July 30, 2013
The Tigers Fortify Their Bullpen
Had someone taken a preseason poll asking folks which team was most likely to add a reliever at the deadline, the Tigers likely would have won by a fair margin.
That's because this winter Dave Dombrowski chose against adding a veteran closer. Instead Detroit entered the season with an unsettled ninth-inning situation. The discombobulation continued in April, when three different pitchers recorded the first three saves of the Tigers' season. (Though, to be fair, one was of the three-inning variety.) By the time April ended Jose Valverde was reinstalled as the closer, the same position he had lost during the postseason, and the same position he lost again this season. But during all that hoopla the Tigers became the antithesis of the 2012 Orioles. Whereas Baltimore's dependable bunch secured tough wins, the Detroit bullpen gave them away. As Marc Normandin explained in early July, the Tigers could have a few more wins were it not for their shaky end-game relief work:
"The Tigers have lost every single game they have blown a save in. Every team blows saves -- hell, the Yankees have three of them this year, and they have Mariano Rivera -- but generally those teams at least occasionally come back to win. The 2013 Tigers, though, have come away with a loss they probably wouldn't have more often than they should, a scenario that could have been avoided if they had just had a capable relief option in place for the ninth."
Normandin wrote that on July 4, and the Tigers bullpen hasn't blown a save since. Joaquin Benoit and starter-turned-reliever Drew Smyly have become reliable options. Still, the Detroit bullpen needed help. Phil Coke is a left-handed specialist, Octavio Dotel is hurt, Al Alburquerque has allowed nearly two baserunners per inning pitched, and Leyland's too old to rely on unproven arms in tight spots. Thus the need for a reliable, versatile arm. Someone like Veras.
Veras, 32, performed well in his first try as closer. The big question is whether he'll continue to throw strikes and avoid walks at career-best rates. If so, then Veras becomes a legitimate late-inning option. Shy of that he fits in as a middle reliever with better stuff—led by a mid-90s fastball and a high-70s breaking ball—than results. The nice thing about Veras from Detroit's perspective is how he might fit into their future plans, too. Jeff Luhnow wisely added a club option worth $3.25 million for next year when he signed Veras during the offseason. Dombrowski may have just helped solve his club's late-inning woes for 2013 and 2014 for the cost of roughly $4 million and a solid-but-not-great prospect. Not too shabby. —R.J. Anderson
Reportedly acquired Low-A OF-L Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later from the Tigers for RHP Jose Veras [7/29]
Vasquez has been one of Detroit's top prospects since he signed for over $1 million in 2010. Extremely long and lean, so much so that he was dubbed "Skeletor" by his teammates, Vasquez has the frame to fill out and look the part of a physical big-league corner outfielder.
Vazquez's best tool is his natural hitting ability, which stands out the moment he steps on the field. He has a fluid left-handed stroke with excellent bat-to-ball skills and a very confident demeanor. His bat speed is impressive and he shows an ability to turn on the ball and drive it out of the park. Some scouts will project solid-average power down the line while others are concerned about him physically developing enough to translate his natural line-drive stroke to home runs. Vasquez is a fringy runner who needs to improve his reads on the bases. Defensively, he is limited to left field and has shown little in the way of desire to improve his defensive shortcomings. His arm is strong but erratic and needs improvement, much as his defense does.
In the end, Vasquez is a bat-first kid whose prospect status will hinge entirely on his physical development and the translation of his power to in-game situations. If he can make strides with his power, he could be a solid everyday guy. —Mark Anderson
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson