Three years ago, the Tigers signed a reliever to a three year contract following a career season for a playoff contender. Turns out, that long deal given to Joaquin Benoit didn't turn out so bad. Could lightning strike twice in the form of Cardinals reliever Edward Mujica?
Who is he?
Mujica is a 29 year old Venezuelan right-hander who has already pitched for four different organizations since signing with the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent back in 2001. He debuted with the Tribe in 2006 but only logged a total of 70 major league innings in three years. He also spent two years apiece with the San Diego Padres and Florida/Miami Marlins before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals at the 2012 trade deadline. Mujica took over the closer's role for a struggling Jason Motte in 2013 and made himself a boatload of money this offseason by saving 37 games in 41 chances.
Why should we care?
The saves have very little to do with why he's an attractive option, but they showed the rest of baseball his potential. His 3.75 ERA in 439 1/3 career innings isn't particularly attractive, but the 1.13 WHIP and 5.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio are. In fact, he has just 68 walks in his entire career. He has a modest 42% career ground ball rate, which would serve him well as the Tigers' infield defense improves. He is also just 29 years old, so some of the age-related concerns surrounding other relievers don't apply to him at this point.
Why should we stay away?
Mujica's biggest problem has always been the home run ball. He has allowed 1.23 homers per nine innings in his career, and big stadiums like Petco Park haven't helped matters. His strikeout rate -- 7.17 whiffs per nine innings for his career -- is also a bit low for this pitching staff, given the defensive deficiencies at the corners. A 73.8% strand rate is decent, but you would like to see a slightly higher number for a top shelf reliever. Given that Mujica is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $21 million over the next three seasons, one would expect top-shelf production.
Will he end up in Detroit?
It's possible, but I don't think the timing is right. Mujica seems like a prime candidate to sign an early contract before top closers like Joe Nathan or Grant Balfour set the market. Meanwhile, Dave Dombrowski prefers to wait things out and see who slips through the cracks. He would definitely be the type of candidate to pursue -- though last season's save totals increased his payday considerably -- though I worry that he will get a longer contract than he deserves.
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