It's no secret that the Detroit Tigers are looking to upgrade their bullpen this offseason, and that would include finding a closer, a set up man, and maybe (hopefully) more. One problem: there are no current closers available on the free agent market -- although Joakim Soria held down the ninth inning in Detroit for the better part of 2015 -- but there are a few pitchers with recent ninth inning experience.
One of the first moves of the offseason came when the Washington Nationals declined their half of a $7 million mutual contract option on reliever Casey Janssen. The beleaguered Nationals will pay the former closer a $1.5 million buyout instead, making him a free agent.
Janssen, a 34-year-old right-handed relief pitcher, posted a 4.95 ERA, 4.08 FIP, 1.15 WHIP, and 27:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 40 innings this past season for the Nationals in a setup role behind Drew Storen, and later Jonathan Papelbon. Janssen missed the start of the season with a shoulder injury, and was activated from the disabled list on May 22.
Who is he?
Last January, the Nationals signed Janssen to a one year, $5 million contract with a mutual option for 2016. Eno Sarris of FanGraphs offered a breakdown of Janssen's profile at that time. Janssen is a command pitcher with a very low walk rate, as his 1.13 WHIP in 2015 will attest. He had spent the three previous seasons working mainly as the Blue Jays' closer, racking up 81 total saves in those three years.
Janssen started to have shoulder trouble in 2014, limiting him to 45 2/3 innings, and it carried into the 2015 season. His best years came from 2011 to 2013 when he posted ERAs in the mid-twos with strikeout rates of 8.5 to 9.5 batters per nine innings. Last season, Janssen struck out just over six batters per nine innings, closer to his career rate.
Why should we care?
The Tigers are looking for bullpen help, and there are no current closers on the free agent market this offseason. Janssen, a former closer who comes with the "proven closer" label at somewhat of a discount, is the next best thing. Not that he would be the Tigers' ideal closer, but he has filled a late inning bullpen role in each of the past six seasons.
Janssen figures to be available on a short-term contract, hoping to rebuild his value after a season where injuries gave him a late start to the season. He could be a decent buy-somewhat-low candidate who is better than most, if not all of what the Tigers currently have in their bullpen.
Why should we stay away?
Janssen's best seasons are two to three years behind him when he was able to strike out a batter per inning to go with his excellent command. He has kept the command but lost the spike in strikeout ability. He has also battled injuries the past two years, including a nagging shoulder injury, which is never a good sign for a pitcher.The Tigers need two late-inning relievers at minimum, including a closer and a setup man. Janssen could be a relatively inexpensive setup man, but there is a reason for that.
Will he end up in Detroit?
I would rate Janssen as a better option than Joba Chamberlain or Tom Gorzelanny at this time last year, but not the solution to the Tigers' ninth inning problems. He is one of many relief pitchers who has late inning experience and his command is still good. Pitching in Comerica Park may assist him in keeping his home run rate down. If the Tigers find themselves going into the season with Al Alburquerque penciled in for the seventh inning, they should be all over pitchers like Janssen.