A look at some of the best reliever options for the Detroit Tigers.
The Detroit Tigers spent most of their last competitive window desperately trying, and failing, to find quality relievers. And then last year, when practically everything else went wrong, they randomly stumbled across a top-10 bullpen. Baseball can be annoying sometimes.
Call it the Chris Fetter effect, or pure luck, but at least the Detroit Tigers have one apparent area of strength heading into 2023. But relievers are notoriously volatile from year to year. And the Tigers are already down two of their best arms from last season. Michael Fulmer was traded in August, and Andrew Chafin just opted out of the second year of his deal. It also wouldn’t be a surprise if Tigers president Scott Harris deals another reliever or two this offseason.
Harris rightly identified pitching as a permanent need for the Tigers. Teams can never have enough arms. Rogelio took a good look at the starting pitching market the other day, so today we focus on the bullpen. There are literally dozens of big-league relief pitchers on the market, and probably 200 more interesting arms floating around the minors. We can’t break down everyone, but we’ve picked out a handful of interesting names to know.
Originally drafted by the Tigers back in 2004, Chris Martin’s career has included an early retirement, independent ball, and several years in Japan. But he found his way back to the Majors in 2018, and he’s been the best strike thrower in baseball ever since. The Cubs traded him to the Dodgers last year, and he was spectacular in L.A., posting a 1.46 ERA with 34 strikeouts and 1 walk in 24.2 innings.
Rafael Montero was once considered a top-100 prospect in all of baseball. But after years of struggling as a starter in the Mets organization he moved to the bullpen. That wasn’t a particularly smooth ride either, but he has been very good since joining the Astros at the 2021 trade deadline. He’s a true four-pitch reliever who specializes in weak contact.
Robert Suarez has a fascinating story. He spent his early 20s working odd jobs in his native Venezuela, and didn’t start playing professional baseball until he was 24. Suarez pitched in Mexico, then spent the next six years pitching in Japan, though he missed time after blowing out his arm in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The Padres signed Suarez to a deal last December, and the 31-year-old rookie was spectacular. His fastball, sinker, and changeup were dominant offerings — epic Bryce Harper homer notwithstanding — and he’s likely due for a solid payday.
Left Hand Free
Tigers fans may remember Taylor Rogers from his years with the Minnesota Twins, for whom he was an All-Star in 2021. He’s a left-handed sinker/slider pitcher who has had issues with batted balls and leaving runners on base for a few years, and he turned into a home run machine for the Padres last year. But, he’s been one of the best relievers in baseball since his debut in 2016. He seems like a solid bounceback candidate.
Rogelio took a closer look at Matt Strahm before the 2022 season. Although Strahm has had trouble staying healthy in his career, he remains a good option if the Tigers are looking for a southpaw. He handles both lefties and righties well, he generally throws strikes, and only three of the six home runs he allowed last year would have gone out at Comerica Park.
Will Smith is few years removed from his All-Star peak, but he remains a quality lefty reliever with one of the best sliders in baseball. He threw 11 scoreless innings in the 2021 playoffs to help Atlanta win the World Series. Although Houston left him off their playoff roster this year, he pitched well enough for the Astros for the Tigers to give him a look.
Old Tigers Friends
This year’s free agent market is filled with former Tigers relievers. Scott Harris said the team is still interested in Andrew Chafin, but there are other interesting names out there, too. Michael Fulmer is coming off two solid seasons, and he’s one of the youngest relievers available. Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris are both on the market, though they may need to take minor-league deals.
Other familiar names include Jose Alvarez, Matt Moore, Wily Peralta, David Price, and Trevor Rosenthal. And then there are former Tigers draft picks Chad Green and Corey Knebel. Both are injured and likely out for most of 2023, but when healthy they’ve been good. Maybe the Tigers get creative and sign them to incentive-laden multi-year deals?
The Tigers may not sign a single player mentioned above. But they figure to be very busy this offseason, and we’ll keep you updated on their moves as soon as they happen.