DETROIT -- Don Kelly was a playoff hero for the Tigers with a walk-off sacrifice fly in the Division Series, and a trending topic on Twitter when he lifted Prince Fielder in the air in a hug afterward. Now, he's a free agent.
A day after Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said the club would remove Kelly from the 40-man roster, the team announced the move was complete. After being designated for assignment and clearing waivers, Kelly declined his Minor League assignment and immediately became a free agent, free to sign with any club he chooses.
That's what Dombrowski expected. He said Tuesday he'd like to bring Kelly back on a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invite, but he expects Kelly to look for a better opportunity.
"We would have interest in signing him to a Minor League contract and bringing him to camp to compete for a job," Dombrowski said. "He knows how well thought of he is here. But I also know that other people are in a position where somebody may offer him a better opportunity. That's what guys look for when they're free agents."
The Tigers made the move to free up 40-man roster spots to protect their Minor League prospects from other clubs. They freed up two other spots when Jose Valverde and Gerald Laird became free agents.
Kelly's versatility gives him instant value to any club, especially in the National League or clubs that opt for an extra reliever and carry a shorter bench. Whether it's enough to land him a Major League contract somewhere is something Kelly will try to find out.
After back-to-back solid seasons in Detroit, Kelly became a forgotten man on the Tigers' roster, batting .186 (21-for-113) with four extra-base hits and seven RBIs. He was designated for assignment in August, accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Toledo, came back in September and made the postseason roster.
It was a different role than was shaping up in January. Kelly was poised to compete for playing time with Brandon Inge at third base last Spring Training until the Tigers signed Prince Fielder and moved Miguel Cabrera to third base. That was one factor that marginalized him on Detroit's roster. Another was Quintin Berry's impact, putting another left-handed-hitting outfielder on the roster.
Most of Kelly's playing time over the summer was late-inning defensive spots -- 127 plate appearances over 75 games reflect that -- so he rarely got more than one at-bat in a game. In fact, he had multiple plate appearances in just 29 games.