For the Detroit Tigers bullpen, the 2014 season is one that could be erased from existence. Collectively, the Detroit pen finished 27th in the majors in ERA and 29th in WHIP.
A major reliever upheaval is needed in the Motor City; and with multiple enticing names on the market, the answer(s) to the Tigers bullpen problems lie within the free agent market. With a cluster of relievers, arms are abundant in this years free agent class, meaning now is the time to acquire some bullpen help. Here are four names that the Tigers should consider this offseason…
Andrew Miller, LHP
Oct 15, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Andrew Miller throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the 7th inning in game four of the 2014 ALCS playoff baseball game at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
The time is right for Andrew’s Miller return to Detroit. If you recall, Miller was once a highly touted prospect in the Tigers organization. After being drafted 6th overall in the 2006 draft by Detroit, Miller was shipped off to the Florida Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera trade. In the past couple seasons, the left-hander has completely reinvented himself, becoming one of the more reliable relievers in the game.
During the 2013 season, Miller appeared in 30.2 innings, racking up a 2.64 ERA with 48 strikeouts. The 13′ season was a gigantic step up from his previous seasons, and in 2014 he only got better. Splitting the season between the Orioles and Red Sox, Miller posted a career low 2.02 ERA in 62.1 innings. In those innings, Miller struck out a mind-blowing 103 batters.
The Tigers should most certainly pursue Miller; matter of fact, they nearly acquired him at the trade deadline. He’s the best name on the market and would bring so much to the bullpen (or as I like to call it, “the circus”). He’s only 29 years old and incredibly versatile as he can appear in long relief, set up, or get a quick out. But, since he’s so sought after, his price tag will certainly be steeper than the other pitchers on this list.
James Schmehl of MLive had this to say in regard’s of Miller’s cost:
"Miller’s projected to receive a multi-year deal, one that could pay him upwards of $25 million over three years. He’s expressed interest in returning to the Boston, but is likely seeking a closer-type deal and could simply go to the highest bidder."
Having said that, the Tigers may be long shots, considering their faith in closer Joe Nathan. But, stranger things have happened.
Pat Neshek, RHP
Sep 2, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Pat Neshek (37) throws to a Pittsburgh Pirates batter during the ninth inning at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Pirates 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Neshek, 34, is a name Tigers fans should be familiar with considering the veteran reliever pitched for the Minnesota Twins from 2006-2010. Neshek has had an overall decent career as a relief pitcher with a career 2.78 ERA. But for much of his career, Neshek has had a tough time establishing himself as a reliable relief pitcher; having been designated for assignment by both the San Diego Padres and the Oakland Athletics since 2011.
Fast forward to the 2014 season, Neshek’s breakout year. Having been signed to a minor league contract by the St. Louis Cardinals, the right-hander completely reworked multiple pitches. To say the least, Neshek dominated batters this past season, compiling a 1.87 ERA over 71 games played. And out of 255 batters faced, the veteran only issued 9 walks.
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He was also selected to his first All Star Game, making him only the 15th non-starter or non-closer to be selected in the past 10 years.
Neshek, despite his up and down career, is finally making name himself. It just so happens that the Tigers are in need of a long reliever, and Neshek is their man. But, much like Andrew Miller, Neshek and his funky delivery are I for a big paycheck. If Detroit wants to fill one of the gaping holes in their roster, sign Neshek and acquire that long relief arm that is so badly needed.
Zach Duke, LHP
Aug 20, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Zach Duke (59) during the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Another down-on-his-luck veteran who is now one of the must-haves on the market, Zach Duke put together a dominant 2014. As a vital piece to the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen, left-handed batters hit .198 against Duke. His 5-1 record and 2.45 ERA is more than enough to attract interested teams. Let’s not forget the fact that he struck out 74 batters in 58.2 innings of work.
According to Matthew Smith of Bleacher Report…
"“From 2005 through 2013, Duke compiled a 4.57 ERA…he set himself up for a multiyear contract after signing a minor league deal with the Brewers back in January. The deal will be limited to a degree since he doesn’t have the track record of a guy like Andrew Miller, but he will still earn a substantial raise.”"
A smaller contract would be a nice change of pace for the Tigers, and it is ideal as it frees up room for more bullpen arms. A solid lefty specialist, Duke has shown that he is more than capable of a relief role. And with the possible departure of Phil Coke and the uncertainty of Ian Krol’s future, the time for Zach Duke to sport the English D is now.
Luke Gregerson, RHP
September 6, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics relief pitcher Luke Gregerson (44) delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during the ninth inning at O.co Coliseum. The Athletics defeated the Astros 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The 30 year old Gregerson was a staple in the San Diego Padres bullpen from 2009 to 2012; in 2012 he set the record for holds in season with 40 (it was broken by Joel Peralta in 2013, but still cool). The hard throwing righty was traded to the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Seth Smith prior to the 2014 season. Gregerson continued his dominance as he posted a career low 2.12 ERA with the A’s in 2014.
He doesn’t strike out as many batters as other free agents, only striking out 59 in 72.1 innings pitched. But, the batting average against him is extremely low as batters squeaked by him in th first half of the season with a .229 BA. In the 2nd half, hitters compiled a .202 BAA. It’s also worth noting that he ranked 10th in games pitched this year in the AL.
Considered one of the top set up man in the game, Gregerson would be quite an upgrade over Joba Chamberlain. He brings experience and consistency, and will be a much better bang-for-your-buck than Joakim Soria, whose 7 million dollar option is up in the air for the Tigers. Detroit’s been linked to him in the past, but now they need him more than ever.
It would be within the best interests of the Tigers organization to go after one of these relievers; but for now, all we can do is play the waiting game.