DETROIT -- Aquilino Lopez stuck with the Tigers for all but about a month of the 2008 season, finding a home at the long end of Detroit's bullpen. As an arbitration-eligible player, however, he was not going to stick on the Tigers' roster through the offseason.
With a slew of potential arbitration cases and Friday night's midnight ET non-tender deadline approaching, the Tigers tendered contracts to all of their eligible players except for Lopez.
Infielder Ramon Santiago agreed to a one-year contract worth $825,000 on Friday afternoon. Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Marcus Thames, Fernando Rodney, Edwin Jackson and Bobby Seay all were tendered contracts, allowing them to continue to negotiate deals or file for arbitration in the coming weeks. Detroit tried to work out a contract with Lopez in the remaining hours on Friday but couldn't reach an agreement.
Lopez immediately becomes a free agent who can sign with any team. The Tigers could also re-sign him -- probably to a Minor League deal -- but he's expected to look at his options elsewhere first.
The 33-year-old Lopez spent the past two years in the Tigers system, but his 2008 season included the most Major League innings of his 10-year professional career. In 78 2/3 innings, he posted a 4-1 record and a 3.55 ERA, allowing 86 hits while walking 22 and striking out 61. Opponents batted .252 against him before the All-Star break before hitting .301 with an .869 OPS off of him down the stretch.
Those solid numbers, however, came in more long work than setup duty. Just 12 of his 48 appearances came in the late innings of close games, while 26 were in games that had a margin of more than four runs either way.
With the Tigers enjoying a potential influx of relief help from both their farm system and from those who don't make the rotation, Detroit could afford to make the move and trim a little bit of salary from its payroll. That was less of a case with the other arbitration-eligible players.
Thames was a potentially intriguing situation. The veteran outfielder and impact slugger finished second on the team with 25 home runs, trailing only Miguel Cabrera, but is set for a pay raise above his $1,275,000 salary and is arbitration-eligible for the second time. Without a starting spot, his name popped up among the buzz at baseball's Winter Meetings earlier this week, but the Tigers ended up trading the younger Matt Joyce instead. That whittled down the competition for the fourth outfield spot, though Detroit is expected to continue listening to trade talks.
The Lopez move leaves the Tigers with two open spots on their 40-man roster. One of those is expected to go to shortstop Adam Everett, who agreed to terms on a one-year contract earlier this week.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.