The Detroit Tigers bullpen was undoubtedly a disaster in 2015. However, the starting rotation joined suit for once, doing more than any other unit to unwind the thread of the Tigers' rule over the AL Central. As a result, that rotation has been the overwhelming concern of the majority of Tigers fans so far this offseason. Interesting, then, that the two main rumors around the Tigers, as the General Manager's meetings get under way in Florida, both involve relief pitchers.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has the Tigers as one of the major players for the services of former Orioles reliever Darren O'Day. Of course, they aren't alone. The Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs also appear to be in the hunt to land O'Day. Other interested teams such as the Royals and Nationals seem like outside candidates based on the presumed cost, and the fact that their late-innings relief roles appear already occupied.
That cost is really the crux of the matter. O'Day would be a huge boost to any bullpen. However, several of the teams interested are among the biggest spenders in the game, making O'Day an expensive player to land in free agency.
Who is he?
O'Day is a 33 year-old University of Florida product that went undrafted, but signed with the Los Angeles Angels. He was selected in the first round of the 2008 Rule 5 draft by the New York Mets. After struggling early in his career, O'Day hit his stride in 2009 and 2010, mainly with the Texas Rangers. After he was sidelined with a labrum tear in his hip and then shoulder inflammation later on in the 2011 season, the Rangers left him unprotected, and the Baltimore Orioles claimed him off waivers in November of 2011.
Since joining the Orioles, O'Day has transformed from a solid reliever into a truly dominant one. As one of the few true, "submarine" style, side-arm pitchers in the game, O'Day has been the keystone of the Orioles' bullpen the past several seasons, though not as the closer. Since 2012, he's posted an ERA of 2.28 or lower every season. He took that success to new heights in 2015 as he struck out a ridiculous 11.30 batters per nine innings, one of the best marks in all baseball.
Why should we care?
There's no question that Darren O'Day would be a superb addition to the Tigers' bullpen. O'Day has primarily held down the seventh or eighth inning with the Orioles, but the same could be said for current Yankees' closer Andrew Miller, during his time in Baltimore. Miller, whom the Tigers are also linked to in trade rumors, was perhaps the best setup man in the game during his brief stint with the Orioles before signing on with the Yankees as their closer last offseason. O'Day would have no trouble handling a closer role in Detroit, or elsewhere. His interest in moving to the ninth inning could even prove a factor in his decision-making process as teams like the Red Sox and Nationals already have a closer on staff.
On the mound, O'Day presents the hitter with a unique arm angle, superb command and deceptive movement on all his pitches. The odds are very good that any hitter facing him is either going to strike out, pop the ball up, or loft a routine fly ball into the outfield. For seven years now he's produced averages ranging around .250 on balls in play. He's extremely stingy with walks and consistently has a WHIP of 1.00 or less, so the odds are good that it's a solo shot when the rare long ball is launched off of him. Moving from Camden Yards to Comerica Park should only amplify O'Day's skill set.
In short, this is one of the elite relievers in the game at the moment, at the height of his craft. That the side-armer is so dominant with just a hard-sinking 87mph fastball and a slider only makes him more interesting.
Why should we stay away?
The bidding for Darren O'Day could certainly center around a three-year deal for $30 million dollars or more. Beyond the Tigers, the Dodgers and Cubs seem seriously interested at this point. Both are in the hunt for a World Series title, need a boost in their bullpen, and certainly have the war chests to make a hard push for O'Day. Coupled with interest from several other big-spending franchises, and that's a lot of firepower involved.
Were the Tigers to sign him, it's difficult to imagine them adding anyone else of note to the bullpen beyond O'Day. In fact, depending on where the bidding ends, signing him could crimp the Tigers' options at other positions. O'Day would likely prove himself well worth his contract, but if he struggled or spent substantial time on the disabled list, the Tigers would be caught with all their eggs in one basket, as they were to a degree with Joakim Soria in 2015.
Will he end up in Detroit?
In recent weeks, we've heard conflicting tones from the Tigers' front office regarding their potential spending power this offseason. Just five days ago, Tigers general manager Al Avila was describing the payroll this year as, "more restrictive than in years past." Contrast that with a source close to the team telling BYB that, "money is no object" and that the Tigers would, "do whatever it takes," to be able to contend in 2016.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have immediately been linked with two of the most expensive relievers in the game, one who is currently under contract with another team. With the need for two starters and a seriously improved bullpen only the most pressing items weighing on the Tigers' front office, a reliever like O'Day is liable to put the seeming disparity in the Tigers' postures to the test. Still, with so much interest, it's difficult to bet on the Tigers in O'Day's case.