If there’s one role baseball clubs always seem on the hunt to fill, it’s that of a gifted closer. The 2016 postseason seemed to call into question everything we knew about the standard use of closers. Reams were stretching their final-inning players for two or three innings, or bringing in starters to do the job, or simply not using them at all, in spite of do-or-die games hanging in the balance. Yet it was also a year we saw closers like Zach Britton, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman take center stage as star players in their own right. So it stands to reason this postseason a lot of teams will be looking to find that magic bullpen piece, the next big thing as far as saved games go.
While the Tigers already have a skilled closer in their bullpen, there could be a valid reason to look at someone like Brad Ziegler. He’s older, and coming off a great season with the Boston Red Sox, plus his price tag will be a lot lower than some other options out there. With the Tigers looking to find cost savings or trade opportunities wherever they can, they might want to look at shopping their existing closer, Francisco Rodriguez, and using a short-term deal with someone like Ziegler to fill that position for the remainder of the season, while also possibly getting a younger bullpen arm in return for the Rodriguez trade.
MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo suggests that teams hungry for a closer might find a wallet-friendly solution with Ziegler.
Free-agent RHP Brad Ziegler emerging as strong Plan B for teams not looking to spend big on Chapman/Jansen. About 12 teams in, source says.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) November 29, 2016
Who is he?
Brad Ziegler is the 38-year-old closer for the Boston Red Sox, formerly of the Arizona Diamondbacks. What makes Ziegler worthy of note is not necessarily his numbers—which are fair but average—it’s his pitching style. Ziegler throws from a submariner arm position, and heavily favors a changeup, which is exceedingly rare to see from that arm position. In 2016 he largely divided his pitches between a mid-80s fastball and his changeup, which alternates between the high 70s to low 80s. The benefit to the submariner arm slot is the deception it presents for the hitter. Especially with a changeup which is already a misleading pitch, this can prove to be damn near unhittable in many situations, and that level of deception is at its peak when batters are only seeing him once, without time to adjust to his mechanics.
Why should we care?
There have been rumors circulating that the Tigers might shop Rodriguez for a trade. If they were able to get a decent value for him—either with prospects or a younger established player—there would be a vacuum left behind in the close role. While Bruce Rondon has long been considered the person to eventually fill this position, he may not yet be ready to take on the closer mantle, in which case having someone with established skill, like Ziegler, could be beneficial to the Tigers while they further groom Rondon to step into the position in 2018.
Ziegler has already proven he’s capable of taking on the bullpen room in a posteason team with the Red Sox, and his submariner arm delivery is sneaky enough to keep a lot of batters guessing, making up for what he lacks in general fastball velocity. He’s also been around the game a long time, and the bullpen might benefit from an established player to help guide the younger players.
Why should we stay away?
For starters, is he really an improvement over our existing closer? With their price tags neck-and-neck, it seems like a good idea to compare his 2016 season to that of the Tigers existing final-act pitcher. If we compare Ziegler to Rodriguez, as well as Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen—who will likely fetch the biggest paydays for closers—we can see he’s not a substantial improvement.
He did work through more regular season innings than Rodriguez, and still maintained a lower FIP, which is worth looking at, but are the numbers substantial enough to warrant changing our closer? Also, at age 38 there isn’t a lot of room for Ziegler to grow. If the Tigers pin their 2017 hopes on him, they’d be looking at the potential for another Joe Nathan disaster of a season. Ziegler is, at best, a one-season rental, and that’s if he maintains his numbers from last year. With an existing contract in place for Francisco Rodriguez, it seems like a fool’s errand to pick up a different closer at this point, with no real long-term opportunities to keep him on the team.
Will he end up with the Tigers?
Last season Ziegler was paid $5.5 million for one year split between the Diamondbacks and the Red Sox. He’ll likely be seeking a slightly higher payday in 2017, especially with a market hungry for closers. So, if Ziegler nets a $6 million one year salary or more next year, there’s no benefit to having him over an already established Tigers pitcher in Francisco Rodriguez. Since the Tigers have already paid Rodriguez’s $6 million option for next season it seems highly unlikely they’d bring in Ziegler to replace him, unless they’re able to shop Rodriguez for a trade somewhere that will net them a more valuable return.