Analyzing The Relief Pitcher Market


The Tigers of course aren’t in the market for a closer, having Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit is enough to give most organizations a little piece of mind when it comes to the end of the games. The 6th and 7th innings are a little bit of a question mark for the Tigers at this point. Can Daniel Schlereth or Ryan Perry step up and do the job? Is Al Alburquerque‘s health going to hold up? Who is the real David Pauley? Given the question marks, the Tigers could stand to go out and get a guy to help out in the later innings, especially when Benoit and Valverde have pitched a couple days in a row. So, preferably a right-hander.

The first big domino of the free agent relief market dropped on Friday when the Philadelphia Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a 4 year 50M dollar contract. There are a couple of other big time closers out on the market as well that won’t involve the Tigers either. Guys like Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell, and even Ryan Madson are going to be looking for closing opportunities.

So, who would fit the bill for the Tigers?

Well, first I would like to divide the options into two categories. The first would be guys that probably are at least set up men normally, but could be persuaded to share in that role and pitched in the 7th most times. The second option would be guys that the Tigers try and get on a one year deal, who might have something to prove for the following season.

The first group:

Frank Francisco– Francisco spent some time as the Blue Jays closer in 2011, and struggled here and there. He has really good stuff, and although he and his agent are undoubtedly going to be looking for closing duties and money, he may find there isn’t a market for him in that regard. Francisco finished 2011 with a respectable 3.55 ERA, but what I like most is for a power pitcher, Francisco shows pretty good control, and a strong K/BB rate of over 3/1 for the last 4 seasons.

Joe Nathan– Nathan of course should be well known to Tigers fans as a Minnesota Twin for most of his career. Injury relegated Nathan to relative ineffectiveness in 2011, and has made him available in the open market. Nathan struggled to the tune of an ERA of 4.84 last season, and for a guy that has spent most of his career 2 to 3 runs less than that, it was a drastic difference. There is some potential for bounce back here, as his 2nd half was much better than his first, and Nathan may be looking for a one year deal to prove himself before looking to cash in one more time at the end of his career. It may be a motivator to stick it to the Twins as well for not sticking with him.

Juan Cruz– Cruz was at one time a potential target of the Tigers a few years ago. Always thought of as having tremendous stuff and not quite living up to his potential, he had a solid year for the Rays in 2011, finishing with an ERA of 3.88. He still has potential to do better, however, walks are an issue with Cruz, and he ultimately could be as frustrating as Ryan Perry.

Todd Coffey– Our own Mickey Brignall has already done an article on Coffey, and I have to agree with him that Coffey would be a good option, if not under the radar. Coffey had a strong 2011, finishing with an ERA of 3.62, but unlike Cruz, doesn’t walk that many guys with just 3/9, and has a strong K rate. Coffey has been a pretty strong ground ball pitcher throughout his career, which may be just as important as anything with a 7th inning guy.

Joel Peralta– The 2nd Tampa Ray on this list, the Tigers should consider Peralta heavily if shopping for a 7th inning addition to their roster. Peralta had a real good season in his return to the American League after spending 2010 with the Washington Nationals. Peralta’s ERA for the Rays was a paltry 2.93, while sporting an excellent K/BB rate of more than 3/1 at 3.39. He doesn’t generate ground balls, but that wouldn’t be a problem in Comerica. The main thing is his WHIP was below 1 last season. Peralta is tough to hit, and he doesn’t hurt himself. Sounds like a good option should the Tigers throw some money his way.

The Second Group (Injury bounce back):

Basically I am only putting two guys in this group, not because there isn’t more, but these two guys in particular have a chance to be real effective, and I am sure they would want to prove they could still close for a team. It would be doubtful someone gives them a shot right away, so proving themselves on a one year deal may be the route they go.

Jonathan Broxton– Broxton has been a very successful closer at times for the Dodgers in the National League but has stumbled a little bit the last two years. We can pretty much wipe out his 2011, as it appears he was pitching with injury, and only got 12 innings under his belt. For the most part over his career, he has used filthy stuff to strike out a bunch of batters, save a bunch of games, and in general dominate for a stretch of four years. He would definitely be worth the flyer if you can get him on a one year deal where he wants to show he can still pitch and play with a winner. Not to mention his mid to upper 90’s fastball fits the mold of what David Dombrowski just seems to love.

David Aardsma– Aardsma is even more of a gamble, considering he had Tommy John over the summer, and didn’t pitch at all in 2011. I would think he wouldn’t be too expensive on a one year deal to acquire. He also didn’t have the same kind of stuff that a guy like Broxton has, but his last two years in the American League were quite successful. While Aardsma does struggle with his control, he doesn’t allow too many hits, giving up only around 6/9 over 2009-10. His K rate over those two year was around 9.5/9 as well. This would definitely be a gamble, but it is one that could pay off quite well.

I am not sure I expect the Tigers to pick up any of the guys listed, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do something with the bullpen, even if it is including some of them in deals to get players for other positions. It seems to me the Tigers have a little bit of a logjam, and they need someone to stand out from the pack. I’m not sure that guy is on the current roster, at least for the 7th inning.