Todd Jones was hours away from being free to sign with another club, and he had other clubs with interest, but he had already pretty much made up his mind to stay put. A day of negotiations ended with a one-year, $7 million deal that keeps him closing games in Detroit for 2008.
"Ultimately, the team that I think had the best chance to win was Detroit," Jones said. "And the team that I was most comfortable with is Detroit. And where my heart is, is in Detroit. It's just great. I just appreciate the Tigers letting me kick tires and letting me look around with no hard feelings. Because in an industry where ultimately it can sometimes become a very harsh business, [president/general manager] Dave [Dombrowski] and I maintain a wonderful, professional relationship."
Jones was a free agent this offseason after racking up 75 saves over the last two seasons, including 38 this year. At age 39, he had a chance to determine the course for the final years of his career.
Before the season even ended, however, he knew what his market would be. The one place he truly wanted to gauge in terms of interest was Atlanta, a short drive from his Alabama home and his family. Once he filed for free agency after the World Series ended, he had a chance to check with the Braves and what they were planning.
"That question was simply yes or no, and their [answer] was no," he said. "So I knew from the get-go, very early, that there wasn't going to be any discussions for that. I was glad at the way that they handled that."
With that decided, he checked with his family to see how they felt about him going back up north for another season. Their response to another summer in Detroit was overwhelmingly positive. He had chances to go elsewhere, but there wasn't much debate left. From there, it was up to Dombrowski and Jones' agent, Randy Hendricks, to work out a deal.
"As a free agent, you work awful hard to get these type of opportunities in your career," he said. "I've only been a free agent three or four times. As a player, you want to see what's out there, but I think ultimately, at the end of the day, you just have to decide what's important for you. Me being back in Detroit's very important to me, and being part of such a high-caliber club was also one of the deciding factors.
"I think the folks that know me, know that money's not always the driving force. It obviously had something to do with it and you want to try to make as much money as you can, but it doesn't make any sense to have to go someplace just for more money."
Another chance at the postseason with the club that gave him his first chance to close more than a decade ago was important for him. For the Tigers, handing the closer's job to a closer they knew rather than going to the open market was important.
"We're very happy to have Todd back in the organization," Dombrowski said. "For us, he's done a quality job the last couple years, and for us, [it was] a real big need to have him come back and fill that closer role."
From the outset, the Tigers had placed a priority on re-signing Jones this offseason, but that need became even more important once Joel Zumaya underwent shoulder surgery earlier this month. Zumaya had been the Tigers' insurance policy at closer in case Jones didn't return, and he was expected to be eased into the closer's role as the year went along.
Now, Jones will enter his 16th Major League season as Detroit's unquestioned closer at a raise from the two-year, $11 million contract he signed two winters ago. From there, the Tigers will try to fill in the innings in front of him. Depending on Zumaya's situation, Jones could be closing beyond 2008.
"Joel is going to be a real tough void to fill," Jones said. "You're going to see just how valuable he is by the amount of money that Dave has to commit to try to fill those spots."
At this point, Dombrowski said, setup is not the Tigers' main priority. With the closer's role now filled and a left-handed bat for left field with the trade for Jacque Jones earlier in the day, the more immediate task on the to-do list is starting pitching, where the Tigers have another free agent they'd like to keep.
In Kenny Rogers' case, there was no chance at a deal on Monday. Agent Scott Boras had already stated they plan to listen to offers from other teams, leaving the Tigers to look at their other options.
"Our No. 1 priority would be trying to get a starting pitcher," Dombrowski said. "I'm not going to forget about the bullpen by any means, but with getting Todd back, at least I feel comfortable that we're solid out there. ... We're aware of the bullpen. I don't think it'll be anything we would rush out and do immediately just because I want to see where all of that goes. Starting pitching is a little different situation, and we'll be more aggressive in that front right off the bat."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.