Don Kelly says he's signed with Miami Marlins

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Don Kelly is no longer a Tiger.

The super-utilty player told The News late Sunday that he has signed a contract with the Miami Marlins. It's a minor-league contract, but he gets an invitation to spring training.

The Tigers long have had a soft spot for Kelly, given his versatility, and his ability to play quality defense and provide the occasional big hit. But he's long been viewed as a National League-type player, given his ability to play many positions, bunt and pinch-run; in a league of double switches, he should make the Marlins at some point in 2015.

Kelly, who turns 35 next month, has played in the majors for parts of seven seasons, the last six with the Tigers.

"Don is a manager's dream," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's always in a good mood, he's always ready, and he can play anywhere. I am going to miss him."

Even though Kelly's standing with the Tigers always seemed to be on shaky ground, he managed to average 103 games over the last five years.

While mostly an outfielder, third baseman and first baseman, Kelly played every position but shortstop for Detroit. He even caught a game in 2011, the same year he pitched in a game — an one-batter cameo in a rout by the Mets in late June. He entered and left to a rousing ovation from a Comerica Park crowd that, otherwise, had little to cheer about.

Kelly was loved by the fans for his authentic personality and kindness, though they grew tired of his extensive playing time. That said, Kelly had a couple big moments that fans won't forget — both coming in the postseason.

In Game 5 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium, then-manager Jim Leyland started Kelly because of the short porch in right field. And in the first inning, Kelly rewarded his faith with a solo homer that got the Tigers off and running in the clincher.

Leyland, a long-time admirer of Kelly — they're both Pittsburgh residents, and hang out in the offseason — got teary-eyed after that victory talking about how much that moment would mean to a player of Kelly's caliber.

The next postseason, Kelly had a ninth-inning sacrifice fly to give the Tigers a win and a 2-0 lead over the A's.

Kelly played 545 games with the Tigers, batting .232 with 23 home runs and 95 RBIs. In 2014, he hit .245 with no homers and seven RBIs.

The Tigers took Kelly off the 40-man roster in October, and while they were open to him staying with the team and likely starting the season at Triple-A Toledo, the fit was no longer there. The Tigers have a very full outfield, with more prospects pushing to make the roster.

The Tigers now might turn to Hernan Perez or Andrew Romine to fill the role of super-utility guy.