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Tigers sign left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve to minor league deal

Detroit adds the soft-tossing veteran to provide left-handed depth to a bullpen that needs plenty more help.

MLB: New York Mets at San Francisco Giants Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of Saturday’s trade of Gregory Soto, Scott Harris was asked how he would address a bullpen suddenly lacking in left-handed pitching depth. With the departures of Andrew Chafin and Soto, swingman Tyler Alexander suddenly represents the only major league proven left-handed option. A formerly strong bullpen has now lost four of its top relievers in the past year. Harris answered with a message hinting at an as-yet-unannounced move.

On Monday, the answer became clear, as multiple beat writers reported that the Tigers will sign veteran left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve to a minor league deal. The pact includes an invitation to spring training and incentives should he make the major league roster. Should he reach all the reported escalators, Shreve will earn a cool $2 million for the 2023 season. Things will have to go extremely well for that to occur, however.

The Atlanta Braves drafted Shreve way back in 2010 in the 11th round out of the College of Southern Nevada. He debuted in the majors briefly with the Braves in 2014 and then was traded to the New York Yankees along with David Carpenter for Manny Banuelos the following offseason. He pitched there for the next four seasons, having some up-and-down years as he racked up a decent number of strikeouts but struggled with walks and keeping the ball in the park. In 2018, he was dealt at the deadline along with Giovanny Gallegos to the St. Louis Cardinals for Luke Voit and international bonus slot money.

Though he was given close to a $1M contract in 2019 through arbitration, the Cardinals outrighted him to AAA at the end of spring training as he struggled badly with his command. Shreve was briefly called up in July but designated for assignment after just a few days. So began a journey through the National League that saw him spend time with the Mets and Pirates, where he seemed to regain the form he had shown at times with the Yankees. He actually turned in his two best seasons in 2020 and 2021 with a combined 3.43 ERA in 81 innings, though advanced metrics suggested his 2020 season was far better thanks to a strong strikeout rate which evaporated in 2021.

In 2022 he returned to the Mets but his time there was a disaster as he posted the worst home run rates of in his career. He did produce a noticeable reduction in his walks while maintaining a healthy strikeout rate, but the damage was too plentiful. Shreve was eventually released in July before returning again to the Yankees on a minor league deal, though he never appeared in the majors for them.

In terms of his profile, it’s certainly a far cry from the hard-throwing Soto to Shreve, who tops out at 92 mph. He features a 3-pitch mix of a 4-seam fastball, splitter, and slider. He mainly uses his fastball and splitter, while his slider remains a third pitch in his arsenal. His fastball generates a decent amount of spin, ranking in the 75th percentile of MLB pitchers, and he has high spin efficiency with it and his splitter, but overall it's nothing spectacular.

Shreve doesn’t give hitters a good look at the ball until he releases it, so he has a little deception in the mix. He also gets better than average vertical movement on his fastball but the pitch remains prone to getting bombed on more than is suitable for major-league work. The splitter is a deceptive floater that Shreve used 37 percent of the time in 2022, producing excellent whiff rates and little to no hard contact against. When he’s commanding both effectively, he’s a strong option to roll out of the bullpen, but the consistency has eluded him.

Here’s some footage from 2021. Remember these are the highlights, but that splitter is objectively pretty filthy.

Clearly, there’s something here the Tigers like, but it’s certainly not glaringly obvious. The slider actually has solid enough metrics that perhaps he can up the usage there, and simply throw a few less fastballs. Harris has shown an eye for getting solid contributions from struggling pitchers in the past, so we’ll have to hope that they have a good plan to get Shreve back on track. The run values on all three of his pitchers were at or below average last year but he’s shown the ability to be a bit above average with them in the past. It will be up to Chris Fetter and the coaching staff to get the most out of him.

There may be something the Tigers think they can tweak to help him regain the serviceable form he’s shown in the past, but Shreve is a 31-year-old veteran who has frequently struggled with command and the long ball. Given the absence of clear left-handed options behind Alexander in the bullpen, he probably becomes the de-facto next-best candidate for a lefty reliever, unless they should choose to use starting prospect Joey Wentz in such a role. That’s rather less than ideal.

Shreve isn’t guaranteed a spot by any means, and with returning arms like Alex Lange, Alexander, Will Vest, Jose Cisnero, and Rule 5 pick Mason Englert, there are only a couple of spots left for the taking. Jason Foley and Rony Garcia will be pushing for spots as returning contributors, and a couple of young arms pushed into starting duty last year will have legitimate cases for a bullpen spot. Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz both are probably too old for AAA and could become highly effective out of the bullpen, though only Wentz is left-handed. Further down the depth chart for lefty relief options include recent pickup Zach Logue, Miguel Del Pozo and Jake Higginbotham.

Bottom line, Shreve is a veteran left-handed arm signed due to a lack of depth in southpaws. His ceiling isn’t particularly high, and he’s often underperformed in the past. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he makes the team out of spring training but is released over the summer if younger arms are pushing for playing time and his struggles continue.

Harris could still add another left-handed option on a minor league deal, and frankly, it would be nice if he did, particularly one with more upside. The Tigers appear unwilling to compete for any proven MLB caliber relievers this offseason, so it’s going to be a real test of Harris and his coaching staff’s ability to identify and tune up pitchers with potential.

Based on his first few months in charge, we’re also pretty confident Harris isn’t done yet, and the final 40-man roster and Triple-A depth won’t be locked in until very close to Opening Day.