Let's touch on a few topics today. Open the ‘fridge, grab some ingredients and whip up today's....
Olde English Omelette
The Meat- Jhonny heads to see the Arch
The story of the weekend probably centered on a now ex-Tiger, Jhonny Peralta. Of course Peralta landed a pretty nifty 4-yr deal thought to be worth $53M. Easily the biggest of his career...indeed eclipsing the amount of the money he has made in his career to date by a significant distance.
This isn't too shocking. There are tweets and quotes from several players who are bit out of sorts over a "cheater" getting such a great deal. But let's face...shortstops (even defensively limited ones) that hit for power aren't posting resumes online hoping for gigs. They will be sought after and Peralta, despite last season's travails, is no different.
The Cardinals were always a destination that made some sense for Peralta, especially without draft pick penalties attached to signing him. The Redbirds stitched it together last year at the position with Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso on their way to the World Series. They also have no obvious heir apparent in their system. It was a spot where they could look to either make a trade or a signing to get a significant upgrade. Peralta's bat provides the Cards with a massive upgrade over Kozma. Peralta's glove gives back some of the offensive lift...but we've heard ad nauseum that Peralta "makes the routine plays" and mostly that's true. It's hard not to see the Cardinals getting some advantages with this move over the first couple of years of the deal.
The big take away from the deal however is just more proof that despite the public relations lip service, not many teams really care about PED issues if a guy can help them win. Players with a suspension on their rap sheet are, for the most part, not subject to a ostracizing or any kind of PED Blacklist. A few players may speak out, a certain cadre of fans will be ticked, and the sainted bunch of old fuddie-duddies known as "Hall of Fame voters" will crow about the game being defiled. In the end however it's about winning. Jhonny Peralta served his time and lost some money (in the short term!)...but he can post a solid slash-line and play passably at shortstop. Those skills win out over the "scarlet acronym" of PEDs and will continue to do so. Unless the collective bargaining agreement is altered to stiffen penalties (and I would not be in favor of that to be honest) Peralta's case is just a showcase of more to come when a player of his skill level gets tapped for an infraction.
The Eggs & Cheese- Building that bullpen
Tigers' GM David Dombrowski has noted that a "Closer" will get signed at some point. Right now there are several of the not-so-rare breed Proven Closers on the market. The thoughts right now are that they are playing a game of musical chairs waiting for one guy to sign to break the logjam and send the rest hurtling into new gigs around baseball. It's just a matter of time before Detroit jumps in and gets a deal done. It would also be no shock, given Dombrowski's track record, if the Tigers are the team that jumps in first to set things in motion with a signing.
Who will the Tigers sign? Many feel that Joe Nathan is a logical choice and perhaps the frontrunner. The question to me seems to be how many years will an aging pitcher like Nathan command in this market. Yes, Mariano Rivera seemed nearly ageless...but last I checked, even given Nathan's excellent results in 2013, he's not mentioned in the same breath as Rivera all too often. Nathan turns 39 next season and he's been a "one inning only" pitcher. He has been asked to get more than 3-outs exactly twice over the last two seasons. How much value do the Tigers want to put into that basket. Is he worth a 3-year commitment at this stage? No one is questioning Nathan's track record. He is coming off a fabulous season. If I had to guess now, he's a Tiger next season and will likely provide the Tigers with a good steady and possibly outstanding ninth-inning presence.
But he also allowed only 2-homers in 64 innings last season. A number almost sure to regress. Covered up in his results last year was also a spike in walk-rate. If his walks remain the same this year and the homers do catch up with him, suddenly that sub-2 ERA from 2013 probably isn't play again.
Hey...Nathan is the "safe play" if the Tigers want to spend what it takes to "lock down" the 9th. Publicly it will be hailed as a key signing. But it carries the risks associated with all relievers and especially for those closing in on 40. A long commitment to Nathan isn't nuts...but there are other ways.
It's not my money...but assuming there is a payroll budget to keep in mind, I might be inclined to pass on the "Proven Closer" and focus on two guys who were given the opportunity to compile saves last season but perhaps aren't thought of as "ninth inning guys" completely. One is Edward Mujica and the other is simply Mr. Benoit. Both are reliable relief pitchers capable of holding down a role in the bullpen. Neither is a different pitcher now then they were before given the chance for a few months of save-compiling. Blow past the Save column in the stats and you seen fairly consistent peripherals for both. I would have faith in either to give the Tigers a solid 70-innings of relief work as they pursue a 4th straight AL Central crown.
I don't think either pitcher is likely worth paying a "closer premium" to get in the fold however. I would look to pay something in line with what Joe Smith received in Los Angeles...which was close to Benoit's previous deal. 3-yr/$15M or thereabouts. If other clubs want to pay extra because Mujica had 37 saves, let them. Same with Benoit and his 24 saves.
Sign Mujica or Benoit at less money that what Nathan would command, look to sign one other veteran of the free agent heap like John Axford or Phil Hughes perhaps, and then trust some of the returning arms plus some youngsters moving up in the system. Brad Ausmus can craft a useable bullpen out of that mix.
The biggest thing to me is that the Tigers should not overreact to losing two ALCS games to the Red Sox that can be pinned in some fashion on the bullpen. I do not think a club builds their "October Bullpen" in the prior off-season all that often. I believe you put together a bullpen for perhaps the first 81-games. Then you adjust from that point with acquisitions, promotions, and re-assignment of roles. Guessing what your bullpen might look like next October is a rather dicey exercise in the previous December. There are too many variables. For certain, I'll reiterate a plea from last season, don't trade starting pitching for relief pitching!
The Veggies- Two ex-Royals worthy of consideration
The Tigers let Brayan Pena go without much fanfare this off-season and he found a nice comfy landing spot in the National League with a two year commitment from the Reds. Great news for Pena. To be honest, I was 100% fine with this. There is a good chance we witnessed Pena's career year in Detroit. He did a good job at the plate for the most part but defensively he seemed like a stop-gap guy.
The Tigers will now probably be looking for Bryan Holaday to assume the backup catcher role behind Alex Avila. It is likely the easiest solution and the cheap one to boot. Holaday can probably take the role and do at the very least an adequate job.
But let's look at one interesting name to hit the street in the last week. The Royals have jettisoned their backup catcher from last year, George Kottaras. This is a player that has long interested me. He drawn walks the last couple of years. Lots and lots of walks. Plus he does hit for a little power. From a batting average view, he's never going to look all that attractive. His slash line last year was a rather unique .180/.349/.370. But I really like the skill-set he brings as a pinch hitter. Those walks will extend rallies in the late innings with quality at-bats.
Will Ausmus be a manager that holds to the old way of thinking that you don't want to pinch-hit catchers in case your other catcher gets hurt? Perhaps. But I believe that's an outdated way of looking at it. Despite Avila's penchant for getting shaken up, I believe all too often its a waste of a roster spot if you're starting with the absolutist view that your backup catcher is never going to pinch-hit. Benches are short enough as it is in the age of the 7-man bullpen. The Tigers will have the potentially weak-hitting bat of Jose Iglesias in their lineup plus the still developing Nick Castellanos. Having some more lefty options to hit in key spots could be very useful. Kottaras would be an asset in this role. Walks are good.
Kottaras being a lefty bat is perhaps not ideal being paired with the lefty Avila. But given the dearth of lefty bats on the Tigers roster after the Ian Kinsler/Prince Fielder deal, I would care less about the platoon-split possibilities at catcher and worry more about having reliable bench bat who happens to be a solid defensive catcher as well.
There is another now ex-Royal that intrigues me for 2014.
Felipe Paulino has also elected free agency and will be leaving Kansas City. Paulino is recovering from Tommy John Surgery and missed most of last season. He pitched 27 innings in the minors during his rehab.
Simply put, Paulino has a rocket heater. Fangraphs has him consistently averaging 95-MPH with his fastball over several seasons. In 2012, prior to his injury, he was showing signs of ripping off a great season before his UCL blew up. Paulino had a 1.67 ERA in 37.2 innings pitched with a 37/15 K-BB split. He had also pitched effectively for the Royals out of their rotation after being freed from pitching in Colorado in 2011.
Paulino may be looking to hitch on with a club that gives him more of an opportunity to be a starter. If so, who can blame him? But if he's willing to transition into a bullpen role, his fastball/slider mix could be very solid out of someone's bullpen. He could be a good spot starter as well given his track record.
Paulino is well over a year out from his Tommy John procedure. Knowing what his medical reports currently look like of course a part of the equation we won't have access to. But assuming he is on the way to back and can keep humming 95+ MPH with his fastball, I have to believe the Tigers could find a role to suit the skill-set he brings along. It will be very interesting to see what kind of market for Paulino develops and how much he signs for with the club that takes the leap. I don't believe it will be all that expensive but it could be a small risk worth taking. A healthy 70 innings of bullpen work from Paulino could be potentially electric.