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5 Affordable Relievers to Bolster Detroit’s Bullpen


There seems to be a lot of displeasure with a byproduct of the Doug Fister trade that moved Drew Smyly from his pivotal spot in the bullpen to the starting rotation. Why take away a pillar of strength from an already shaky bullpen? However, as we are wont to forget, it’s still very early in the offseason. Like, pre-Winter Meetings-early. By panicking now about the state of the bullpen we’re giving in to fear and not realizing that the free agent market is inundated with intriguing quality arms, and a lot of these players can be acquired with a partial discount due to age or injury. First, let’s consider what the current state of the Tigers’ bullpen is:

Closer – Joe Nathan

Setup – Bruce Rondon

Phil Coke

Ian Krol

Al Alburquerque

Luke Putkonen

Evan Reed

I can’t speak for anyone else, but outside of Rondon and Nathan I’m not too keen on the rest of these guys.

One of the nice things about the Tigers bringing more relievers to Detroit is that Comerica Park still works as a pitcher’s park,with its abundant outfield and quality foul territory; this just means that pitchers coming from other larger ball parks won’t experience a dramatic decrease in their home numbers (at least in theory). The Tigers also have a MUCH improved defense, and remain a World Series favorite, so really, what player wouldn’t want to come over here with a legitimate shot at a title? Here are five relievers I’d love to see the Tigers take a chance on this offseason, in no particular order*:

Jun 17, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Jesse Crain (26) pitches against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

1)      Jesse Crain – At one point last season he seemed like he was going to be traded to a contender and finalize every win with a bullet; Crain was revelatory, with an 11.29 K/9, a 2.7 BB%, a 0.74 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and a 2.74 xFIP. He was worth nearly 2 wins, and he was as dominant as nearly any other reliever in the game. And then? A shoulder strain derailed his season. His potential was so enticing, however, that the Tampa Bay Rays acquired him just in case he got over the injury in time for the postseason. In short, since he signed with the White Sox in 2011, he’s been getting better every year.

Detroit Contract Proposal: Since he’s coming off what seemed like a pretty serious injury, teams will be low-balling him, and for probably a one-year deal. I think he can be acquired by the Tigers for either a 1-year, $4-million contract, or if DD is feeling squirrelly he can offer a 2-year, $8 million contract with an option for a third year – I doubt any other team can match that.

2)      Pat Neshek – First, the intangibles: Neshek is an affable guy and a teammate everyone loved. He’s a baseball enthusiast and collector who has overcome personal tragedy when he and his wife lost their newborn son. That being said, he possesses a goofy sidearm deliver that can destroy right-handed batters: last season righties hit .217 against him, and for his career they’ve only hit .144 with a wOBA of .254. He also does better in high leverage situations (.253 wOBA, 11.53 K/9) than he does in low or medium level, and by a pretty good margin. He elected for free agency this year instead of returning to the Oakland A’s, and his most recent deal (with Oakland) saw him earn $975,000. 

Detroit Contract Proposal: This guy is sneaky good, and he doesn’t seem to get the attention he deserves. I think he could be acquired for a 2-year, $3 million dollar deal. Having that security at the Tigers’ disposal, especially in high-leverage situations, would be nearly invaluable.

3)      Oliver Perez – Chris Hannum has talked about him before, but it’s definitely worth revisiting: It’s humorous how the stigma on this guy just seems to linger. He’s a burned-out power starter who failed miserably in New York and Washington. However, he has rebuilt himself in Seattle as a very effective relief pitcher. Last year he not only held lefties in check (which he has done quite consistently over the course of his tumultuous career), but he also kept righties down to a .254 average. His velocity has been trending back up (though he’s only in the low-to-mid-90s), and he’s a fly-ball pitcher. Basically, he’s an ideal LOOGY, if not more.

Detroit Contract Proposal: The perception of him still being a train-wreck persists, and that sort of neglect could lead right to Detroit’s doorstep. He is coming off a stint with the Mariners that saw him earn $ 1.5 million, and he averaged .65 WAR in his two seasons with Seattle. Essentially, for the ability to add maybe 1 win a year and with the skepticism of some GMs, a 1-2 year, $2 million-per contract wouldn’t be excessive.

4)      Ryan Madson – Reminiscent of Jesse Crain in that he’s coming off an injury and no one knows what to expect. The downside here is that his injury was far worse, required Tommy John surgery, and has dramatically affected him the last two seasons. Before that? He was a tremendous reliever that excelled as the Phillies’ closer in his season in the role. Madson is exactly the type of pitcher the Rays would target, and therefore should be the type that Dombrowski tries to wrangle: has a history of dominance and is looking to prove himself.

Detroit Contract Proposal: Strictly a 1-year deal. He’s an enormous risk/reward pitcher, with his potential being off the charts, but his arm being a glowing red goal light. His last deal was $8.5 million, but he can probably be had for much, much less. This is, again, strictly an audition contract with a shot at a World Series thrown in.

5)      Kyle McPherson – Another Tommy John recoveree, McPherson is the youngest guy on this list at 26. In February 2013 Fangraphs had this to say about him:

"His 93 mph fastball would likely play up even more in the pen and he has shown excellent control at all levels of the minors. He has enough real-life upside that he should go back to the minors if he doesn’t crack the starting five but don’t be afraid to pounce in deep leagues or dynasties if that plan changes."

His minor league numbers back all that up, as he posted a great K/BB ratio, in addition to a high K/9. He was briefly called up to the Pirates in 2012 and performed well: 7.18 K/9, 2.39 BB/9, 2.73 ERA. For McPherson, a converted starter, I really think he could thrive in a bullpen role, similar to how Drew Smyly did. This is conjecture on my part, but I like this guy’s peripherals and think he could be a good investment.

Detroit Contract Proposal: Being a no-name guy coming off major surgery could really work to Detroit’s benefit, as they could probably have him on a minor-league deal. This is a player that could pay big dividends now and in the future with a low monetary commitment.

*I would love to see the Tigers try and sign former Yankee lefty Boone Logan, but he just feels like a reliever that is going to awkwardly break the bank this offseason.