The Detroit Tigers head to the winter meetings in San Diego next week with several areas where the club needs improvement. They are not going to be able to improve sufficiently from within, whether they admit it publicly or not. As they look for the missing pieces to fill out the 2015 roster, they could do well to look to their past for players who might help them in the future.
Here are some former Tigers who could help the team in 2015, and might be available.
Max Scherzer is the best pitcher -- if not the best overall player -- on the market this winter. He has to be the obvious choice on this list. Losing him without a replacement would blow a large hole in the Tigers’ rotation. Even replacing him with David Price doesn’t fill the void left by the departure of Drew Smyly. Signing Scherzer would solve all of the above.
Drew Smyly is one of the best young pitchers in the game, whether he is in the starting rotation or in the bullpen. When the Tigers traded Smyly with Austin Jackson to get David Price, they may have temporarily filled Scherzer’s spot in the rotation, but they didn’t replace the loss of Smyly. In fact, they still haven’t replaced the loss of Smyly in the bullpen since he was moved to the starting rotation. With payroll about to trip over the luxury tax threshold and a starting rotation comprised of stars earning megabucks, Smyly would be making close to the league minimum in 2015 and he’d be under club control for another four seasons.
Doug Fister ranks 15th in Major League Baseball in pitchers’ WAR over the past four seasons. Justin Verlander, David Price, and Max Scherzer all rank among the top five, and Anibal Sanchez ranks ninth. Fister also ranks 16th in ERA, 25th in FIP and 21st in wins over that period. He is simply one of the best pitchers in the game. The Nationals are reportedly open to trading Fister, who has one season remaining before free agency. Dombrowski could undo the worst trade of his tenure in Detroit. Two Robbie Rays, a pair of Ian Krols and a couple of useless infielders might do the trick.
Matt Joyce would make ideal platoon partner for Rajai Davis in a corner outfield spot. He hit right handed pitchers last year at a .263/.365/.393 pace, and he gets on base often enough to bat in the two slot in the batting order. For his career, Joyce has hit right handers to the tune of .261/.356/.463. His defense is not stellar, but he would be an upgrade over Torii Hunter or Rajai Davis. The Tigers traded Joyce to the Rays for Edwin Jackson, then spun Jackson in the three way trade that brought Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson to Detroit. He has just one season before being eligible for free agency, and the Rays are said to be willing to listen to offers.
Andrew Miller is the hottest relief pitcher on the free agent market this winter, and is likely to get the lucrative four year contract that he’s been asking for. The Tigers sent Miller, a former first round draft pick, to the Marlins in the trade for Miguel Cabrera. The Orioles just gave up the No 65 overall prospect in the game for a half season rental of Miller, and he was worth it to them in the post season. If cost were no object, Miller could solve a lot of problems in the Tigers’ bullpen.
Joaquin Benoit did a fine job for the Tigers for two seasons in a set up role and as their closer in 2013, before he threw the ill-fated vulcan change up to David Ortiz in October of that season. The pitch that will live in infamy should not stop the Tigers from bringing back a good thing. The Padres gave Benoit $8 million per year for two seasons, and are said to be willing to trade him. Suffice it to say that he’s better than Joe Nathan, and cheaper.
Casey Fien was released by the Tigers after seven seasons in the Tigers organization, where he held a 3.23 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in the minor leagues, striking out nine batters and walking two batters per nine innings. The Tigers drafted Fien in the 20th round of the 2006 amateur player draft. The Twins picked him up, and he has posted an ERA of 3.54 with a WHIP of 1.07 in 181 appearances for them. His 5.03 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks ninth and his 1.74 walks per nine innings ranks seventh among all relief pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched in the major leagues over the pst three seasons. There’s no real reason to believe that the Twins want to trade Fien, let alone help out the Tigers, but he is eligible for arbitration. One should never under estimate the Twins' willingness to unload players making more than the minimum wage.
Charlie Furbush was one of four players traded to the Seattle Mariners for Doug Fister in one of Dombrowski’s best trades during his tenure in Detroit. In 153 innings over the past three years, he has a 2.93 ERA, 3.16 FIP, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 10.79 strikeouts per nine innings rate. Furbush has held left handed batters to a .181 average, and a wOBA of just .230, which is fourth in the American League over the past three seasons. He has allowed just two home runs to left handers in three seasons, while striking out 102 in 74 innings.
Fernando Rodney has more saves than any other relief pitcher in the American League over the past three seasons. Joe Nathan is a distant second. Rodney ranks sixth in fWAR, sixth in FIP and fifth in ERA among relievers in that time span. Just as Nathan was signing a contract for $20 million for two years, Rodney signed a deal that pays $14 million for the same two seasons. There is no sign that the Mariners would trade their closer, but if they should fall from grace early in the season, the Tigers should welcome the crooked cap act back to Detroit.
Some players not to bring back:
Curtis Granderson: Hit just .220 with 13 home runs against right handed pitchers in 2014, and his defense has fallen off to a - 8.1 UZR, or zero DRS. After just one year of a four year, $60 million contract, the Mets already wish they could get a do-over.
Cameron Maybin: With a slash line of just .235/.290/.331, a .275 wOBA, and a contract that will pay him $5 million per season for two more years, the Padres would be happy to trade the former No. 1 draft pick back to the Tigers. But with a line of .211/.253/.322 against left-handers and .248/.311/.335 against right handers, he doesn’t match up in a platoon with either Davis or Gose.
Pitchers: Jim Johnson, Phil Coke, Darin Downs, Evan Reed. You get the picture.