This is a story that cropped up in blank_38's fanshot a little while ago, citing a Fox Sports Report which cited an un-named from of Dontrelle as saying that the Diamondbacks "are Willis’ first choice right now." Willis was placed on waivers by the Tigers over the weekend, giving them a window in which he can be traded, or claimed by another team willing to pick up his $12 million salary. If nothing is worked out, Willis will then become a free-agent, and can sign with any other team for league minimum.
The speculation seems to have some basis in fact. After the jump, we'll take a look at the latest news, and what the potential might be for the Diamondbacks.
Both Steve Gilbert and Nick Piecoro have confirmed this afternoon that discussions between Detroit and Arizona are taking place. On his Twitter, Gilbert said the team "have had discussions with Tigers about Dontrelle Willis and do have interest in the left-hander." Nick Piecoro was talking to the player's agent, Matt Sosnick, and quoted him as saying Arizona is "one of the places he would rather play," and that Willis and his wife were already looking at buying a house in the state before the Tigers announced their move.
Piecoro adds that talks currently revolve around Dbacks "trading for him, with Tigers paying vast majority of Willis' salary." Willis is in the last season of a three-year, $29 million contract signed in December 2007, shortly after coming from Florida for Miguel Cabrera. It hasn't worked out in Detroit: injuries have limited the former Rookie of the Year to just 22 starts since then, with a 6.86 ERA over that time. Will things be better in a new location? Sosnick seems to think so, though I'm not quite sure what to make of this quote:
"Wherever [Willis] goes next. I think he hopes he can be successful without him being the guy that has all these issues as opposed to being [another pitcher]. His playing games in Detroit was kind of secondary to figuring out why he wasn't the same guy who won the [NL Rookie of the Year [Award in 2003]. Every time he pitched well, it was [a story of] the guy who was pitching well in spite of all the stuff he was dealing with. That's not to say it was anybody's fault, because it wasn't."
It really comes down to an issue of control, where Willis' skills evaporated entirely after the move to Detroit. Over five seasons in Florida, he walked an average of only three per nine innings pitched, but in only 101 innings for the Tigers, Dontrelle handed out no less than 92 free passes. That's what hurt his numbers - opponents hit a much more respectable .270 off Willis, and his SLG was only .415. To put that into context, the Nationals' John Lannan over the same time has a .264 BA against, and a .416 SLG, but his ERA is 4.03.
Willis is owed about $9 million for the balance of the season, but I doubt Arizona will be paying much of that. I'm sure the Tigers are listening to offers in an effort to get anything back for their investment. What that might be depends on the competition. Willis seems to have been slightly better this season, with "only" six walks/9 IP, but his ERA is still close to five - the Diamondbacks are one of the few teams in the league for whom that level of performance would still count as a pitching upgrade. He is also a left-hander, something almost entirely absent from the Diamondbacks' pitching roster this season, except for Jordan Norberto's unsuccessful stab at the majors to open the season.
I'm doing this as a Fanpost, so we can update it with further information as it become available.