Earlier this offseason, the Detroit Tigers expressed some interest in righthander Chris Tillman. Formerly of the Baltimore Orioles, Tillman appeared to be an interesting buy-low candidate that could fetch a prospect at July’s trade deadline. He is still that pitcher, but the Tigers have since signed Mike Fiers, Ryan Carpenter, and a bunch of guys on minor league deals.
However, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman insists the Tigers are still interested in the 29-year-old righthander. Tillman is also fielding offers from the Baltimore Orioles, with the Minnesota Twins and others still showing some level of interest.
We’ve parsed through Tillman’s resume before, but here’s a quick refresher.
Tillman’s career 4.43 ERA and 4.66 FIP aren’t all that enticing, but he shrugged off some early struggles to post a 3.81 ERA in over 800 innings from 2012 to 2016. He topped the 200-inning barrier twice during that stretch, and had two other seasons north of 170 frames before shoulder injuries limited him to just 93 innings last season. As a fly ball pitcher, he struggled with home runs at times while in Baltimore and the AL East. He has pitched very well in a handful of starts at Comerica Park in the past, limiting hitters to a .175 average and .533 OPS.
Why are the Tigers now interested again?
It’s possible that they have been wanting to sign Tillman all along, but one thinks he would have already inked a deal if Detroit had been persistent enough. No, this feels like renewed interest because something has changed. I can think of three potential agents for change off the top of my head.
a. Someone doesn’t look right
b. Tillman’s price has dropped
c. They have a deal in place for Michael Fulmer
Given how starved the baseball world has been for news this offseason (the last 12 hours aside), I can’t imagine option C being the case without even a whisper of a trade rumor. We haven’t heard anything about another low-ball offer for Fulmer for a good month now. Outside of the San Diego Padres going gangbusters and dealing for Fulmer out of the blue sometime this week, he’ll be on the mound on Opening Day.
Option B is certainly possible, and would make sense if the rumors about multiple clubs wanting to sign him are true. The Orioles have always waited until the last minute to sign their free agents for this very reason, and the Blue Jays have already cashed in with a cheap deal for Jaime Garcia. The Minnesota Twins have also been mentioned as a Tillman suitor, but they have acquired two new starters in the past few days. Yes, one is Anibal Sanchez, but they’re not so pitching starved they need to bring in three new guys.
This leaves option A, and all signs point to that player being Jordan Zimmermann. He has already had a cortisone injection in his back so far this spring, and odds are he will need one in his neck at some point. After once being a lock for 190-200 innings per season, it’s anyone’s guess as to how many frames they can squeeze out of him this year.
It’s also possible the Tigers are simply interested in adding more rotation depth. Tillman would certainly fit that bill, and the only worry is how they would fit him into the mix with Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd still fighting for innings. Boyd, in particular, is running out of opportunities to establish himself as a legitimate major league starter, but he finished the 2017 season in strong fashion.