Berry optioned to Toledo, Kelly appears to have made team
Shortly after the World Series, Detroit Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry was a guest on one of the MLB Network shows on satellite radio, and one of the hosts asked him how he expected his role to increase this upcoming season.
There was a pause before Berry answered.
“Well, first I have to make the team,” said the 28-year-old journeyman, who got his first real shot at the big leagues in 2012, and earned Tigers Rookie of the Year honors. “There are no guarantees up here.”
None asked for, and none given.
Berry knew it would be an uphill battle to make the squad again, especially after the Tigers fortified their corner outfield position with the addition of free agent Torii Hunter.
Just another one of the slew of left-handed hitters vying this spring for part-time duty in left field, Berry got the news he’d half expected during the offseason, finding out Wednesday that he’d been optioned to Triple-A Toledo.
Knowing it might be coming didn’t make it any easier.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters in Lakeland, Fla., that it was a very hard conversation to have with Berry, very emotional.
“I don’t get much of a thrill out of breaking hearts,” Leyland told the beat writers, including MLive’s Chris Iott.
While not fitting the profile for what the Tigers needed to add — a right-handed hitting complement to starter Andy Dirks — Berry had other things working against him, as well.
First, he had options left.
Second, he was not as versatile defensively as some of the other candidates, unable to play anywhere but the outfield.
And third, he had to fight through patellar tendinitis in his left knee, putting him behind the 8-ball in the competition.
Despite being limited to 14 spring games, Berry hit .323, and walked nearly as many times (six) as he struck out (seven).
It still wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on the 25-man roster to start the season, although Leyland cautioned that the Opening Day roster is just that, and he expects Berry to contribute this season.
“I hope that he understands he’s a big part of this team. He’s not on it right now, but he’s a big part of this team and this organization,” Leyland told reporters, including Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji. “I think he did such a good job for us from time to time last year, he just had a tough time understanding it. I don’t blame him.”
The move leaves the Tigers with just 28 players in camp, one extra position player, and two extra relief pitchers.
Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago are vying for the reserve infield spot, although ESPN’s Buster Olney reported late Tuesday that the Tigers had made other teams aware that Santiago was available for trade.
Leyland told reporters that, as it stands now, utility man Don Kelly has made the team. Kelly was designated for assignment midseason last year, then rejoined the team for the playoffs, before being removed from the roster in the aftermath of the World Series.
He cleared waivers, but elected to become a free agent, later returning to the Tigers on a minor-league deal when no other opportunities arose. Kelly had an opt-out clause in the contract, for use if he had not made the Tigers’ roster, but he told reporters this week that he’d likely not use it.
For Kelly, who told reporters he’d gotten a nice text from Berry Wednesday morning, the decision was vindication of his choice to return.
“This is home,” he told Wakiji.