For those hoping the Detroit Tigers would finally start making serious moves toward building a more competitive roster, this offseason has once again been a disappointment. On the other hand, the small signings they’ve made have been oriented more toward upside plays than in recent years, and they’ve done the right thing by stockpiling some veteran pitching depth on minor league deals. On Friday evening, they added another piece, inking long-time Atlanta Braves starter Julio Teheran to a minor league deal with an invite to spring camp.
MLB Network’s Jon Heyman had the news first, with confirmation from Jon Morosi quickly following.
Teheran opted for an NRI deal with the Tigers over a guaranteed deal elsewhere because he got a base of $3M plus $1M in games started incentives. If he starts 20 games he makes $4M. The guaranteed deal was a low base with minimal upside. He is essentially betting on himself.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 20, 2021
No this isn’t the most exciting of moves. Nor was the addition of veteran starter Wily Peralta earlier in the day. However, it’s important to keep things in context with these particular decisions. Pitching depth is going to be a crucial factor in the 2021 season, as teams struggle to get the most out of their pitching without overtaxing arms that were only lightly used in the abbreviated 2020 season. Bringing in a pair of veteran right-handers for a look in spring camp doesn’t hurt anything, and should one of the two show a spark of their former best performance, they could provide insurance for injuries, and allow the club to deploy their young pitching prospects on their own terms.
Despite being just 30 years old, Teheran is a 10-year veteran of the major leagues. He showed occasional flashes of good performance in his lengthy tenure in the Braves organization and has been remarkably durable by modern standards. He is coming off a disastrous showing with the Los Angeles Angels in 2020 after fighting a bout with COVID-19 during the summer. Never much of a strikeout artist and relying on command and a shifty pair of fastballs, Teheran isn’t going to move the needle a whole lot for the Tigers, but there may be a reason they wanted a look at him.
Teheran has favored his fourseam fastball for much of his career, but has begun mixing in the sinker more in recent years. Both pitches spin on a similar axis, but have some seam-shifted wake effects that make their movement diverge pretty deceptively. Likewise, his extreme gyroball slider may be another pitch that new Tigers pitching coach Chris Fetter is well equipped to tune up. Just don’t expect miracles.
Teheran sits in the high 80’s nowadays with his fastballs, and his breaking ball and changeup are pretty mediocre as well. He got by in his best years by keeping his stuff on the edges of the plate and inducing weak contact. At best, the Tigers could get some decent innings out of him as a depth starter.
As for Peralta, he didn’t pitch in 2019, and is far removed from a few decent seasons as a backend starter for the Milwaukee Brewers in the middle of the last decade. He’s essentially a fastball/slider pitcher already, and can still run the heater to the plate at 95 mph, possibly a bit more in relief. Neither pitch, nor his command, has been consistently good in his career, and a move to the bullpen is a last ditch effort to stick in the majors a bit longer. The Tigers seem to view him as a potential depth reliever, and it’s difficult to imagine him being effective in any other role.
The crux of the matter, is that the Tigers have very little pitching depth in their farm system right now beyond the big names. With prospects Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Franklin Perez a complete wild card, they really don’t have options in the minor leagues should injuries wear a big hole in the Tigers rotation. They’d also like to be able to deploy their three top pitching prospects, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, and Casey Mize, on their own terms, rather than simply to plug holes.
Typically these deals come with opt-out clauses that come due early in the major league season, so this is just some insurance to see the club through spring camp. We’re not likely to see them in a Tigers uniform during the season unless Chris Fetter truly does have some magic beans to offer them. However, of the arms the Tigers have signed on minor league deals, Teheran would appear to have the best shot. The additional depth just helps them get through March with enough short-term options that they can make decisions based on what is best for their three valuable pitching prospects, and how Michael Fulmer looks in camp. If they can stash a few of these types at Toledo for the long haul? All the better.