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Armando Galarraga reaches imperfect ending in Detroit

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Could we ever have dreamed today's news possible in those early days of June when all minds were on the imperfect ending to Armando Galarraga's perfect game?

The news today came in the same whiplash form, leaving onlookers nearly as shocked, astonished and angry as when umpire Jim Joyce spread his arms to signal safe as Galarraga held onto what should have been his 27th consecutive out and instant trip to the record books.

Just six hours after the Tigers announced the signing of Galarraga to a one-year deal worth $2.3 million, they followed up with another note: Galarraga had been designated for assignment to make room for Brad Penny on the team's 40-man roster.

Galarraga may have been as perfect as a pitcher can be for one night, but the team felt he just wasn't good enough for the other 23 of them last year to remain in Detroit's rotation. The Tigers will now attempt to trade the native of Venezuela to a team that has room left in theirs.

"It's not an ideal scenario by any means. But it's also (the one) we thought was the best way to handle it," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a conference call just hours after talking to Galarraga on the phone to explain the decision to him.

Galarraga's career in Detroit appears to have reached its imperfect ending.

Why the deal was done

Galarraga finished the 2010 season with 24 games started and an ERA of 4.49. He opened the season with Triple-A Toledo and found himself back in the Glass City by July to keep him in tune over Major League Baseball's all-star break. On any given night, he could be an incredible pitcher, despite lacking the kinds of pitches you would normally consider unhittable. Just weeks after his meeting with baseball history, Galarraga allowed 14 runs during a three game stretch. Over three days in August, he allowed just three runs. By September, he pitched three consecutive starts without making it out of the sixth inning, allowing 18 runs over that span.

Galarraga was not a pitcher you could count on to stem the bleeding. He wasn't one you knew you could count on in any given game. He could be great. He could be awful. You just didn't know. That made him a risky player on a team with a pretty good shot at making it to the postseason for the first time since 2006.

"He can be a successful major league pitcher," Dombrowski said. "At time he shows the flashes. Not upper echelon, but back of the rotation. I don’t really know the answer (to Galarraga finding better consistency) but I hope for his own sake he goes out there and he accomplishes what he can."

Still, he was good enough to be considered for Detroit's rotation in 2011. The Tigers felt like they had bigger holes to deal with, Dombrowski said. Their bullpen was lacking. Their left side of the infield and right field were both empty with the impending free agency of Brandon Inge, Jhonny Peralta and Magglio Ordonez. They had problems getting runners across home plate. The middle of their batting order consisted of Miguel Cabrera and the Mud Hens. Get those problems dealt with, then the Tigers could think about upgrading their rotation. And that's only if they found a player who was clearly a step up from Galarraga, not a step to the side.

So they re-signed Inge and Peralta. They brought setupman Joquin Benoit into the fold. They secured the middle of the lineup with Victor Martinez.

And they starting speaking with Brad Penny, starting pitcher. When exactly the conversations began, Dombrowski wasn't sure. It might have been the Winter Meetings in December. It may even have been the GM meetings in November. One thing was certain: The front office members who were so excited about Penny when they were all with the Florida Marlins were still excited about him this winter, even though he was coming off a poor season with the Red Sox in 2009 and an injury-shortened season with the Cardinals in 2010. If healthy, Penny was the step up Detroit needed to take.

He was healthy. He rested the injury to his lat (back) properly, and completed some grueling physicals in Lakeland before signing a $3 million deal that could be worth as much as $6 million. Penny had a 3.23 ERA in nine starts last season with the Cardinals. He was pitching a lot more like the guy who started the All-Star Game for the National League in 2006 than the back-of-the-rotation starter who was released by the Red Sox in 2009.

"(Penny) does not have back of the rotation stuff," Dombrowski said. "He was still a mid-90s guy with his fastball. His main pitch was his fastball. Knowing Brad throughout the years, he has to pitch rather than to throw. We’re hopeful with that situation. He throws hard. He’s a guy that will average close to the mid-90s. he also has a solid breaking ball. He’s got a changeup. He’s in a position where he has good stuff.

"He would not be your traditional No. 5 starter when he takes the mound, other than that he hasn’t pitched a lot in the past few years. … When you look at him and see he pitched on an all-star squad in 2006-07, we did not see a significant change."

Another key ingredient in the deal with Penny was the length. One year. The Tigers feel like Jacob Turner, Andrew Oliver and Charles Furbush are all close enough to help the club in a pinch, but far enough away that they'd all benefit from a full season in the minors. However, having a spot open for them to compete for in 2012 was definitely a goal.

"If you’re going to leave a spot open for those young guys to battle in the future it really had to be more of a one-year type deal," Dombrowski said.


What it means for Galarraga

Of course, what makes the DFA of Galarraga confusing to many is how quickly it came after the announcement of his arbitration-avoiding deal earlier in the day.

That came more due to the quirks and schedule of MLB collective bargaining than anything. Today was the deadline teams and players had for exchanging arbitration figures. The Tigers have a track record of avoiding arbitration hearings, and the deal with Galarraga meant that they again avoided that risk.

The Tigers have 10 days to sign, release or attempt to get Galarraga onto their minor league roster. They would like to trade him. Galarraga would like to have an opportunity to continue as a starter. If that kind of deal can be made, great. Dombrowski thinks it can but said there are no sure things right now.

"He's a pitcher that's performed at the major league level," Dombrowski said. "If you like him, he's signed at a reasonable (amount). There's a market for those types of guys. The later you go through the winter time and into spring training, some clubs may have had interest three months ago but now they may not. So those are the things that you deal as you go through this time of year and into spring training. At this time of year we still have a solid chance to make a move but only time will tell."

And if no deal is reached and no team wishes to pick up Galarraga on waivers -- they assume the full $2.3 million unguaranteed contract if they do -- it's possible Galarraga will go to Lakeland with a chance to make the rotation. It's unlikely, but you never know what will come up. If Galarraga does come to Lakeland, he can still be released before the season begins and will cost the team substantially less money -- the exact figure depends on when exactly that release was made official.

"For us, we don't look at him as a bullpen guy," Dombrowski said. "It's more a situation for him to make our club as a starter. If we don't trade him and he comes to camp he'll battle for a spot and he'll be in that position."

Risky move

Today's decision wasn't without risk, of course. By potentially giving up rotational depth, they're putting a lot of pressure on Rick Porcello to rebound from a poor sophomore effort, on Phil Coke to truly be ready to be a starting pitcher, on Brad Penny to remain healthy, and possibly on some of the prospects to step into a pressure-packed divisional race if anything happens to any of the current five in the rotation.

That just shows how much the Tigers want to see Galarraga continue as a starting pitcher -- as long as it's for someone else.

"We didn't feel there was any upside to bringing him to camp," Dombrowski said. "You can make a debate otherwise, but sorting through it, we couldn't find a better time."

Truly, this looks like it will be the imperfect ending to Galarraga's career in Detroit.