Luis Ayala had a solid (if unspectacular) 2013 season for the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves, but has drawn interest from several clubs so far this offseason. Could the Tigers become a "mystery team" in pursuit of a possible bullpen bargain?
Who is he?
Ayala is a 35 year old right-hander from Mexico who has spent time with ten different clubs in nine big league seasons. He broke into the majors with the Montreal Expos back in 2003 and had four successful seasons, posting a 2.82 ERA and 3.28 strikeout-to-walk ratio from 2003 to 2007. He struggled in 2008 and 2009 while pitching for the Nationals, Mets, Twins, and Marlins, and floated around the minors for the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Rockies in 2010. He signed with the New York Yankees before the 2011 season and has resurrected his career. In the last three years, Ayala has put up a 2.54 ERA and 2.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 164 innings for the Yankees, Orioles, and Braves.
Why should we care?
Ayala isn't a shutdown reliever by any means, but his 3.34 career ERA in middle relief is still pretty impressive. His FIP and xFIP are much higher, but that will happen when you only strike out 5.96 batters per nine innings during your career. He succeeds by inducing ground balls at a high rate. His career rate is "only" 48.5%, but has eclipsed that mark in each of the past three years. His command suffered a bit last year, but has only walked 2.26 batters per nine innings in his career.
He also suffered a gunshot wound during an offseason hunting trip in 2008 but didn't miss the start of the season. High leverage situations mean nothing to Luis Ayala.
Why should we stay away?
Teams have finally realized that overpaying relievers is a bad idea. This is why a guy like Luis Ayala has reportedly drawn more interest than Joe Nathan or Grant Balfour. Nathan and Balfour are better pitchers than Ayala, but when they could command $5 million (or more) per year above what Ayala will get, are they really worth it? That said, the desire to avoid overpaying a top-name reliever may lead a team to overpay a lesser name reliever like Ayala. The Angels already gave Joe Smith $15 million over three years, and Ayala is reportedly seeking a multi-year deal as well. He made $1 million last year, for what it's worth.
Will he end up in Detroit?
I don't see this one happening. Dave Dombrowski has a history of pursuing big name closers -- hi there, Brian Wilson -- and the Tigers seem much more comfortable with the in-house options in middle relief than we do. Would you take Ayala over Al Alburquerque or Luke Putkonen?