We’ve profiled them. We’ve gone over their statistics, their contracts, and the likelihood that they’d be available. We’ve discussed whether their current team might trade them, what they might want for them, and what role they might play on the Tigers. We’ve voted for them, and voted yea or nay on each of them. But now the deadline is near, and the trade options boil down to a few serious possibilities.
We’ve put together a customized chart of the potential trade targets, and added the current relief pitchers that the Tigers have used this season just to see how they stack up. You can see that, ranked by ERA, the bottom of the list is a who's who in the Tiger bullpen this year. They need help.
As we’ve discussed here on BYB in some detail, the Tigers don’t really need a closer. In fact, the consensus seems to be that they’d be smarter to not pursue a "proven closer" because any new guy won’t likely improve on Joaquin Benoit (how could he?), and because the cost of such a player tends to be dramatically higher, both in terms of salary and trade cost, than that of an every day relief pitcher.
Tigers' General Manager Dave Dombrowski told Jason Beck of MLB.com:
"All I can say is that we feel very comfortable in the ninth and eighth innings with Benoit and Smyly," Dombrowski said. "I don't know where you're really going to go out and improve that significantly.
"Now, can you get better? We're very young in our bullpen right now. We're talented but we're young. That's really where I guess I'd leave it at this point."
That is not to say that the Tigers won’t ultimately bring in a "proven closer" and restore Benoit to eighth inning duties. Depending how things go, there could be teams who simply want to unload their own closer because they’re not contenders and their closer is due to become a free agent after the season, or they don't like his salary for next year. They’d rather get something for them while they can.
At least one closer falls into this category. Kevin Gregg of the Cubs signed a minor league contract with the Dodgers, was released and signed another minor league deal with Chicago, and made the team by mid-April. After Carlos Marmol imploded, Gregg has logged 22 saves. GM Theo Epstein has already unloaded Marmol, as well as pitchers Scott Feldman and Matt Garza, and outfielder Alfonso Soriano, and he’s not done cleaning house. Outfielder Nate Schierholtz is reportedly on the block as well.
The problem with Gregg is that has not been a good pitcher recently, posting an ERA of 5.14, an FIP of 6.18, and a WAR of negative 0.6 with three blown saves in the past 30 days. Of the thirty or so bullpen candidates that we’ve profiled, none have been worse in that span. However, four current Tiger relievers, Coke, Downs, Alburquerque, and Putkonen have been worse. The Cubs would like to get a prospect for Gregg, but they won’t lose very much in salary if they can’t unload him.
The Phillies have said that they’re not selling Jonathan Papelbon. The Marlins have said they won’t trade Steve Cishek. The Twins aren’t selling Glen Perkins, and the Royals aren’t selling at all, so scratch Greg Holland off your list. The Padres might trade Huston Street, but he makes $7 million per year, he has not pitched well this season with an ERA of 3.7, an FIP of 6.43, and he’d be traded at closer prices.
If we narrow things down to just those relief pitchers, currently on non-contenders, who are due to become free agents after this season, we get a much smaller list.
Javier Lopez, LHP, Giants: Lopez earns $4.25 million this season and is a free agent this winter. He has an ERA of 1.42, an FIP of 2.09, and a WHIP of 1.18. His stat line is better than any of the potential relievers who might be available other than Jesse Crain, who is on the disabled list. Lopez would be the most desirable relief pitcher whose contract is expiring after this season. The Giants are 10 games out of first place, and twelve games under .500
Oliver Perez, the lefty set up man for the Seattle Mariners, earns $1.5 million and will be a free agent this off season. Perez has an ERA of 2.35, an FIP of 3.02, and a WHIP of 1.28. He strikes out 12.2 batters and walks four per nine innings. The Mariners should have more players to sell than any AL team, with outfielder/DH types such as Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, and Jason Bay all due for free agency, as well as catcher Kelly Shoppach, and defensive whiz shortstop Brendan Ryan. The Tigers might be able to address a couple of wants from a familiar source.
Scott Downs now appears to be available as the Angels are ready to throw in the towel on the 2013 season. We profiled Downs earlier, and Jon Heyman of CBS recently wrote that the Angels' lefty set up man may be available. Downs had not allowed an earned run in 30 straight appearances until Saturday. Jeff Passan of Yahoo tweeted that the Angels are "open for business".
Angels are now 13 games back and open for business. Sources say they're willing to listen on Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick and plenty more.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 29, 2013
Kevin Slowey, Marlins: The former Twin earns a salary of just $750K, and has been a bargain filling in the Miami rotation and more lately in the bullpen. He has an ERA of 4.11, an FIP of 3.81, and a WHIP of 1.35. Not too impressive, but he should be available for very cheap.
Mike Gonzalez of the Brewers earns $2.5 million and will be a free agent after this season also. The left reliever is an 8-year veteran with an ERA of 3.82, an FIP of 4.06, a WHIP of 1.50 and a decent K/9 rate of 10.95. He walks over four batters per nine, and has a BABIP of .330.
I like some of the other relievers on the Brewers better, including former Tiger Burke Badenhop, who will be headed to arbitration for the fourth time this winter and earns $ 1.55 million this year, and former closer John Axford, who earns $5 million but has been an effective closer until losing that job earlier this season. He has pitched much better recently, but has three seasons of arbitration remaining, so he figures to get more expensive.
Jose Veras is the Astros current closer, and he earns $1.85 million this season with an option for $ 3.25 million for 2014. That option is very reasonable for any reliever, much less a closer, so Houston won’t be too pressured to sell. He has an ERA of 2.93, an FIP of 3.39, and a solid WHIP of 1.00.
Casey Janssen is also a closer with the Jays, and he earns $3.9 million this season with an option for next year that is very likely to be picked up.
Jesse Crain, the winner of our fan poll on what relief pitcher you'd most like to have on the Tigers, remains on the disabled list, but might become available in August. However, I can't see him getting past the Yankees or Indians, who would have priority over the Tigers in any waiver games.
Most other relief pitchers that we’ve profiled have some seasons of club control remaining, so their clubs have more than just this year remaining to think about. Rental players generally cost less than players with reasonable contracts in future seasons. If the Tigers want to acquire a veteran reliever with late inning experience, such as the Padres' Luke Gregerson, the price goes up.