As of right now, the Tigers bullpen is made up of Al Albuquerque, Jose Alvarez, Phil Coke, Darin Downs, Jose Ortega, Luke Putkonen, Evan Reed, Bruce Rondon, and Drew Smyly. Two of these pitchers in Alvarez and Smyly are starters first, and Smyly is going to be a rotational guy in the very near future, either with the Tigers, or possibly for another team if the Tigers trade him this offseason.
This group of relievers only strikes fear into Tigers fans. This will (and better) not be the group of relievers who start the season as the bullpen in 2014. Unless the Tigers are confident that Rondon can handle the closing job, the Tigers are without a closer at the present time as they let Joaquin Benoit walk away from the club after the 2013 season. The Tigers definitely need late inning help and possibly a closer for 2014. Here are a few late inning right handed options for the Tigers that are currently out in free agency.
Joe Nathan – Nathan has only pitched more games against the Kansas City Royals (66) than the Detroit Tigers (61) in his career. In those 61 games, Nathan has an ERA of 1.44, a WHIP of 0.89, and a BAA of .151 while compiling 36 saves. MLB Trade Rumors reports that Nathan is seeking about a 2-year $26 million deal and report that the Tigers are the leading candidate to land Nathan after he left the Texas Rangers. The New York Yankees, and the Los Angeles Angels are other leading candidates for Nathan. Nathan would close all discussions on the closers role and really sure up the back end of that Tigers bullpen. Could the Tigers see a Torii Hunter 2.0 case here where the guy who has killed the Tigers for so long make the jump and try to push this team over the edge and into a World Series title?
Joaquin Benoit – Benoit worked in Detroit and he had a great 2013. Benoit proved himself the team’s proven closer earlier this season as he compiled 24 saves in about half of the season. He pitched in 66 games with a 2.01 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. MLB Trade Rumors report that the Chicago Cubs, Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Colorado Rockies are also in the mix for Benoit, according to MLB Trade Rumors. Benoit will probably be seeing around $8-10 million per year for 2 or 3 seasons or more depending on how much other closers like Nathan and Balfour are paid this offseason.
Joe Smith – Smith would not become the closer for the Tigers like the previous three candidates, but the Tigers could really use Smith as a late innings man for the 7th and 8th innings. While in Cleveland last season, Smith pitched in 70 games with a 2.29 ERA and a WHIP of 1.222 which would be a welcome addition to the Tigers bullpen. He is a side-arming right hander who in his career has limited RHB to a .218/.298/.307 split. Smith could replace the hole left by Octavio Dotel and Jose Veras as a late innings RHP who could be used to also limit Bruce Rondon’s innings as he is still trying to prove that he can last a full season without an injury.
Jesse Crain – Crain’s first half performance for the Chicago White Sox earned him an all-star bid, but did not pitch after suffering a shoulder injury at the end of June. For this reason, Crain is a high risk, high reward pitcher out on the market. Over Crain’s last 3 seasons, he has not had an ERA over 2.62 and that ERA has steadily decreased since 2009. Crain’s durability could be an issue because of that shoulder injury and his ability may be limited, but Crain should be on the market for cheap. The Tigers could float Crain a 1 or 2 year deal on the cheaper end and get a pitcher who was a great asset in the White Sox bullpen. Crain has not closed in his career, but could be used much like Smith if the Tigers signed him. His numbers are more balanced than Smith’s in the righty/lefty splits and are better overall.
Brian Wilson – Wilson came back late in the 2013 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and pitched in 18 games in the regular season with an ERA of 0.66 and a WHIP of 0.878. While with the San Francisco Giants, Wilson compiled seasons of 41, 38, 48, and 36 saves with an ERA that was as high as 4.62 in his 41 save season in 2008 and as low as 1.81 in 2010 when Wilson compiled 48 saves. Wilson could be used as a closer and a late innings right handed reliever. Wilson could be another pitcher that teams are not as sold on due to his Tommy John surgery and, at the right price, could fit into the Detroit bullpen.
Joel Hanrahan – Hanrahan is an interesting case as he had surgery to repair a flexor tendon in his pitching arm earlier in 2013. He does not really have a place in Boston, where he started the season as the closer before Koji Uehara took over that role, and Andrew Bailey is also going to be returning to that team in the back end of the bullpen. Hanrahan was a successful closer in Pittsburgh in 2011 and 2012 compiling 76 saves with ERA’s of 1.83 and 2.72 with WHIPs of 1.049 and 1.274. Hanrahan has experience pitching in the late innings and strikes out a lot of batters when right. Hanrahan could be another pitcher out on the market on a great value and the Tigers could make a move to pitch up a valuable right handed piece as the back end of the bullpen.