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Detroit Tigers: Should Junichi Tazawa get a chance?

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MIAMI, FL - MAY 12: Junichi Tazawa #25 of the Miami Marlins pitches in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park on May 12, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - MAY 12: Junichi Tazawa #25 of the Miami Marlins pitches in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park on May 12, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /
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The Detroit Tigers added recently released veteran right-hander Junichi Tazawa on a minor league deal. Should he get a chance over Detroit’s other Triple-A arms?

The Detroit Tigers bullpen woes have continued, as the team’s 4.66 ERA out of the pen currently ranks 25th in the league. While Joe Jimenez has looked solid and Shane Greene has held his own, the rest of the arms have struggled to keep runs off the board.

The team has tried to curb their issues by constantly interchanging guys between Triple-A and Toledo, trying to find the combination that works. They’ve also closely monitored the open market for new relievers, although they’ve passed up on some intriguing options.

The team did just make an addition however, signing soon to be 32-year-old Junichi Tazawa to a minor league contract. He will report to Triple-A Toledo.

Tazawa was quietly an excellent set-up man for the Red Sox from 2012-2014, sporting a 2.62 ERA and a 9.3 K/9 across 175 1/3 innings. He had two more so-so years in Boston before signing an ill-fated two-year, $12 million dollar contract with the Marlins before the 2017 season.

Tazawa’s strikeout numbers plummeted in his first year in Miami, where he posted a 6.2 K/9 along with an ugly 5.69 ERA. He surrendered eight home runs in just 55.1 innings, and posted a career high 3.6 BB/9.

Through just 20 innings in 2018, things have gotten even worse. Tazawa’s strikeouts are back, with a 10.8 K/9 on the year. However, he’s already surrendered six home runs, 28 hits and 13 walks. That has lead to a paltry 2.05 WHIP. His 9.00 ERA is terrible, and his peripherals don’t give him much help. He has a 6.56 FIP and a 5.10 xFIP, which indicate that his pitching has been nothing short of terrible.

Why the Tigers?

So if he’s been that bad, why did Detroit sign him in the first place? Well for starters, he’s effectively free. Although the Marlins owe him roughly $7 million dollars this year, the Tigers will only have to pay him the prorated portion of the league minimum, for however long he is on the big league roster. So if he stays in Triple-A, he doesn’t cost a dime. If he plays a handful of games with the Tigers and gets cut again or sent back down, they only have to pay him pennies.

Additionally, there’s always a chance that a change of scenery helps the veteran return to form. He’s about to be 32, which isn’t young but doesn’t mean that he’s completely washed up. Betting on him returning to his 2012-2014 self would be silly, but all he has to do to make Detroit’s bullpen is be better than the likes of Warwick Saupold, Johnny Barbato and Buck Farmer. That still may not happen, but it’s worth the completely risk-free gamble to see if it might.

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The bullpen has once again been the Detroit Tigers weakest link this season. Adding a veteran like Tazawa at no-cost is a low-risk, medium-reward venture. He may never pitch for the Tigers. Or, he will and it might go badly. However, it’s worth taking the risk, especially in a rebuilding season.

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