Tigers relief options dwindling

by billfer on January 8, 2009 · 38 comments

in 2009 Season,Free Agents,Pitching

As we move closer to spring training, the Tigers bullpen still remains highly questionable. This hasn’t bothered me for the most part due to the number of options on the market. And while still not bothered, I am growing more concerned as two more of those options are close to signing deals.

Trevor Hoffman doesn’t appear to be an option as he mulls over a one year offer from the Dodgers amidst reports that he is close to a deal with the Brewers.

Another intriguing possibility, Michigan native John Smoltz, is set to sign with the Red Sos for a $5.5 million base and incentives that could push the deal to $10 million.

I don’t know how excited I would be about either option, but knowing they were out there made me feel better about the Tigers situation. The market for relievers isn’t barren yet. Juan Cruz is in compensation pick purgatory and Brandon Lyon is still available. But the only Tigers rumor floating is that they will watch Chad Cordero throw, along with a third of the league. For a bullpen that has exactly one member who is both productive and not a huge injury risk (Bobby Seay), that doesn’t really instill the warm fuzzies.

 
 

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rings January 8, 2009 at 9:03 am

The lack of a signing doesn’t disappoint me nearly as much as the words “Rodney is our closer” frightens me…

Barry January 8, 2009 at 9:31 am

The big question is Cruz worth a second round? I would say yes because of the Tiger situation. The Tigers have some depth in the minors in their outfield, infield and relief pitching and they still have catching prospects. So two years from now they will be in good shape. So giving away a second pick is not as bad as it sounds.

Dave T. January 8, 2009 at 10:19 am

I think DD sees this year as a throw-away year. DD’s look at their bullpen options in the minors and say if they can do decent this year they will be very good next year. Plus they have a few contracts coming off the books next year. There really is not a magic option out there to rescue the Tigers

Jurgen January 8, 2009 at 10:47 am

Looking at ’09 as a “throw-away” for the Tigers would be a major mistake. They don’t have much MLB-ready talent in the high minors, and there figures not to be much in free agency in ’10.

Inge, Everett, Laird, a full season of Granderson (and a full season of Cabrera glued to the right side of the infield) should make the starters look a lot better.

I’d like to see a deal for Cruz, but if he’s looking for Fuentes type money, pass.

(I wonder if Edwin Jackson is to be part of the bullpen plan?)

Chris in Dallas January 8, 2009 at 10:54 am

I don’t think the Tigers should sign anyone that costs them a draft pick. One of Dombrowski’s strengths has been drafting well, so I’d like to see them have the maximum amount of picks available. The bullpen probably will sort itself out anyway. I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one member of the ’08 draft class make an impact there, and it’s entirely possible that some guys who underperformed or were injured will end up being effective. All in all, this team will only go as far as the starting pitching takes it anyway.

Lee Panas January 8, 2009 at 11:31 am

I am quite concerned about the Tigers bullpen. I’m surprised they have gone this far without signing anyone at all – not even a project. I still have the feeling they may sign Brandon Lyon. Just a hunch.

Chris in Dallas January 8, 2009 at 11:49 am

Lee: I’m “concerned” about the Tigers bullpen to the extent that it’s been a glaring weakness two years running. They can’t afford a third year like that. In the abstract, though, a bullpen is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – not knowing what you’re going to get and all of that. Look at Cleveland in ’07 vs. ’08 for a prime example. Same cast of characters, wildly different results. Relievers pitch a small sample of innings so there’s bound to be some fairly extreme swings in performance. That being said, I’m not exactly doing cartwheels over the prospects of Fernando Rodney, Closer. My hope is that someone under the radar can assert themselves a la Bobby Jenks, 2007 Manny Corpas, Joakim Soria etc.

Dre in Chicago January 8, 2009 at 11:59 am

i wouldn’t mind seeing Kenny pitch out of the pen, but odds are that probably the only way he’d accept would be the highest profile job – closer. sign him to a low-base, high-incentive contract and if it looks like he doesn’t have the arm in spring training…”thanks for your time, maybe you like to coach?”

Dave T,

i don’t think DD or the organization sees this as a throw away year, but its definitely a “do the best you can” year given what looks to be tighter financial restrictions than we initially thought. being fiscally responsible now is likely just as important to the team’s long-term success as drafting is.

looking at Billfer’s WAR analysis (which i agree isn’t overly-optimistic in nature) and the state of the AL-Central as it stands, the Tigers should realistically be in the mix. if they can avoid last year’s levels of injuries and positional instability, there’s some room to expect a competitive year.

Jurgen January 8, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Twinkie Town’s AL Central predictions have the Tigers with 3 more wins (or so) than Bilfer, and right in the hunt with the best defense and second best offense:

http://www.twinkietown.com/2009/1/8/713890/2009-al-central-win-projec

I kinda wish DD would get involved in the Derek Lowe talks. With Inge, Everett, and Polanco, a ground ball pitcher would look really spiffy in Detroit.

Mark in Chicago January 8, 2009 at 1:40 pm

They are either out of money, out of ideas, or both.

Tbone January 8, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Tiger baseball v.2009 is looking bleaker and bleaker…

Chris in Dallas January 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Tiger baseball v.2009 is looking bleaker and bleaker…

I don’t really buy that. I think enough guys on the roster are due for a bounce-back or breakout season (Verlander, Bonderman, Willis, Guillen, Cabrera etc.) that they can improve to the 85 win range, which should keep them in the hunt in this division.

Dre in Chicago January 8, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Tbone,

the core of last year’s #5 offense [Cabrera, Ordonez, Granderson, Polanco] is still intact (although a bit older), the infield defense has been significantly upgraded, and it appears that we should have around 4 reasonably productive and hopefully healthy rotation guys [Verlander, Bonderman, Galarraga, Jackson]. sure there are still some question marks (mostly of the health variety, although some age ones have been thrown in for good measure), but most teams have some issues or acquire them throughout the season. if last year hasn’t shown that the season is played on the field vs. paper for a reason i don’t know what will. the Tigers aren’t a “lock” for the WS, but hopefully the players and coaching staff are more focused / better prepared this year and know what to watch out for.

if anything 2009 is looking better if only because my expectations are starting so much lower this time around :)

Lee Panas January 8, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Chris, I agree that bullpens are very hard to project and that they often surprise. They often fail miserably too. With this group, you’d need a surprise from just about everybody in order for things to work out well. There’s not a lot there right now that gives me reason for optimism.

I’m more optimistic about the starting staff. A lot of things have to go right but they have a lot more upside than the bullpen.

Chris in Dallas January 8, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Lee: I certainly don’t project the ‘pen to be dominant by any means. There’s more question marks out there than Frank Gorshin’s costume (an original Batman reference for you kids). I guess I’m more bullish than most thinking that they can cobble together some outs in the late innings if (big if) guys like Seay, Rodney and Zumaya are healthy and pitch to their capabilities. Throw in a wild card or two (Dolsi, Perry, Fien, Robertson?, Miner?, Willis?) and they can be at least league average if all goes well.

Hopefully an improved left side of the infield will allow the starters to go an extra 2 or 3 outs deep into games. That would add the benefit of reducing the workload on the relief corps and allowing guys to settle into specific roles.

In any case, I’m glad they haven’t blown a ton of $ and years on Proven Closer X in the offseason.

Chris in Dallas January 8, 2009 at 5:19 pm

On another note, it looks like Curtis Granderson is going to be playing in the WBC. Maybe that means he’ll hit the ground running in April.

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3819310

Rick G January 8, 2009 at 7:08 pm

I’m thinking the bullpen is in Matthew Lesko territory with regards to question marks.

Can’t wait for that first Rodney 9th inning meltdown where he tucks the glove under one arm, then rubs the ball with both hands as he gazes toward the heavens. You just know good things are about to happen.

It sucks to be poor.

Dave T. January 8, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I love it when Rodney star gazes.
I am not convinced everyone has a bounce back year.
There is more pressure this year than last.

JML January 8, 2009 at 8:55 pm

I’m *this* close to making my decision about renewing my season tickets. And it’s in the negative. Sigh…

billfer January 8, 2009 at 9:14 pm

I don’t see how this can be viewed as a throw away year. Given the payroll, Granderson, Cabrera, Verlander, Ordonez, Polanco…That’s some considerable talent and there is no runaway team in the division. Sure some things need to break the Tigers way, but that’s true of most winning teams.

wyrmburner January 8, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Am I the only one here that’s a fan of Chad Cordero? Yeah yeah, he’s coming back from injury, but he put up solid numbers for four straight years, is relatively young (which one would think would improve his chances at coming back effective), and would be a low risk, potentially high reward option. That is, assuming his little tryout doesn’t cause that third of the league to throw big money at him… If not, he should come by fairly cheap and would want to prove he can still close.

Chris in Dallas January 8, 2009 at 11:35 pm

re: Chad Cordero. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams are only allowed to have one player who wears his cap with a flat bill. The Tigers have fulfilled their quota with Rodney, so no dice on Cordero…

Ryan January 9, 2009 at 11:29 am

I’m not too worried about the closer situation. Now that it’s down to injury risks, non-closers, and guys that just aren’t good, I’m really stating to believe that Casey Fien may be the best option out there. Signing Lyon and letting those two duke it out for closer/setup is not a bad choice at this point.

A question for anyone who knows: Has any team ever tried a starter platoon? Specifically, is there any precedence for having Nate and Miner platoon based on LH/RH heavy lineups and having the other act as the long guy? If that’s not a thing, getting one more league-average starter is a much higher priority than closer in my mind. Especially with the distinct possibility that Verlander, Galarraga, and Jackson will be below league average, and that Bonderman, Nate, Miner, and Dontrelle will be unpitchable.

Chris in Dallas January 9, 2009 at 11:59 am

If Verlander’s healthy, I imagine he’s going to be just fine. Same goes for Bondermania. Galarraga will regress. Jackson is an enigma. Robertson/Willis can only be better (impossible to be worse). Miner gets underrated. He can post a 4.20 ERA over a whole season, which I’d take. So yeah, I’m not 100% confident in those guys for the obvious reasons, but there’s some upside to be had if all falls into place. Hopefully Adam Inge and Brandon Everett will help these guys out with the leather.

Mark in Chicago January 9, 2009 at 1:16 pm

There is an excess of starting pitchers, and even Jimmuh isn’t crazy enough to use a 6-man rotation. So one of those guys (probably Miner, unfortunately) ends up in the pen. I don’t know much about Casey Fien, I see his name on here often and his stats look very nice, but he’s got a whopping 164 innings of professional experience, and just 60 above single-A. Is he ready for a high leverage role in the majors?

I don’t think this is a throwaway season either, but I am concerned the bullpen could undermine it from the beginning. At least last year we brought in some arms to try out. So far this year, we are hoping people rebound/get healthy/surprise on the upside.

Chris in Dallas January 9, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Mark: I don’t know if Fien is ready or not, but the lack of innings in the minors isn’t too much of a red flag for me. After all, Verlander had only 118 innings in the minors before making the big club and he turned out OK so far. Look at David Price from Tampa. And so on. If he performs well in Spring Training, I say give him a shot. Jimmuh wasn’t afraid to go with Verlander and Zumaya in ’06, so maybe he’ll think along those same lines with this kid.

Dave T. January 9, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Its a vicious cycle
If the starters are not convinced the relievers can hold the leads they will press. If starters start pressing they won’t last as long…making the bullpen come in earlier and working them harder…making the bullpen less effective and less likely to hold leads.

Any season where your goal is anything but to win the world series is a throw away season. Can anyone say the moves they made so far this off season are designed to help them win the world series?

Dre in Chicago January 9, 2009 at 4:19 pm

“Any season where your goal is anything but to win the world series is a throw away season.”

Dave T,

that’s a fairly narrow view ala Ricky Bobby’s “if you’re not first, you’re last”, and doesn’t really sum up the realities of playing out an actual season. in fact, since only 1/30 teams win the W.S. in any given year (and that they don’t tend to repeat that often); you could argue that setting the W.S. as you’re goal is pretty unrealistic.

many sports pundits had all but penned in the Tigers as the W.S. Champs around this time last year and i don’t think anyone was talking about Philly, but as it turned out, the season had other things in store. i doubt too many people (even within the Phillies organization) had firm expectations for them to win the W.S. at the start of the year, but that didn’t seem to matter too much in the end. even within the AL-Central, the two most written-off teams ended up needing an extra game to be played last year to decide who would go on to the playoffs while the overwhelming pre-season favorites had long been eliminated.

the Tigers didn’t spend the equivalent of a small nation’s GDP on free agents, but they did address several of the issues they needed to in order to stay competitive in a weak division (we think, who the eff knows this year) and did so while being financially hamstrung. since there’s no clear favorite, its just as likely that the Tigers will be competitive as not. just because they’re not odds on favorites, doesn’t mean “throw away” to me.

Chris in Dallas January 9, 2009 at 5:29 pm

All they have to do is get into the postseason and anything can happen. And in what appears to be a watered down AL Central, making the playoffs isn’t entirely unrealistic. It’s not like there’s a dearth of talent on this club.

Mike R January 9, 2009 at 5:32 pm

@ Jurgen:

I’ve got WAR projections up as well and have the Tigers at 81-81 with the current club we have — which includes going Bill’s route of having the rest of the bullpen as replacement level other than Seay and Rodney — and I’ve got the Tigers at 80.8 wins this year (we’ll call it dead even at 81-81).

Mark in Chicago January 9, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Good points, Chris in big D. Does Fien have stuff comparable to those guys? I honestly don’t know, I’ve never seen him pitch or read a scouting report.

boombotti January 10, 2009 at 2:25 am

I remember reading an article in the Free Press about an independent league pitcher the tigers signed in the fall, Michael LaLuna. He probably won’t make the team but it will be interesting to see how he does this year.

Yu-Hsing Chen From Taiwan January 10, 2009 at 2:49 am

Hey guys, a news source in Taiwan says that the Tigers signed LHP Fu-Te Ni to a minor league deal and will be guarenteed to start in AAA.

http://tw.news.yahoo.com/article/url/d/a/090110/4/1cqde.html
(those are in Chinese though)

Anyway, if true, Ni becomes the first Taiwanese player ever to sign with a major league team after playing professionally at home first. he’s 26 years old and have been one of the top pitcher in the league over the last couple of years , last year he was the strikeout king in the league. he’s also the ace of Team Taiwan during the last few international competitions.

Ni’s scouting report claims that he throws in the low 90s touching mid, from my recollection that seem to be a overstatement, though that might have been because the more recent recollection of him was as a workhorse starter.

Either way, Ni probably profiles as a reliever in the majors.

Here’s a clip of him dominating team Canada during the olympics qualifiers.
http://tw.youtube.com/watch?v=966cDP4trsk

here’s a clip of a 8.1 IP 13k 0BB dominant outing in the CPBL (along with a interview)
http://tw.youtube.com/watch?v=AR-LTzhsEZg

Mr. X January 10, 2009 at 7:45 am

The major downfall started when Todd Jones got hurt. Rodney was never 100% healthy. Some nights it looked like he couldn’t get loose. Zumaya was never healthy enough either. Farnsworth heart wasn’t into it and it looked like he didn’t want to pitch for Tigers.

Then the starting pitching was brutal most of the time, except for Galaragga and Minor. Willis and Robertson showed that they can still pitch, but they have some big mechanical and mental hurdles to get over. Bondo and Verlander are the backbone to the staff. We need them to win 15+ games each. Rogers was almost a total waste the last 2 seasons. I’m not sure what was worse last year: Rogers , Willis. or Nate. Jackson will hopefully fill that weak spot in the rotation.

The bright side was that for a 2 month stretch, from June to August, the Tigers were one of the best teams in baseball.

Dave T. January 12, 2009 at 11:50 am

dre in chicago

While it is true only one team can win the world series it is also true that not all teams are actively trying to win it every year. This year I don’t think Baltimore is trying, I don’t think the Nationals are trying.
The Yankees may be the devil, but you can’t say they don’t always try.
My point is…the Tigers can still have a very good year and do well and play hard. But without a shut down closer they are not ‘really’ trying to get to the world series. They are hoping things break right for them and hopefully get into the playoffs and hopefully catch someone by surprise.
And in the grand scheme of things an 85 win year really does not count for much. It makes for a nice summer, but they don’t raise banners for pleasant nights in July.

Chris in Dallas January 12, 2009 at 12:22 pm

Dave: Remember this, however – an 83 win Cardinals team won it all in ’06. All you have to do is get into the playoffs and anything can happen. 85 wins just might do it in this division.

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