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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.