A lot has changed in the Tigers bullpen in the past few weeks and they haven’t even made a trade.
With the trade deadline fast approaching, it is time to take one more look at where they stand, what to expect and what, if any, moves should be made.
Joaquin Benoit is entrenched as the closer and should stay there. He is perfectly capable of the role and doing a fine job. Drew Smyly is a great set up man, works in one or two innings now and he can get out of inherited situations and has had a spectacular year so far.
The Tigers also have Phil Coke and when healthy, Darrin Downs for the lefty situations. With Smyly also in the bullpen, I’m not sure both are needed, but since neither, under any circumstances should pitch to a right handed hitter, this could be a positive and a negative. Downs could come in to get a lefty out in the 6th or 7th, and Coke could a batter or two later.
However, since neither, under any circumstances, should pitch to a right handed hitter, this limits the arms in the pen and with Smyly’s incredibly effective ability to get out lefty’s, maybe just Coke is needed.
Another case against bringing back a guy like Downs, who can only pitch in situations against left handed hitters is the hard throwing Bruce Rondon and Al Albuquerque. Both can get out left handed hitters with biting sliders that are effective against both righties and lefties.
So that gives the team a Closer (Benoit), Set Up man (Smyly), the Lefty (Coke) and two hard throwing early inning relievers that miss bats (Rondon, Albuquerque). This leaves two spots up for grabs for the rest of the season, three for the playoffs, but just assume that Porcello goes to the pen come October for that spot.
One of those spots should go to Luke Putkonen. He has been quietly effective in his 20 innings in Detroit this year, is a converted starter and threw 94 innings last year, so his arm can take 3+ innings at a time in mop up duty if a starter falls flat on his face. That is what is needed, instead of trying to piece together an effort one inning at a time from the 4th inning on, from the pen, using just one pitcher is preferable and having someone like Putkonen available for this role is ideal.
That leaves one spot open for the Tigers, who have been rumored to be on the look out for almost every single relief pitcher from the following teams: Astros, Marlins, Mariners, Cubs, Brewers, Twins, Padres and Mets.
That’s a lot to choose from, but Dombrowski can be picky since the perceived need and actual need are different at this point. Based on early season results, yes, the team needed a lot of help. But, since Benoit and Smyly are entrenched in the two key spots, adding a veteran middle reliever or additional set up man is all that seems to be needed on this team.
Casey Jansson from Tornoto is now on the market and can be a closer or set up man, but since he is signed for just $4 million next year as well and Toronto may still be in a “win now” mindset, he won’t be cheap and is most likely too costly for them.
The same can be said for the Mets closer Bobby Parnell, who has a team friendly deal for 2014 and a front office that isn’t in a “burn it to the ground” mood like both Chicago teams are.
So, the Tigers could make the move for Kevin Gregg or Jesse Crain (if he comes off the DL in time). Both are signed just until the end of this season, neither is a premier pitcher so they shouldn’t cost much and can give Dombrowski and Leyland a veteran to pitch late in games instead of relying on the still very young Rondon/Albuquerque combination and allow them to pitch in less stressful spots earlier.
Jon Axford from the Brewers and Tom Wilhelmsen from the Mariners could fit this role as well, may cost a bit more, but neither should command either of the Tigers top two position prospects, Avisail Garcia or Nick Castellanos.
So, the Tigers have options and are now in a good position of only needing a single veteran arm, not necessarily a closer, to secure things in the bullpen for the rest of the season. Dombrowski can sit back this year and watch other teams overpay for rental players like the Rangers just did for Matt Garza and not have to worry about losing two of the only quality prospects in the system.