July 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

Kurt Mensching

Tigers should bring back reliever Joaquin Benoit

Joaquin Benoit may be the best combination of effective and affordable (in terms of prospects) on the market for the Tigers. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

It made sense at the time. With a young, flame-throwing reliever ready to take on a bigger role, the Tigers never seemed close to keeping Joaquin Benoit in Detroit.

Now might be a good time to try to make up for what — hindsight being 20/20 — seems like a mistake.

The plan was to trust the seventh or eighth innings to 23-year-old right-hander Bruce Rondon, who after stumbling in the closer’s role at the start of 2013 finally lived up to his potential before being lost to a right elbow injury in September.

The elbow was still an issue this spring, and Rondon underwent Tommy John surgery in March, sidelining him for this season.

The Tigers’ bullpen has never truly recovered and remains the weakest link in the team’s World Series aspirations.

It ranked 28th in earned-run average (4.51) entering play Sunday. Future indicators, such as strikeouts and walks allowed, do not paint much better a picture. The Tigers’ bullpen WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 1.40 ranks 26th and their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) statistic of 3.90 ranks 23rd.

The bullpen hasn’t helped its starters all that well either, allowing a third of inherited runners to score. That ranks 25th.

Benoit better off

Clearly the Tigers’ front office has work to do in improving the bullpen. That’s where Benoit comes in.

During his three seasons with the Tigers (2011-13) he pitched in 205 games and finished 74 of them. Benoit had a 2.89 ERA during the span, with his best season coming in 2013 (2.01 ERA).

The move to San Diego has paid off for Benoit — on the mound and in the pocketbook. In 36 games he has a 1.23 ERA and 0.68 WHIP.

The 36-year-old is due to receive $3 for the remainder of 2014, $8 million in 2015 and is under a club option that would pay him $8 million if exercised or $1.5 million if declined in 2016.

With the Padres 10.5 games out of first and having little real shot at winning the National League West this year — or next, if they’re honest — Benoit is a pretty pricy, yet unnecessary, piece of San Diego’s roster.

So it came as no surprise when last week USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported Benoit would be available on the trade market, and that the Tigers were “quite interested.”

Hard history

Benoit may have a bit of a bad rap in Detroit. After all, he threw the pitch in the second game of the 2013 ALCS that David Ortiz delivered over Fenway Park’s right-field wall to tie a game and series the Red Sox would go on to win.

To hear some talk, Benoit lost the entire series on his own, rather than the Tigers’ bats failing to show up, the other relievers loading the bases ahead of Benoit’s ill-fated pitch, or Max Scherzer, Drew Smyly and Jose Veras allowing four runs in the seventh inning of Game 6.

Baseball is a team game. To pin a loss on one individual is ridiculous. To turn Benoit away in 2014 because of the ALCS would be incredibly shortsighted.

Benoit is not the only reliever on the market: Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi reported Detroit is interested in Texas’ reliever Joakim Soria as well as Rangers teammate Jason Frasor and Astros reliever Chad Qualls.

All would be helpful in Detroit, but Benoit may be the best combination of effective and affordable (in terms of prospects) on the market.

The Tigers should do their best to bring Benoit back to Detroit.

Kurt Mensching is editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.

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