're talking about here. This is one of the more productive setup guys in baseball. And it just seems like when he gets traded, it's at the Deadline, when teams making a playoff push need reliable veteran bullpen help. Or, in this case, every time he's been a free agent, multiple teams are interested in his services.
"There are times when there have been eight or 10 teams that have made significant offers that he's had to choose from. This year, it was four or five, and Octavio looked at it and said, 'Detroit. That's where I want to go.'"
Horwits makes some good points. When you look at Dotel's transaction history, there are reasonable explanations for each move.
Dotel pitched for the Mets in 1999 after coming up through their system, but he was one of the talented big league pieces (along with outfielder Roger Cedeno) that had to go to Houston over the winter for New York to land starter Mike Hampton and veteran outfielder Derek Bell as the team made a World Series push in 2000.
Dotel lasted longer with the Astros (4 1/2 seasons) than with any other club, but in June 2004, he was shipped to Oakland in a three-team deal whose centerpiece was then-Royals outfielder Carlos Beltran going to Houston in time to help power that team in the postseason.
After establishing himself as a closer with 36 saves in the 2004 season, Dotel had elbow problems that ended his 2005 season after 15 games. He had Tommy John ligament replacement surgery before free agency kicked in, so Dotel could only land a $2 million deal with the Yankees for his bounceback year, and when he finally came back in August 2006, he proved himself healthy enough by the end of that season to land a $5 million deal with the Royals for 2007.
That July, Kansas City shipped him to Atlanta in a Trade Deadline deal, using Dotel's high value to land right-hander Kyle Davies, whom the Royals considered to be a high-upside starter prospect. And after finishing out the year with the Braves and recovering from a shoulder strain, Dotel landed a rare two-year deal with the White Sox -- for $11 million.
When Dotel was signed by Pittsburgh for the 2010 season, he had no idea that he'd be traded to the Dodgers at the Deadline and then flipped to Colorado on Sept. 18, but that's what happens sometimes when clubs think they're contenders and then realize they're not. Players with value are traded to get something of value in return, and Dotel has always been a player with value.
"It's fairly expected that if he goes to a rebuilding team or a struggling team, there's a good chance he'll be with somebody new by August," Horwits said. "But this is not the struggling player who goes out and throws up a 6.00 ERA and is struggling the next year. He was throwing 93-94 mph last year. He's extremely productive."
Dotel is also realistic. Horwits says his client would "love to sign a three-year deal," but that's just not happening in the current climate at the age of 38.
"He is used to it," Horwits said. "It's been what it's been. He has friends on every team."
Indeed. Dotel had some friends with Toronto, where he began 2011, and on St. Louis, where he won it all. Now he goes to Detroit, where the bullpen is like a Dominican Republic reunion party for the Santo Domingo native.
"I know [Ramon] Santiago, [Joaquin] Benoit, [Jose] Valverde, [Jhonny] Peralta," Dotel said, running down the Tigers' roster. "I played with Gerald Laird last year. I know [Miguel] Cabrera and [Victor] Martinez. I know a lot of guys there. I feel like I'm at my house."
That's saying a lot for a guy who usually ends up in apartments and hotels, but it speaks to Dotel's easygoing nature and roll with the constant changes. And, as Stairs says, why be negative anyway?
"I look at it the same way he probably does: that there were 13 teams that wanted you," Stairs said. "It's a neat record. I guess what it means is you've been around a long time, and that's not a bad thing. It's actually a great accomplishment. He's had a great career."
On Thursday, or soon after, that career will make it into the record books, and Dotel can't contain his excitement for the coming year.
"I am very excited about my opportunity here," Dotel said. "I feel like this team has the pieces and ability to be back where I was at the end of the year last year. We have a chance to be serious contenders, so it's very exciting to think about possibly making another run at a World Series."
And next year? Who knows, right?
Well, at least we know this: Dotel will have a $3 million base salary for 2012 and the Tigers hold a $3.5 million option for '13, which they can buy out for $500,000. And everything else, as always, is pure speculation.
One thing, however, is ironclad.
"I can do any job," Dotel said. "I've been through it before."