36-year-old Orioles reliever Koji Uehara has made a name for himself in his two season since coming over from Japan. Last year, Uehara became the savior of a bad Baltimore bullpen and even took the reigns as closer for a time. He posted a 2.86 ERA over 44 innings in 2010, striking out 55 batters while walking just five.
This season, Uehara has had no problems duplicating his success. In 45 innings so far in 2011, he has shaved over a full run off of his ERA and actually increased his strikeout numbers (59 this year). In fairness, it hasn’t all been better – Uehara has walked eight batters so far this year.
It should come as no surprise then that Uehara is the subject of many a trade rumor with less than a week to go before the non-waiver deadline. According to Jeff Zrebeic of the Baltimore Sun, the Tigers are one of four clubs actively pursuing the Orioles hurler. The right hander is signed through this year, but has a clause in his contract that will trigger a $4 million option for next season with 14 more appearances. If he can produce the kind of numbers he has for the past two year, $4 million is a paltry sum. According to Fangraphs, a value of one WAR is “worth” roughly $5.5 million on the open market. Uehara registered 1.4 WAR last year and is already at 1.0 this season.
While Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski remains publicly committed to finding a starting pitcher on the trade market, acquiring a guy like Uehara would clearly be an upgrade to a suspect middle-relief corps in Detroit. The Tigers are adding rookie Chance Ruffin to the club today, but he’s just another in a growing list of untested right handers that have had their auditions with the Tigers this year. Maybe Ruffin will hold down the fort, maybe not, but Uehara’s addition would certainly still be a clear upgrade.
It’s no secret that the Orioles are going nowhere and Uehara is not the only arm they’re shopping. The Tigers have also been linked to starter Jeremy Guthrie, who is leading the AL in losses, but doing so with a slightly-higher-than-average ERA of 4.33. Guthrie has received the third-lowest run support in the AL this year.
I’m not enamored with the idea of dealing for Guthrie, but Uehara would be a tremendous addition. If they could pull a package from Baltimore that includes both right handers, however, Dombrowski’s work at this deadline could be finished up with one tidy move. Baltimore is said to be seeking a “major-league-ready” arm for Guthrie and have scouted left handers Andy Oliver and Charlie Furbush.
It is believed that the Tigers could land Guthrie for one of those two pieces. If they want to add Uehara as well, it would likely cost them a package that included one or the other, plus an additional piece such as (and I’m speculating here) Lester Oliveros or Brayan Villarreal, or possibly both Oliver and Furbush.