Tigers Potential Free Agent Target: Octavio Dotel

Monday night, Jon Paul Morosi reported that the Detroit Tigers are among the teams who have inquired about veteran right-hander and free agent reliever Octavio Dotel. Morosi also named the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds as possible suitors for the ex-closer.

Dotel is no stranger to free agency–or really, to any type of baseball transaction. By the end of the 2005 season, which he played at age 31, he had already been traded twice–first by the New York Mets, who originally signed him as an amateur free agent in 1993, to the Houston Astros, who, after four and a half seasons, moved him to the Oakland Athletics. After the 2005 season, which, for Dotel, ended in May due to an elbow injury which eventually required reconstructive surgery, he became a free agent. Since then, he’s signed deals with all of the New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Toronto Blue Jays. As if that wasn’t enough movement, he was also traded four times in between–from Kansas City to the Atlanta Braves, from Pittsburgh to the Los Angeles Dodgers, from the Dodgers to the Colorado Rockies, and from Toronto to St. Louis.

Some near-sabermetric-level counting reveals that Dotel has thrown for a dozen major league teams in total. In baseball history, only Matt Stairs, Ron Villone, and Mike Morgan have played for as many different franchises–they all share the record. There’s a good chance that Dotel will find his 13th different club in the next few weeks and have that record all to himself. Basically, to use a cliché almost as worn as Dan Horwitz, Dotel’s agent, if you look up the term “journeyman” in a baseball glossary, there’s a picture of Octavio Dotel. The four and a half seasons he pitched in Houston are the most he has ever spent in one place.

This for a guy with a 3.74 career ERA who has almost always had success when healthy? It’s a wonder to me that Dotel has never found a long-term home. Now aged to 38, almost all hope for that is gone. He’s still going strong, however, and could be a great fit for a seventh-inning role. That seems to make him a fit for the Tigers, who could be the latest team to temporarily patch a hole in their bullpen by obtaining Dotel.

The back end of Jim Leyland’s bullpen is mostly set for next year, with Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit ingrained in the closer and set-up roles respectively. Beyond that though, the Tigers’ relief corp has some holes. Specifically, they need someone to pitch in the seventh inning. Barring significant advancement in the progress of Daniel Schlereth or Ryan Perry, I envision Phil Coke sharing that job with a right-handed specialist in 2012. The American League Championship Series brought to light a glaring need for another reliable, right-handed relief option. It became apparent during that series that Detroit had no righty relievers they could trust in the late innings beyond Valverde and Benoit–who were being overworked for that reason. The Texas Rangers had a talented group of right-handed sluggers, which rendered Coke and Schlereth almost completely useless. Dotel, who has held right-handed hitters to a .202 batting average for his career, would do much to fix that problem.

He features a medium-velocity fastball (91.5 MPH this year) with good downward movement that generates lots of swings and misses. He also utilizes a slider and a curve ball sparingly. His good sinking fastball has lended him to a career 10.9 K/9. His K/9 was still high this year at 10.3, a mark well above the major league average of 7.13. He does tend to walk a few more batters than is ideal (career BB/9 of four), but that trend was off this year, as he walked just 2.8 batters per nine innings, below the major league average of 3.11. His main issue is that he is prone to giving up the home run ball, but even his HR/9 was down to exactly one from 1.2 in his career.

The argument that he’s too old doesn’t seem to apply here, then, as his numbers are actually getting better. He had an absolutely brilliant 1.57 FIP in 29 regular season appearances after being traded to the Cardinals in July. He was key in their run to the World Series, posting a 1.57 ERA and holding batters to a .139 average in 12 postseason appearances.

St. Louis declined his $3.5 million option for 2012, which would have paid him the same amount of money as he made this year. Jon Heyman projected a one-year deal for $4 million for Dotel. That kind of figure doesn’t seem too steep when you consider the durability and stability Dotel has maintained despite the turbulent path his career has followed, and that he would eliminate quite a bit of pressure from Schlereth, Perry, Al Alburquerque, and others in the Tigers’ bullpen. Also, note that under the new CBA, signing Dotel would not cost Detroit a draft pick. If he signs with anyone besides St. Louis, his most recent home, the Cardinals will receive a supplemental pick.

I wouldn’t be opposed to Detroit signing Dotel by any stretch. I think he could prove to be a very smart acquisition, as long as Leyland doesn’t ask him to intentionally walk anyone.

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Tags: Al Alburquerque Daniel Schlereth Joaquin Benoit Jose Valverde Octavio Dotel Phil Coke Ryan Perry


    If it’s a one year deal for $4MM than I’m fine with it. He wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice BUT the Tigers need a solid seventh inning option. I like Coke and Alburquerque BUT we need depth. Perry and Schlereth have about worn out their welcome imo.

  • valordesign

    I’m not entirely sold on the need for a free agent in the bullpen, I think the problem is how the team uses the bullpen. Leyland, as much as I hear him criticized for the way he manages the lineup and utilizes utility players. I think that is his strong suit, and he was vindicated in the playoffs when alot of those utility players came through with some of the biggest hits of the post season.

    However, I really don’t like the way Leyland manages the bullpen. He doesn’t seem to utilize relief pitchers to their strength and he puts way too much faith in familiar faces. Pauley is a great example of someone that is completely being utilized in the wrong way. In Seattle, Pauley had an excellent ERA of around 2.5, he was used in long relief situations, and it allowed him to settle in and get some of his breaking pitches hitting their marks. In Detroit he is brought in as more of a specialist and face a single batter then yanked. His ERA has skyrocketed to around 5 while in Detroit. I can imagine this new situation he was thrown into completely interrupted his rhythm and probably took a toll on his confidence as well.

    Leyland also shot himself in the foot with the bullpen he took with him into the playoffs. Perry, Shlereth and especially Penny should have been nowhere near the playoffs. Perry, had been completely inconsistant all year, I started losing track of how many times that hanging slider found the middle of the plate and landed 10 rows back in the bleachers. Schlereth, I have absolutely no faith in, and bringing Penny in as relief was every bit as cringe worthy as I expected it would be. I think one relief pitcher that is easily overlooked that I thought would have been a great addition to the post season was Luis Marte. Sure he was a rookie, had great off speed stuff including a beautiful little curveball. In his limited time I didn’t see any hitters really making solid contact, the lack of exposure from other teams would have been a huge plus in the offseason. He is someone that I see as an unexpected boost for next season. Below, is another pitcher that should’ve seen post season action.

    Overall, I think the bullpen isn’t quite as pressing as 2nd base, or perhaps picking up a 5th starter to compete with the up and coming prospects. If the pen is used to its full potential, I think it is one of the best in the league, but of course it never hurts to add more pitching depth. Again, I like the way Leyland manages his position players, if only he could manage his pen like his buddy La Russa did, you would have saw them facing off in the fall classic.

    • ChrisHannum

      @valordesign It’s easy to say, in retrospect, that since Schlereth and Perry failed (as did Al Alburquerque) in the postseason that Marte and Below should have been on the roster instead – but there are good reasons that the wouldn’t have been. Below and Marte could have been as bad or worse, we’ll never know. Right or wrong, Leyland evidently worries a great deal about using rookies in situations that tense. Perry and Schlereth are both high-ceiling relievers with several seasons and some success under their belts. They’re also both inconsistent as far as control goes and have really awful splits. As for Penny, he was kept on the roster for a situation that never actually arose – the early implosion of a starter.

      • ChrisHannum

        @valordesign I should add: I’d be in favor of signing Dotel, or Coffey, or any other decent righty to do what Perry has been failing to do.

      • valordesign

        @ChrisHannum I know it is, but those were my views going into the post season. I feel like relievers are the unsung hero (or goat for that matter) of the post season. I always have a problem with the view that players with inexperience in the post season will fold under pressure, I can look back the last couple years and see some of the biggest performances were from players with little to no post season experience, Giants pitching staff comes to mind, and this years NLCS and World Series MVP David Freese, among many others. It has more to do with how your performing around the time entering the post season. And Perry, Schlereth and Penny were all giving up hits in key situations or just straight out getting rocked heading finishing the season. Every manager has flaws, and I think Leyland can be too much of a player’s manager and sometimes be too loyal to players that have been with the team longer even at the cost of the teams potential. I still think hes overall a great manager though.