It goes without saying that the Detroit Tigers are looking for bullpen help this offseason, but with new general manager Al Avila now at the helm, many were unsure as to how aggressive he would be in his pursuit of the current crop of free agents. Sunday the Tigers were meeting with Joakim Soria's agent this week at the GM meetings, according to Tony Paul of the Detroit News. As of Tuesday morning, that meeting "went well" and the team definitely wants Soria back, a source has told Bless You Boys.
So far, Avila has come out guns blazing. Not only are the Tigers potentially interested in Andrew Miller and Darren O'Day, they have also expressed interest in a reunion with Soria, who began the 2015 season as the team's closer. Soria, who allowed a 2.85 ERA and 1.05 WHIP for the Tigers in 2015, has expressed similar interest in returning to Detroit after a brief stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
While Soria's time in Detroit was largely productive, there were reasons to doubt what he will bring to the table in future seasons. His 4.87 FIP was well above his career norms, and he went through a very pedestrian month-long stretch in which he allowed six home runs in 10 outings. However, other advanced metrics indicated that the home run rate was a fluke, and he posted a 3.27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 41 innings.
Paul opines that Soria "doesn't like to waste time" and that the Tigers are also looking to move quickly, so a decision could come as early as this week. With interest in both Soria and O'Day peaking, the Tigers may be forced to choose between the two. I would not be upset -- nor surprised -- if the team landed both.
The Tigers will need the extra bullpen help going forward after a puzzling move on Monday. Reliever Guido Knudson was claimed on waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have made a habit of getting the very best out of their pitchers under the watchful eye of pitching coach Ray Searage. Knudson isn't the typical Pirates reclamation project, but was very unimpressive in his major league debut last season.
It's unclear why the Tigers tried to waive Knudson with five spots already open on their 40-man roster (Knudson's departure makes six), but he nearly made it through the gauntlet. The Pirates are second-to-last on the priority list for American League players, with only the St. Louis Cardinals behind them. The Tigers have several players they need to add to the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft, but the timing of Knudson's departure seems odd.
The Tigers continued to beef up their analytics department on Monday, hiring former Toronto Blue Jays assistant general manager and Apple executive Jay Sartori. Former Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous, who was known for his use of statistical analysis within their system, hired Sartori away from the Washington Nationals in late 2010. Sartori spent three years with the team, but departed after the 2013 season to work for Apple.
Sartori will serve as the Tigers' senior director of baseball operations and analytics, along with current director of baseball operations Sam Menzin. I'm not sure what the exact hierarchy is within the Tigers' analytics department, but the less-than-enthusiastic reaction from Blue Jays fans across the internet tells me that this was a good hire for the Tigers.
Seriously, now would be a good time to get Jay Sartori working for the Blue Jays again.— Gideon Turk (@GideonTurk) October 29, 2015
Elsewhere in the division, the Cleveland Indians will be without outfielder Michael Brantley for the foreseeable future. Brantley underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right (non-throwing) shoulder. Brantley is expected to be out of commission for five to six months, making his return for Opening Day questionable. He has hit .319/.382/.494 over his past two seasons, which includes roughly 12,000 hits against the Tigers alone. Detroit and Cleveland play a pair of series against one another in the first month of the 2016 season, but we're a long way away from determining whether he will be at all limited for those games.