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Tigers close to minor league deal with RHP Trevor Rosenthal, per report

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Rosenthal gave up 16 runs in 6 1⁄3 innings with the Washington Nationals this year.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers have signed right-handed reliever Trevor Rosenthal to a minor league contract, according to a report from MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. Rosenthal signed a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals last fall after missing the entire 2018 season, but was released last week after allowing 16 runs in 12 appearances with the Nationals.

Rosenthal was previously an All-Star closer with the St. Louis Cardinals. He notched 121 saves in six seasons with the Cardinals, and managed a 2.99 ERA in 325 innings. He struck out 435 batters to 143 walks, and produced 5.9 rWAR. He made the 2015 National League All-Star team, and finished 17th in NL MVP voting that year.

Unfortunately, those years may be long gone. Rosenthal missed the entire 2018 season after having Tommy John surgery in August 2017. He signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Nationals last November, but was a trainwreck in the Nats’ bullpen, to put it lightly. Rosenthal walked 15 hitters and gave up 16 runs in just 6 13 innings in Washington. He didn’t even record an out until his fifth appearance of the season, a story that received national attention for all the wrong reasons. He made it through a full inning in each of his next three appearances, but also gave up five runs during that stretch, so the Nationals sent him to the minors to get right. He struck out 11 hitters in 9 13 innings with Double-A Harrisburg... but also gave up a 5.79 ERA.

Still, the Nationals recalled him at the beginning of June, and he managed a 2.70 ERA in his first four appearances after rejoining the big league club. But he walked three batters without recording an out on June 22, and was released by the Nationals the next day.

So... why?

Rosenthal’s command has been a mess this year, but the velocity is there. His fastball has averaged 98.1 miles per hour in 2019, not far off of the 99 mph he averaged back in 2017. He has maxed out at 101.1 mph, according to Brooks Baseball, another figure that is right in line with his career norms.

The Tigers also have little to lose with this move, frankly. Their bullpen ranks as one of the worst in baseball — they had the second-highest ERA in the American League entering play on Thursday — and they could soon be down their best reliever in Shane Greene, who is a likely trade candidate in July. If the Tigers think they can hone Rosenthal’s command, they could potentially have added a top-end closer for a bargain bin price. Rosenthal’s current contract has a $10 million mutual option for the 2020 season, though those are rarely exercised.