Detroit Tigers Acquire Justin Wilson


Despite an already-busy offseason, the Detroit Tigers were obviously not finished upgrading the team’s bullpen. General manager Al Avila acquired setup-reliever Justin Wilson from the New York Yankees for pitching prospects Luis Cessa and Chad Green. The Tigers recently announced the move on Twitter.

Wilson is the third significant reliever to join Detroit’s relief corps in the last few weeks. Avila had already signed Mark Lowe and traded for Francisco Rodriguez.

Now with the former Yankee on the roster, Avila and Brad Ausmus can feel significantly more confident in a bullpen that was a perpetual problem area. The new trio of late-inning relievers join a revamped ‘pen that includes incumbent stalwarts Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy as well as promising young pitchers like Drew VerHagen and Bruce Rondon.

There’s certainly a lot to like about the Wilson acquisition.

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The reliever was drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He reached the big leagues in 2012 and has been a dependable and effective set up man ever since.

In 199.1 innings, Wilson owns a sparkling 3.03 ERA and an equally outstanding 3.22 FIP. During those innings, the former Pirate and Yankee has done a solid job of racking up the strikeouts. Over his career, Wilson has struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings. However, since the beginning of 2014, the pitcher has averaged 9.4 strike outs per nine innings.

Justin Wilson was particularly dominant as a member of the Yankees’ bullpen during the 2015 season. He held right-handed hitters to a paltry .216 batting average and a .593 OPS. Lefties didn’t fare much better, hitting only .236 with a .621 OPS. What was also impressive about Wilson’s numbers last season was his similar effectiveness at home and on the road. Some relievers can struggle on the road and are only really dependable at home, or vice-versa. This was not the case for the then-Yankee. Wilson held batters to a .603 OPS at home and a .602 OPS on the road.

In order to acquire the reliever, Avila dealt minor-league prospects Luis Cessa and Chad Green. Both pitchers, Cessa and Green seemed somewhat expendable to the Tigers.

The 23-year-old Cessa and 24-year-old Green are both blocked on the organizational depth chart by a number of pitchers. The Tigers’ rotation is already complete with Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann headlining a group that also includes Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey and Daniel Norris. What’s more, ranked Michael Fulmer, Beau Burrows and Spencer Turnbull ahead of the trio in terms of prospects. That isn’t even considering Detroit’s glut of other young arms like Shane Greene, Kyle Lobstein and Matt Boyd. Needless to say, the Tigers have accumulated a significant amount of starting pitching depth. 

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Want another reason to love the trade? Ok, you’ve got one: Wilson’s contract is the definition of team friendly. The pitcher is extremely inexpensive relative to his ability and track record. projected a $1.3 million salary for the reliever in 2016. Wilson isn’t even free agent eligible until 2019.

In essence, Avila and the Detroit Tigers acquired a standout and controllable reliever for two minor-league pitchers buried on the organizational depth chart.