Paul: Tigers don't need to rush into acquiring reliever
About five seconds after Joe Nathan walked off the mound in Toledo in obvious pain Wednesday, Twitter exploded, with fans encouraging Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski to make a move.
Nathan's latest setback might be minor, it might be severe, nobody knows just yet.
Tigers fans just know it happened less than 24 hours after the bullpen had its first meltdown of 2015 — a three-run, two-homer debacle in Tuesday's 5-2 loss to the Yankees.
So fans want a move.
Never mind, there aren't good many moves to make, at least not right now.
The name that is, by far, most popular among the fan base is to sign veteran closer Rafael Soriano, the 35-year-old who's the latest post-Opening Day, free-agent holdout of agent Scott Boras.
Soriano has saved 117 games the last three seasons, with the Yankees and Nationals, and 207 for his career, which also includes stops with the Mariners, Braves and Rays.
So, why's he still a free agent?
A couple reasons.
For starters, he has made at least $10 million each of the last four years, and $11 million each of the last three. Clearly, there were no bidders at that price this winter. The only two closers who got that kind of money this winter were Andrew Miller and David Robertson, who are in their prime. Soriano, certainly, is not, and guys like, umm, Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon have shown you how much of a risk it is to pay that kind of money to closers not in their prime.
Soriano also picked a rotten time to struggle in 2014. After a brilliant first half with the Nationals — he had an 0.97 ERA through mid-July, yet amazingly didn't make the All-Star team — he really scuffled after the break. After July 12, the right-hander from the Dominican Republic posted a 6.48 ERA, opponents hit .305 and slugged .864 against him, and he blew five saves.
How bad is that?
Consider, by comparison, Nathan, who had a rotten first year with the Tigers, had a 3.70 ERA in the second half, while opponents hit .253 and slugged .308 against him. He blew two saves.
You can see why Soriano hasn't been signed yet, though it's not just about the numbers. Teams have lots of savvy scouts, and if they something in him, some team would've taken a chance. Nobody did.
And there are no indications that Dombrowski has reached out to Boras to discuss Soriano.
I'd be surprised if Dombrowski ever places that call.
The Tigers bullpen isn't great, we all know that. But it's not in the worst of shape yet, either. At least they now have a lockdown closer in Joakim Soria, who is 5-for-5 on saves, racking up the 1-2-3 innings and was certain to remain the closer even if Nathan came back.
Bruce Rondon is throwing on consecutive days in Lakeland and might not be too far away from Detroit. The Tigers believe Joba Chamberlain can rediscover his slider, and Al Alburquerque is solid, even if he couldn't find the plate with a compass in Tuesday's collapse.
The rest of the cast — Blaine Hardy, Ian Krol, Tom Gorzelanny — is a mixed bag, and could go either way.
But even if they go south, the Tigers at least have ready options in the minor leagues this year, unlike past years, when they threw darts at a dartboard to determine the next call-up. (Note: I made that last part up, though you get the point.)
Buck Farmer might be the first call-up from Toledo, with his improved curveball and location. Alex Wilson, acquired in the December trade with the Red Sox, hasn't allowed a run in five outings in Toledo. Lefty Kyle Ryan is another guy to watch closely, as his curveball is much improved, too, though he was knocked around pretty good during his start Tuesday in Toledo. Josh Zeid is another guy, if he starts locating his pitches with some regularity. Melvin Mercedes is progressing nicely, as well.
You see, the Tigers at least have options.
All of them won't pan out, but it'd very be surprising if a couple of them don't. (My best bets: Farmer and Wilson.) And a couple of them might be enough to keep the Tigers more than afloat, for now, given their hot start. Plus, remember, the excellent work by their starting pitchers, plus the much-improved defense, takes much of the emphasis off the bullpen, anyway.
My guess on how this all plays out: The Tigers are just fine through June and into July, and if they have to make a move there, they will — just like they did last summer, when they acquired Soria, and then starter David Price.
The Tigers, given the questions surrounding Justin Verlander, might need to add a starter again in July, too, which could make acquiring a reliever tricky business, given the perceived lack of trade chips at thier disposal.
But here's the reality. They have plenty to swing multiple trades, starting with blue-chip center-field prospect Derek Hill and Toledo shortstop Dixon Machado, whose stock has risen rapdily in a mere 12 months, just like Devon Travis' did the 12 months prior, allowing the Tigers to snag Anthony Gose from the Blue Jays.
Sure, the Tigers could avoid trading any prospects for a reliever by just spending on Soriano.
And if this was vintage Soriano, the deal probably would already be done.
But this isn't vintage Soriano. And the Tigers know darn well what happens when you sign for the future, based on a closer's past.
Just look at Nathan. And Joel Hanrahan. And Troy Percival.