With the MLB free agent market opening up at midnight on Nov. 7, it does not take a baseball expert to know the team necessities of the Detroit Tigers. Clearly, pitching was a major issue for the team this year with the starters throwing an exceedingly high ERA of 4.78 and the relievers not doing much better with an ERA of 4.38.
“I think two starting pitchers added to that rotation will bring down some of these guys that we don’t want to force feed,” new General Manager Al Avila told The Detroit Free Press. “We want right there in Triple-A and it will give us some of the depth that we need.”
Avila is referring to younger pitchers like Matt Boyd, Luis Cessa, Buck Farmer and Michael Fulmer that are not quite major league ready yet. In some cases, they were forced to come up and pitch for the Tigers in the peak of all the injuries among pitchers. Ultimately, by acquiring two new pitchers to pitch alongside Justin Verlander – Anibal Sanchez and presumably Daniel Norris – it will give these young arms time to develop more in the minor leagues.
Avila also made it clear to MLB Network, the Tigers will be less likely to get a big star free agent due to more financial constraints than years past and his want to use in-house players.
“I would say it is probably more restrictive this year, just because we have the money invested in so many guys already,” Avila said. “But in saying that, we still want to go out there and try to win a championship, so we will be out there in the free agent market trying to do the best we can with that money that we have.”
With all that being said, where do the Tigers go from here?
“Early indications from the Tigers in the market are that they are targetting good second-tier free agents,” reports ESPN’s Buster Olney.
If the Tigers do go for second-tier players like Olney says, many guys can fit the mold of what the Tigers are looking for at the starting pitcher position. With defense and fielding percentage up from what it was a few years ago this also gives the Tigers much more leeway with whether they decide to go with a more ground ball oriented pitcher or a strikeout guy.
J.A. Happ (33). Happ went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 11 games with Pittsburgh could be a relatively cheap and effective player. The former third round pick and 2006 top 10 minor league prospect seems to finally be figuring out how to be successful in the majors and could easily be placeholder while the Tigers develop their minor league prospects.
Josh Johnson (32). Although he has not pitched in two seasons with the San Diego Padres, Johnson was one of the most dominant pitchers in the league while with the then-Florida Marlins. It may be a huge risk getting a guy who has been plagued by injury, but at the same time that could mean the Tigers could get him at a steal of a price if he pitches anywhere close to what he was while a Marlin.
Mike Leake (28). One of the biggest commodities at the deadline, Leake did not play as well as the San Francisco Giants had hoped he would after acquiring him from the Cincinnati Reds. Since 2011, however, Leake has proved to be a consistent starter keeping his ERA in the mid 3’s, and at 28 there is still room for greatness. A consistent middle of the rotation guy is exactly what the Tigers are looking for.
Jordan Zimmermann (30). Zimmermann would be the biggest reach for the Tigers in the free agent market and would definitely be on the more costly side. Zimmerman has quietly puts up all-star numbers for the Washington Nationals his whole career but has been overshadowed by their big name starters like Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez. He has a career ERA of 3.32 and averages about 157 strikeouts a season.
According to Lynn G. Henning of The Detroit News, the “Tigers are beginning to see starters as potential relievers. Michael Fulmer may get a shot as closer. Even Shane Greene.”
If this proves to be true, the Tigers could save money by not going for as big as a reliever and instead spend more on a better starting pitcher, such as a guy like Zimmermann.
This year’s free agent class is loaded with middle of the road starters meaning the Tigers could go in many directions. That, however, is not the case for relief pitchers. Some possible relief pitchers for the consistently bad Detroit bullpen that could be sought out go as follow.
Joakim Soria (32). Yes that’s right, the same Soria that we traded away to the Pirates at the trade deadline. According to Tony Paul of the Detroit News “The pickings are slimmer for relievers, and that’s bad news for the Tigers, which is why they’re already talking to Joakim Soria about a reunion.” Obtaining Soria wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to this team though, he had 23 saves on 26 tries before being traded while also having a WHIP of 1.05.
Darren O’Day (33). O’Day might be the best reliever in this year’s free agent class which means he will be sought out by many teams. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Tigers splurged on him due to the fact bullpen continues to be an issue for this team year in and year out.
Tyler Clippard (31). Although his postseason didn’t go too well with the New York Mets, Clippard is one of the top 8th inning guys in the league. Good news for the Tigers is, since he did worse in the playoffs his stock goes down, which leaves opportunity to pay him less. The two time all-star has a career high of 40 holds back in 2014.
Tony Sipp (32). Sipp is the best left handed reliever on the market. Just like O’Day, I could see the Tigers willing to spend more on a really good reliever if the organization truly believes he could help the team win late in the game.
If the Tigers are able to pick up a guy like Clippard and a solid closer that would solve a lot of issues in the bullpen. Especially with guys like Blaine Hardy and Alex Wilson, who may have been the only two consistent relievers on the team, coming back, Detroit can work towards a Kansas City Royals like model, using the bullpen early and often to shorten games and shut the opposite team down after the 6th or 7th inning. This would also take a lot of stress off starting pitchers like Sanchez and Verlander who have been struggling with injury, and younger arms like Norris who may still be developing.
The Tigers offense is really the least of their worries due to the fact they still posted the number one batting average in the league and still have the best hitter in the game on their team. The only real gap in the field is in Left Field from trading away Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets.
Detroit could choose to go in-house and use Tyler Collins who played quite a bit for the Tigers in the second half of the year, hitting .266 in 192 at bats with 4 home runs and 25 RBI’s. Another viable in-house option would be top-prospect Steven Moya. The 6’7 slugger has proved MLB ready besides his issue of striking out too much. He hit 23 home runs in the minors last year, but that was accompanied by 175 strikeouts.
If the Tigers choose to go out into the market and seek out a left fielder there is a few players that could be on their radar.
Gerardo Parra (29). Parra batted .291 with 14 home runs and and 51 RBI’s while playing with the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles last season. Parra also offers quality speed and good defense. Batting around the guys that are in the Tigers lineup, you could see Parra’s numbers sky rocket. Also Parra could be more of a long term guy if the Tigers choose to lock him up for longer since he is only 29.
Colby Rasmus (29). Rasmus could add a little more power to a Tigers offense that seemed to have only one guy hitting home runs, J.D. Martinez. Known for his great fielding and clubhouse presence, Rasmus could potentially be a cheap sign for the Tigers.
Al Avila will have his hands full over these next few winter months as owner Mike Ilitch expects nothing less of a championship team to take the field come spring time 2016. Brad Ausmus has already been retained as manager, so the next step will be to fix this pitching rotation.
As the organization has told the media all year “the team is rebooting, not rebuilding.”