Tigers’ General Manager Al Avila has been clear that the Tigers would look into acquiring a veteran starting pitcher, if not two, this offseason. He’s also been clear that they wouldn’t be shopping for anyone at all expensive. These two requirements may align around Chris Tillman. Jon Paul Morosi reports that preliminary talks have taken place with the former Orioles’ starter.
Tillman, 29, managed just 93 innings for Baltimore in 2017, and they were memorable innings for opposing lineups. He was rocked for a 7.84 ERA, posting an ugly strikeout-to-walk ratio while giving up a ton of home runs.
On the one hand, Tillman has never had home run issues until last season, despite pitching for years in a hitter’s paradise in Baltimore. The right-hander has never really been a hard thrower. Yet he managed to pitch up in the zone regularly, sitting 92-94 miles per hour, and getting his fair share of weak fly balls and pop-ups. You could see things going a little better for him with Comerica Park’s deep centerfield wall behind him. At least in the home run department.
On the other, that sudden outburst of home runs is backed by underlying issues. Tillman has never been much of a strikeout artist. He holds a career strikeout rate of just 17.8 percent to go against an 8.8 percent walk rate. But in 2017, the walks got out of control. So did the amount of balls leaving the park.
Tillman opened the year with shoulder issues, lost a tick or two off his fastball when he returned, and just didn’t look like he had the stuff to compete as a starter in the major leagues. Hitters didn’t chase at his soft cutter, and they weren’t fooled when he had to come into the zone. By August he was pitching in mop-up duty, and still struggling.
So he’s definitely a project, and that’s why he’s likely to be within the Tigers’ budget. Tillman’s velocity may rebound with an offseason of conditioning. But more than anything Tillman needs better command and a better breaking ball. Tigers’ pitching coach Chris Bosio was great for former Orioles’ washout Jake Arrieta’s career in Chicago. If he can coax more of a breaking ball out of him, Tillman could function as a solid backend starter.
The Steamer projections system pegs Tillman for both an ERA and a FIP of 5.25. One would expect a few less home runs and walks, and someone who can handle a decent workload when healthy. And Tillman had been a relatively durable pitcher until recently.
If Bosio sees something he can work with in Chris Tillman, signing him sounds like a sound idea. He made just $10 million on a one year deal in 2017, so they can probably get him for two years for close to the same overall amount. Comerica Park is a decent landing spot for him in terms of a park, and were he to rebound, he can be sure that the Tigers will look to flip him to a contender along the way.
There are flashier options available if Al Avila was up for more of a trade heavy approach, or willing to spend more in free agency. The Tigers could potentially acquire a more likely player to trade for prospects at the trade deadline. However, it would cost in either players or payroll. On the budget side of the free agent market, Chris Tillman is an okay option.