One year after losing out on trading for reliever J.J. Putz, could the Detroit Tigers get another chance to add him to their bullpen?
After the New York Post reported on Thursday night that the Mets planned to buy Putz out of his contract option for 2010, the team made it official yesterday. Though Putz hasn't yet officially filed for free agency, he's expected to do so. (Re-signing with the Mets hasn't been ruled out, and they have exclusive negotiating rights with him until November 20.)
Putz is still recovering from surgery in early June, which removed a bone spur from his pitching elbow. Working in a set-up role, he was able to pitch in only 29 games for the Mets this season, finishing with a 1-4 record, 5.22 ERA, 19 strikeouts, and 19 walks in 29.1 innings.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski sounds as if he'd prefer a veteran closer for next season. Re-signing Brandon Lyon or Fernando Rodney is a possibility, but the free agent market could end up pricing both of them out of the Tigers' range. (Rodney has already said he's hoping for a three-to-four-year deal.) If that's the case, Detroit will have to look elsewhere, so we're dusting off The Quest For Relief for yet another offseason.
And The Quest could begin with Putz. At his best, he was a dominating closer. Between 2006 and 2007, Putz racked up 76 saves in 85 opportunities, with 186 strikeouts and 16 walks in 150 innings. But he's struggled with elbow and rib cage injuries the past two seasons, limiting him to 76 games. (And his elbow gave him problems in prior seasons, as well.) This is what compelled the Mets to decline Putz's 2010 option.
The Tigers went after him hard last winter, but backed off when the Mariners wanted both Matt Joyce and Jeff Larish. As it turns out, Detroit needed a third team involved to give Seattle the centerfielder they wanted. When the Mets were able to get the Indians to give up Franklin Gutierrez, they swooped in and got Putz.
But the Tigers ended up salvaging a deal for Edwin Jackson out of those negotiations, which was an excellent consolation prize. (Especially when Putz was done by June.)
So is this a possibility the Tigers should pursue? (Most of the team's beat writers seem to think so, as does MLB Trade Rumors.) Putz presumably wouldn't cost much, as teams wouldn't want to spend big money on an injury risk. He'd probably be willing to sign a one-year deal (maybe with an option) to prove he can make it through a full season healthy. (The Tigers being his hometown team might not hurt, either.) And if he stays healthy, the Tigers might have themselves a closer.
To me, Putz seems far too risky to be Detroit's only option for that role. If a team doesn't know who the guy is in the ninth inning, it can screw with their confidence. Look at each of the eight playoff teams; their closers were established for the stretch run. (Though the Cardinals and Rockies took a while to settle on a guy.)
Would the Tigers be able to sign Putz and Lyon? Or are they confident enough in Ryan Perry or Joel Zumaya to take over if Putz's elbow fails him again? Which direction would make you feel most comfortable?