The Tigers will not be signing Andrew Miller to help their bullpen, nor Melky Cabrera for the outfield. They did not pursue Cuban free agent outfielder Yasmany Tomas, and they haven’t been linked to trade discussions involving the Phillies’ Cole Hamels. In fact, since they signed Victor Martinez, when it comes to the best and most expensive free agents, all is quiet on the transaction front for the Tigers.
Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski all but told us not to expect any major signings for the rest of the winter, but he did not rule out Max Scherzer returning to Detroit.
"I'm not saying we're done but sometimes they're not the big splashy ones, they don't have to be big dollars and big splashes."
What the Tigers have done thus far — after picking up the option on relief pitcher Joakim Soria and signing Victor Martinez to a four-year, $68 million extension — has been very modest. They acquired Anthony Gose, who will be earning minimum wage for the next two seasons, to fill the void in center field. They have made a couple of waiver claims, picking up reliever Josh Zeid and signing outfielder Xavier Avery to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
In fact, the Tigers have cut more salaries than they have added, waiving outfielders Andy Dirks and Don Kelly, and solving two of their potential arbitration cases. There is speculation that the club may trade former Cy Young winner David Price or Rick Porcello, both who are eligible for free agency after the 2015 season.
With a payroll that is projected to reach $170 million, Dombrowski doesn't have a lot of wiggle room. Yet, the team could use a corner outfielder and another reliable relief pitcher, at a minimum.
A player doesn't have to be cheap to be considered a bargain. If Nori Aoki can be signed for half the salary of Melky Cabrera on a two-year contract and fill the needs in the outfield and at the top of the lineup, that’s a bargain. For that matter, if Scherzer is given a seven-year deal and the Tigers win the World Series, most Tigers’ fans and owner Mike Ilitch would say that’s worth it. But this is Black Friday and we’re looking for serious price reductions.
Last offseason, the Tigers picked up J.D. Martinez, Ezequiel Carrera and Pat McCoy. Each of them contributed to the 2014 campaign. They also signed Joba Chamberlain to an incentive-laden contract at a bargain rate, and he became their most valuable relief pitcher for much of the season. So, here are some free agent players who might be available that could help the Tigers without breaking the bank.
Brandon Morrow, RHP: After being the fifth overall player taken in the 2006 amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners, Morrow seemed on his way to a fine career, going 10–7 with a 2.96 ERA for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012. The Jays signed him to a two-year, $12 million extension. Two injury plagued seasons later, his health has caused teams to be wary of making a major commitment. If healthy, Morrow can fill a spot in the rotation or the bullpen.
Brett Anderson, LHP: After posting a 2.91 ERA in 43 innings with Colorado last year, Anderson is on everyone's radar, but health issues will make him a bargain. Rob did a complete profile of Anderson earlier this offseason.
Emilio Bonifacio, IF/OF: One of the fastest players in the game with the ability to play infield and outfield well, the switch-hitting Bonifacio would provide value to any team. He'd be more costly than Anthony Gose, and hits left-handers better than right-handers, so he may not be the ideal platoon-mate that the Tigers are looking for unless they're willing to platoon him in center field.
Chris Capuano, LHP: The well-traveled 10-year veteran left-hander split time between the Boston Red Sox bullpen and the New York Yankees' rotation in 2014. With New York, he posted a 3.85 FIP in 12 starts. He could be an innings eater, fifth starter, or lefty specialist. Take your pick.
Joe Thatcher, LHP: The left-handed reliever posted a 2.10 ERA with the Padres in 2013 before being traded to Arizona, where he struggled in a few appearances. He then posted a 2.63 ERA with the Diamondbacks in 2014, before being traded to the Dodgers, where he was seldom used. A veteran of eight seasons, Thatcher is definitely worth adding to the bullpen if the price is right.
Burke Badenhop, RHP: The former Tigers' minor league pitcher of the year was one of six players traded to the Florida Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera trade. He has carved out a career in the major leagues as a reliever, most recently with the Boston Red Sox. Badenhop has a 2.64 ERA with a WHIP of 1.23 over 133 innings in the past three seasons. Just sign him.
Neal Cotts, LHP: After posting a 1.11 ERA with an 0.95 WHIP in 57 innings for the Texas Rangers in 2013, the left-handed relief pitcher fell back in 2014 with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in 66 2/3 innings of work. He is a veteran of nine seasons, and a workhorse with splits that show he is as effective against right-handed hitters as he is against left-handers. If he can be signed to a short-term contract, he could pay big dividends.