Willis headed to D-backs
The Dontrelle Willis experiment in Detroit is officially over.
The Tigers designated Willis for assignment on Saturday and had 10 days to trade him or pass him through waivers. He was making $12 million per year.
"We are paying a substantial portion of that salary," said Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski, adding a couple clubs showed interest.
Willis was part of the blockbuster trade in which the Tigers acquired Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins in December 2007. Outfielder Cameron Maybin and pitcher Andrew Miller were the key pieces Detroit sent to Florida for Cabrera and Willis.
Willis signed a three-year, $29 million contract extension.
"I'm just excited to get a fresh start," Willis said on a conference call.
The 28-year-old Willis had fallen on hard times with the Marlins. As a rookie in 2003 he went 14-6 with a 3.31 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 160 2/3 innings for the champion Marlins. He won Rookie of the Year honors and was an All-Star. By the time he left in 2007, his ERA had ballooned to 5.17 and his record was 10-15.
"He's had extreme success, he's had a period of struggles, and he's hopefully coming out of it," Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes said. "He's always been known as a big personality and we've encouraged him to be himself and breathe some life into this team, which we need."
Willis made only 22 starts for the Tigers in three seasons and was put on the disabled list twice last season with what the team called an anxiety disorder. He was 1-2 with a 4.99 ERA this season and 2-8 with a 6.86 ERA overall for Detroit.
"It was a great place to play baseball," Willis said. "I just didn't get it done."
Willis didn't agree with the anxiety diagnosis last season and still didn't earlier this season.
"I'm not on any kind of medication," Willis said a month ago. "So, what's the differential now? God has a funny way. If something goes wrong in one aspect, it seems to be going right in another. The worse I played, the closer me and my family got.
"But I always believed I'd be in this position, but I'm hungry for my next start."
The Diamondbacks have a baseball-high 5.89 ERA and Willis becomes their first lefty. Arizona manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday that Willis is expected to go directly into the D-backs rotation and is tentatively scheduled to make his first start for them on Saturday night against Colorado at Chase Field.
"He's an energetic guy who loves to play," Hinch said. "He wears his heart on his sleeve and has a lot of charisma. He had a lot of success early in his career for his play and his personality and his approach. He brings a fresh outlook to our team, and a fresh personality."
One of the better hitting pitchers in baseball, he said he was thrilled to be returning to the National League.
"Sometimes for an athlete it's definitely rejuvenating that someone else wants you and someone else believes in you," he said.
Willis already had moved from Florida to Scottsdale, Ariz.
Asked if the pitchers' recent inconsistency might be an added burden on the bullpen, Byrnes said, "It can't make it any worse." The Diamondbacks' bullpen ERA of 7.70 is by far the worst in the majors. Arizona lost 5-4 Monday night in Los Angeles on a ninth-inning balk to fall to 20-32, 11½ games behind NL West leader San Diego.
"It's probably as bad as we could have imagined," Byrnes said, "and we've got to figure out a way to get out of it."
Buckner was 0-3 with an 11.08 ERA in three starts, which Dombrowski said were "not good," for Arizona this season. The 26-year-old righty has spent four years in the majors, going 4-6 with a 6.40 ERA in 13 starts last season for the Diamondbacks.
He started the season at Triple-A Reno after failing to win a spot in the rotation this spring and failed to take advantage of a recent opportunity to pitch for Arizona.
"He gives us depth at Toledo," Dombrowski said.
MLB FanHouse first reported that Willis was heading to the D-backs.
The Tigers were involved in a three-way deal that sent pitching to Arizona last year. In shipping Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, the Tigers sent starter Edwin Jackson to the D-backs and received Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke and outfield prospect Austin Jackson.
Information from ESPNLosAngeles.com's Tony Jackson and The Associated Press was used in this report.