Don Kelly has been one of the longest-serving Tigers since being selected in the eighth round of the 2001 amateur player draft out of Mount Lebanon High School in Pennsylvania. Today, the Tigers outrighted Kelly off the 40-man roster (technically to Toledo) but in reality, Kelly may opt for free agency and will surely choose that route.
Along with Kelly, the Tigers optioned relief pitcher Evan Reed to Toledo, and Reed also may opt for free agency. A player can be outrighted off the roster once during their career without their consent, after clearing waivers. After that, the player may refuse the minor league assignment and opt for free agency, either immediately or at the end of that season.
The moves mean that both players had to clear waivers first, so they are now in a position of looking for a contract with a major league team, facing the reality that all teams just passed on the chance to pick them up. They will look for a team that might give them a split contract, or a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training as a non-roster invitee. Both players are familiar with how that works.
In Kelly's case, he would have been eligible for arbitration one more time this winter, having signed a one year contract with Detroit for $1 million for the 2014 season. The club was likely unwilling to go the arbitration route with him when they came to terms just prior to the non-tender deadline of December 2, 2013.
After six seasons in the Detroit organization, never making it to the major leagues, Kelly signed with his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and made his major league debut with them in 2008 as a backup shortstop. He returned to the Tigers for the 2009 season.
In parts of seven seasons with Detroit, Kelly logged 1,157 plate appearances, batting .234/.297/.340 for an OPS of .637. He hit 23 home runs, with 95 RBI and stole 16 bases. In 2014, he had 185 plate appearances, batting .245/.332/.288/.620 without a home run, and just seven RBIs. In 38 postseason appearances, he hit .265/.316/.382/.698 with one very clutch home run against the New York Yankees in the 2011 ALDS.
Kelly's value to the team was never at the plate, He was a versatile defender, where he played all nine positions in the field. Kelly has played:
- 165 games in left field
- 130 games at third base
- 112 games in right field
- 87 games at first base
- 55 games in center field
- 17 games as designated hitter
- 9 games at second base
- 5 games at shortstop
- 1 game as catcher
Kelly also pitched one-third of an inning, allowing no runs, no hits, and no walks, retiring Scott Hairston of the Mets for the last out in the top of the ninth inning.
Evan Reed is a hard-throwing right-handed relief pitcher who was drafted by the Texas Rangers and signed by the Tigers prior to the 2013 season. In two partial seasons with Detroit, he made 48 appearances, posting an ERA of 4.20 and a WHIP of 1.56. He was not selected for the postseason roster in either 2013 or 2014.
The 27-year-old Reed is out of options, so he had to clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues during the season, twice. Salary is not a consideration with this move, so the club simply must not have him figured into their plans for the future. Like Kelly, he may yet decide that Detroit is the best chance that he has to earn a job next spring, but he will have the opportunity to search for greener pastures.
With Kelly, Andy Dirks, Pat McCoy, and Reed all being taken off the roster, it would seem that Dave Dombrowski is planning a bit more than a rearrangement of the furniture over the offseason. The club is in need of one or two outfielders, a left-handed bat, and a few good men, especially left-handers for the bullpen. That's exactly what those players were.
Without Kelly and Dirks, the Tigers have just four players eligible for arbitration this winter. They are David Price, Rick Porcello, Al Alburquerque, and J.D. Martinez. Alex Avila could be added to that list if the club declines his option by November 20.
Teams are required to activate all their players from the 60 day disabled list at the end of the season, and the Tigers certainly had their fair share of those. That would necessitate removing some players from the 40 man roster to make room for those being activated, or added to be protected from minor league free agency.