The Detroit Tigers’ search for new pitchers has narrowed its focus, according to Chris McCosky. It’s no secret the team is on the hunt for veteran talent to fill out their starting rotation, and the bullpen has also been a constant work in progress for the team. Over the past few weeks, several free agent pitchers have been mentioned in connection with the Tigers, but it would appear they have a few favorites.
According to McCosky, Chris Tillman and Mike Fiers have pulled ahead of other rumored named like the return of Anibal Sanchez or Mike Pelfrey, or a new face like Jeremy Hellickson or Jason Vargas.
Additionally, the team appears to have a keen interest in Japanese closer Yoshihisa Hirano.
The rumors of the Tigers’ interest in Tillman began late last month, and we discussed the pros and cons of signing him. Tillman, who is 29 years old, was most recently with the Baltimore Orioles. In spite of an abysmal 2017 season where he racked up a 7.84 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, and 6.93 FIP, he has a history of being a quality starter. The 2013 All-Star typically pitches over 170 innings a season, and his career ERA is less cringe-worthy at 4.43. Tillman is precisely the kind of veteran talent the Tigers could use in their starting rotation, provided he can improve over last season and stay in games long enough to give the bullpen some relief.
With the Tigers, Tillman could find an opportunity to return to form. As recently as 2016 he had a 16-win season and a 3.77 ERA in the AL East, so it stands to reason he can absolutely still be a quality starter for the Tigers.
Mike Fiers, who spent the last three seasons with the Houston Astros, has better numbers than Tillman, and is also pretty consistent with his innings per season. In 2017 he had a 5.22 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, and a 5.43 FIP. He regularly manages over 150 innings a season. He gave up 32 home runs in 2017, the highest number of his career, and the only really concerning mark against him.
What the Tigers need most from the additions to their rotation are guys with stamina who can give the bullpen a rest without giving up too many runs. They need a reliable guy to come out every fifth game, who may not win the games, but will give the team a fighting chance. Both Tillman and Fiers would be good choices.
Speaking of the bullpen...
The Tigers’ interest in Japanese closer Yoshihisa Hirano shows that the team hasn’t forgotten about their late-inning relievers. Hirano would be a great get for the Tigers, and potentially allow current closer Shane Greene to move to a middle relief role, which he has proven himself quite capable of performing.
Hirano, most recently seen by American viewers during the 2017 World Baseball Classic, has spent the last 11 seasons with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan. His 2017 season saw him appear in 58 games, collect a 2.67 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP, and 29 saves. If the Tigers could add the 33-year-old to their bullpen, he could be a quality reliever.
Yoshihisa Hirano was a dominant closer in Japan from 2013 through last season (143 saves, 2.62 ERA). He will be 34 in March. Doesn't require posting fee or any of that. STL also in on him— Chris McCosky (@cmccosky) December 7, 2017
With any of these three players, the Tigers would add a veteran talent who could help the team, and also give the players themselves a chance to prove their talents in a lower-stakes season.
The Tigers are in a great position to find themselves signing rebound candidates, and both Tillman and Fiers could be poised for a solid season in 2018. The beauty of that potential is that it could also give the Tigers an opportunity to negotiate trades at the deadline if any of their new pitchers has a quality first half.