Forget Infield, Relief Help is the Biggest Need

The majority of talk regarding potential free agents for the Detroit Tigers has focused on third base and second base.  The likely departure of Ramon Santiago and the apparent demise of Brandon Inge have rightfully shifted perceived need to those two positions.

While the two spots remain weaknesses, particularly in the lineup, they are far from the biggest need.  Simply look at the ALCS to realize that the biggest need is in the bullpen.  In the ALCS, the Detroit Tigers relievers allowed 18 runs (17 earned) in 21.1 innings for a 7.2 ERA.   If you take out Benoit’s fine ALCS performance (1 ER in 7.1 innings) that ERA balloons 10.6.  Conversely, the Rangers allowed 4 runs in 27.1 innings of relief against the Tigers…series over.  Benoit and Jose Valverde, despite his rough ALCS, are fine in the bullpen.  The rest of the bullpen spots are filled with enormous question marks.  A quick look at John Verburg’s relief pitcher free agent primer, shows that the talent available in the reliever free agent market vastly outweighs the talent in the organization and is definitely more saturated than the infield free agents.  With two of the top free agent second basemen off the market (Aaron Hill and Jamey Carroll) would the Tigers honestly be any worse off with Ryan Raburn and his concrete glove manning second base over the minus defending, free swinging Kelly Johnson?

Third base has a little more quality in the free agent market, but not too much.  The Cubs Armanis Ramirez may be the best free agent third baseman available, but he’ll come at a price, likely in the $10-12 million a year range.  Seeing that Joaquin Benoit ended up being a savior in the Tigers’ bullpen, and he cost $5.5 million a year, it’s hard to argue that spending that $12 million on a couple of moderately priced relievers and a backup catchers wouldn’t be a much better investment than a good hitting, but iffy defensive, third baseman.

The final and most compelling argument to shore up the bullpen before touching the infield is that the Tigers ranked 4th in MLB in runs last year even with their platoon situations at third and second.  Their bullpen ranked 25th in ERA.  Every team has lineup holes, even the very best, and the Tigers have strengthened their lineup significantly overall.  Ryan Raburn batting 8th or 9th looks like Babe Ruth when you hearken to the days of Adam Everitt and Gerald Laird shoring up the bottom of the Tigers lineup.  While Raburn has won games with his bat, how comfortable did you ever feel with Daniel Schlereth, Ryan Perry or Phil Coke entering the game with men in scoring position?  Probably about as comfortable as the head of the Marlins’ merchandising department.

While third and second base are a better talk show topic, the Tigers already strong lineup, serious need in the bullpen and the lack of quality free agent infielders should make the bullpen the team’s no doubt, number one priority heading into free agency and the winter meetings.

Topics: Brandon Inge, Daniel Schlereth, Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers, Jim Leyland, Joaquin Benoit, Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Ryan Perry

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  • JAYRC_MCB

    I agree to an extent. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if they simply brought Betemit back to platoon and/or filled second base internally. They score enough runs.
    The need to tighten up the bullpen and find a quality fifth starter so Turner can spend time in Toledo is far more important.

    • detsportsczar

      @JAYRC_MCB

      They relied on too many young guys who were erratic (Alburquerque, Schlereth, Perry). Picking up one more dependable reliever would be a good start. I wouldn’t mind giving Below a crack at the 5th spot if they can’t find an option better than Penny was.

      • JAYRC_MCB

        @detsportsczar I think Below is definitely more of a solid option for long relief. Unless the Tigers plan on rushing Turner they MUST sign or trade an inning eater for the fifth spot.

  • funkytime

    Part of the reason the pitching ERA was so bad though is the defense. Raburn (at 2nd), Magglio, and Delmon Young didn’t do them any favors.

    Get a good left fielder and a solid 2nd baseman and watch as our bullpen’s ERA magically improves.

    • detsportsczar

      @funkytime

      Sure, defense to an extent…however the starters weren’t nearly as bad (16th). I think it’s more talent of the relievers, less the defense. For instance, the 28th ranked walk to strikeout ratio for their relievers has nothing to do with defense. Getting Benoit was a good start, now work on the rest of the bullpen.

      • funkytime

        @detsportsczar

        The starters are a really talented group, though. The fact that they’re 16th in ERA kind of proves my point that defense may be the biggest culprit here.

        I think Valverde, Benoit, Al Al, Coke, Schlereth, and Perry all have plenty of talent and deserve spots in the bullpen. I do think we should try and get a good, proven guy for that 7th spot. But I don’t think the whole pen needs to be blown up.

        One really dependable guy that we can rely on to pitch the 7th could turn the whole bullpen around. As long as they get solid fielding behind them, that is.