The Detroit Tigers have made it known that they are looking for two starting pitchers this offseason. It's also no secret that the team has more needs than they can fill just by shopping on the free agent market. But it is a deep market for starting pitchers this offseason, so nobody would be surprised if the Tigers were to sign two free agent pitchers -- one No. 2 or 3 type of starter and one not-so-upper-end type.
One starting pitcher who has gotten used to being a free agent is Rich Hill, the 35-year-old 11-year veteran most recently of the Boston Red Sox. Hill has signed 11 different free agent contracts for six different major league teams with mixed results and health issues along the way. In his four starts with Boston at the end of the 2015 season, he posted a 1.55 ERA with a 0.66 WHIP. The drop in his walk rate last year was incredible.
Now, he is once again a free agent looking for work, and he figures to parlay those four promising starts into another contract. Rob Bradford of WEEI in Boston reported that Hill "is expected to sign this week," and the Red Sox are not involved. Could the Tigers be in the Rich Hill sweepstakes?
Who is he?
Hill is a 6'5, 220 pound lefthander from the University of Michigan who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2002 amateur draft. He comes from Milton, Massachusetts, so you could say that the Red Sox are his hometown team, but he has Michigan connections also. He has spent time in the major leagues with the Cubs, Orioles, Red Sox, Indians, Angels, Yankees, and Red Sox again. Prior to the 2015 season, he had not started a game in the major leagues since he made 13 starts with Baltimore in 2009, pitching every season in relief in between, mainly as a LOOGY.
Why should we care?
Hill's ERA is the lowest among pitchers on the free agent market in the small sample of just four starts. He wasn't just lucky, or just good, he was dominant against each of the four other teams in the American League East. In 29 innings, he gave up 14 hits, five walks, and struck out 36 batters, including a 10-strikeout shutout against the Orioles. The fact that he has been injured will keep his price tag down about as low as you're going to find on the free agent market this year. He could be a bargain buy, similar to the way that Chris Young was for the Kansas City Royals last year.
Why should we stay away?
To say that Hill has had health issues would be a gross understatement. He worked just five innings in 16 appearances for the Angels and Yankees in 2014, and had two Tommy John surgeries in 2011 and 2012. He pitched a career high 63 games for Cleveland in 2013, but posted a 6.28 ERA with a 1.73 WHIP in his first season back from his second surgery. While he pitched extremely well for Boston in September, there is no recent track record to hang your team's pennant hopes on.
Will he likely wind up in Detroit?
Hill will be looking for a legitimate chance to pitch in a starting rotation with a major league team. He could have that chance in Detroit. Whether the Tigers want to sign him at bargain rates and call him a solution for one of the two rotation spots that they're looking to fill is another matter. Several teams may be interested in him as "insurance" or depth, and the Tampa Bay Rays are said to be interested in signing him for their rotation. He earned the major league minimum salary with the Red Sox while he was with them in 2015. MLBTR forecasts that he'll sign a one year contract for $5 million.