Agent Matt Sosnick will be waiting along with Willis over the next week and a half to see if Willis, who was designated for assignment after Saturday's game, is traded or becomes a free agent who can choose his club. Whatever happens, they're feeling a change of scenery should do him some good.
"On Dontrelle's end, I think it's going to be a relief getting a fresh start," Sosnick told MLB.com in a telephone interview on Sunday night. "If anything's going to get him back, it's going to be a fresh start."
In that sense, Sosnick said, the move to designate Willis for assignment over the weekend "probably played out this way at a good time."
Assuming Willis signs on with another club sometime in June, he'll have at least half the season left to make an impression with a team where Willis does not have the history he had to sometimes fight in Detroit.
Sosnick said Willis was "pretty upbeat" now after taking in the news.
Sosnick was not critical of the Tigers organization with his belief that Willis needs to move on. On the contrary, he had praise for team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and the front office, saying they did everything they could to try to get him back. The struggles of the previous two seasons, however, cast too much of a shadow on his comeback attempt.
"I'd say he got an incredibly fair shot in Detroit," Sosnick said. "They signed him to an incredibly good contract. Dontrelle feels terrible he didn't give the team what they thought they were getting. It's Dontrelle who had to go through it, but after the contract got signed, the guy who was the next most important person [who wanted] Dontrelle to pitch well was Dombrowski."
The Tigers signed Willis to a three-year, $29 million contract in December of 2007, a few weeks after Detroit acquired him from Florida in the Miguel Cabrera trade. Willis started out the 2008 season with serious command issues, spent most of the season on the disabled list with knee and forearm injuries, then began last season on the DL with what was termed as anxiety disorder.
That history proved a burden on both sides during Willis' comeback this year. A couple walks, or sometimes three-ball counts, would rehash the issue of Willis' command.
Willis' body language coming off the mound didn't have the same energy his final few starts that he had in Spring Training, even when he would have a good inning or a good stretch.
"He was not happy. It was a really negative vibe for him," Sosnick said. "It's nothing that's Detroit fault. It was a bad mesh."
The hope is that Willis won't have that sort of pressure with a new club.
"Wherever [Willis] goes next," Sosnick said, "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."
For now, Willis is going to wait out his situation and try to continue to throw off a mound to keep his arm in shape. Sosnick did not rule out the possibility that Willis would be willing to start out in the Minor Leagues for a little bit to get ready, but he feels like Willis can stay ready to pitch in the big leagues.
Sosnick did not get into teams or locations, though it's worth noting that Willis just bought a home in Arizona. Coincidentally, Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes told MLB.com later Monday that his club has had discussions with Detroit on possibly acquiring the left-hander.
Like many, Sosnick believes his client can turn it around with a better situation. In terms of pure stuff, not command, Sosnick said there's a Major League pitcher there.
"If you go by his stuff, he's still an absolutely front-line guy," Sosnick said.
The stuff is there; it's the walks that have hurt.
"I really do feel like he's going to come back and be really good," Sosnick said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.