LAKELAND, Fla. — Octavio Dotel is embracing the record he’s about to set — even though it’s the mark of a journeyman, not a star.
When Dotel takes the mound for the Detroit Tigers this season, he’ll become the first player to appear in a game for 13 franchises. The gregarious right-hander has been effective when healthy throughout his career — despite moving from ballpark to ballpark, thanks to deadline deals and free agency decisions.
After a brief stint with St. Louis that ended with a World Series title last season, the 38-year-old Dotel signed with the Tigers, putting himself in position to set the record.
“I knew it, and I was looking for it,” Dotel said with a laugh. “I’m happy because, either bad or good, any record is important.”
Dotel debuted in 1999 with the Mets, making 14 starts and striking out about a batter an inning before he was traded to Houston that offseason in a deal that sent Mike Hampton to New York. Dotel spent 4½ seasons with the Astros — easily his longest stint with any major league team — and provided solid work in relief for most of that tenure.
He was traded to Oakland in 2004 in a three-way deal that enabled Houston to acquire Carlos Beltran. Dotel saved 36 games that year for the Astros and Athletics, but in 2005, he had reconstructive elbow surgery, and he’s been a baseball nomad ever since.
After pitching only 10 innings with the New York Yankees in 2006, Dotel was with Kansas City the following year before being dealt to Atlanta in the middle of the season. He threw 7 2/3 innings for the Braves, then signed with the White Sox in the offseason.
After two years in Chicago, Dotel signed with Pittsburgh before the 2010 season, but the Pirates traded him to Los Angeles that year, and the Dodgers traded him that September to Colorado.
He pitched 5 1/3 innings in eight appearances with the Rockies — his shortest stint with any team — before signing with Toronto after the season. The Blue Jays then sent him to St. Louis, and he appeared in 12 postseason games for the Cardinals, helping them win the World Series.
“He’s been moved a lot, but obviously not because of performance,” said reliever Collin Balester, one of Dotel’s new teammates with the Tigers. “Sometimes that happens. He’s a good guy to have around — I’m learning a lot from him.”
Lakeland is the latest spring training locale for the well-traveled Dotel, who has certainly seen his share of Florida and Arizona while pitching for all these teams.
“I know some of the stadiums in both leagues,” he said. “Because I’ve been all over the place.”
Dotel is tied with Matt Stairs, Las Vegas native Mike Morgan and Ron Villone after appearing in a game with 12 franchises. Stairs retired last season, finishing with the Washington Nationals after starting 19 years earlier with the same franchise when it was in Montreal.
Among active players, reliever Dennys Reyes has played for 11 teams and might make it a dozen after Baltimore invited him to camp. Two more relievers — Miguel Batista of the New York Mets and Brett Tomko of Cincinnati — have appeared for 10 teams. So has Kansas City starter Bruce Chen.
“I’ve been in so many different clubhouses and seen so many different faces that it’s been a blessing for me,” the 41-year-old Batista said. “It’s been quite a ride for me, because last year I was counting, and I played with five guys last year who I played with their dads. It was kind of something.”
It’s common for relievers to move around — their performance can vary wildly, and teams don’t necessarily need to make long-term commitments to have effective bullpens.
Dotel has held right-handed hitters to a .201 average for his career. He’s been a closer — as recently as 2010, he saved 21 games for the Pirates — but he can fill other roles, too.
Detroit will ask him to contribute to a bullpen that already includes closer Jose Valverde and setup man Joaquin Benoit. Manager Jim Leyland figures Dotel will have no trouble adapting to his new surroundings.
“I think a lot of times good things happen when you’re willing to do the task at hand and understand the whole parameters of what’s going on at this point in your career,” Leyland said. “I think he’s a tremendous addition to our team — another veteran in the bullpen that knows what he’s doing. He’s been on winners, he’s got good energy. He’s a good guy.”