Never Stop Improving The Bullpen

The Tigers have many bullpen questions. Joe Nathan can’t pitch his way out of a paper bag and would have been left off of the Opening Day roster if Bruce Rondon was able to pitch on back to back days instead of developing shoulder soreness that landed him on the DL instead.

Joakim Soria had the worst two months of his career in a Tigers uniform last year, but looks to rebound, Joba Chamberlain needs to find his 2014 first half self again, same for Ian Krol. Overall, there are a lot of question marks on if this bullpen can get things together and hold leads for the Tigers, unlike 2014.

What happened on Sunday before the Cubs and Cardinals kicked off the 2015 didn’t directly impact the Tigers, but indirectly, it set the cost of acquiring bullpen arms in 2015 as VERY high.

The San Diego Padres traded for Craig Kimbrel from the Atlanta Braves. Kimbrel is the premier closer in baseball, only 26 years old and signed for three more season.

I do not believe the Tigers should have made the trade for him, they simply did not have the assets the Padres gave up and extra salary they took on to get it done. What this trade showed, was that no matter how great your bullpen is, it can be improved.

The Padres had one of the best bullpens in 2014 and it looked to be even better in 2015, BEFORE THEY TRADED FOR THE BEST CLOSER IN BASEBALL.

The Padres went 60-1 in 2014 when leading after 6 innings. They also added Brandon Mauer from the Mariners for one of their jettisoned former starting outfielders and Shawn Kelley, who is a strike out/fly ball pitcher that fits perfectly in the Padres enormous park.

They were set to use former Tigers reliever/closer Joaquin Benoit as the closer in 2015 after he had his best year as a major leaguer in his 13 year career for the Padres in 2014. However, they can now shift him back to the set up role and they are sending Mauer and Kevin Quackenbush (2.48 ERA, 135 ERA+ in 54 IP in 2014) back to the minors until they are needed.

The Tigers do not have enough quality arms to fill the bullpen and yet the Padres are sending two pitchers to the minors that would be top choices for Brad Ausmus in the late innings. This is because the Padres identified the bullpen as a place where they need extra arms that can get outs, not a place where they can throw just about anyone in and figure it out later, like the Tigers seem to do.

The Tigers could call the Padres and ask about any of these extra players, see if the Padres would part with Benoit (much more likely than Mauer or Quackenbush) but the answer is most likely no. The Padres simply value two pitchers like Benoit and Kimbrel pitching the 8th and 9th, almost guaranteeing them a win when they get there with a lead, much more than the Tigers do.

Joe Nathan was a risk, but the choice was signing Nathan and resigning Benoit and Dave Dombrowski went with Nathan in one of his few very poor decisions.

This mess needs to be addressed before it costs the Tigers the AL Central. They may be able to pull it off once again this year, but Bruce Rondon needs to come back and contribute quickly and Joe Nathan needs to be sent packing.

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