If Not Papelbon…(or Crain…)

The Tigers currently have three reliable relievers Drew Smyly, Joaquin Benoit and Darin Downs. 

If that was your arsenal to navigate through October, perhaps with Rick Porcello in the ‘pen as well, the way that trio is performing at this moment you could have a reasonable amount of confidence, and not require any anti-psychotic medication.

The rub is that the Tigers still have 88 games left before they’ve got to worry about aligning their roster and rotation for the LDS (correct, they’re not entering the playoffs as a wild card). 

Leyland’s managed Smyly’s role well – and I adore his guts and his sneaky, filthy left reportoire – but he’s never done this a whole season. Will he maintain the success, or will the young southpaw succomb to the work load during the dog days?

At nearly 36, Benoit, in the last year of deal, undoubtedly seeking a final 8 to 10 million more dollars after this year to close out his career, is on pace to top his career high WAR of 2.4 back in 2007. If money is his motivation to accrue 20+ saves closer for the Tigers then so be it. The 9th inning question is closed. But with ‘stuff’ having almost never been in doubt with Benoit, there’s a reason he’s only tallied 13 career saves before this year. I AM a believer that final three outs of a tight ball game does usually require a particular temperment. 

I like Darin Downs. He’s overlooked and underrated by Tiger fans. I just wonder if he’s going to be relied on more heavily, he, like a utility player vaulted into a starting role, has weaknesses that are exposed and exploited. He may just be nothing more than a very dominant meta-LOOGY, allowing LH’s to hit just .205, vs. .283 for RH’s.

The Tigers don’t just require someone to arise as a closer, they need more/better alternatives in the bullpen aside from what resides there presently. The internal reinforcements include asecertaining whether Rondon can get Major Leaguers out, not just International Leaguers, and the should be running-out-of-chances likes of Villareal and Alburquerque.

Maybe unexpectedly Evan Reed or Luke Putkonen turns into some no-name to late season, October hero that the Cardinals seem to unearth on an annual basis (Motte, Rosenthal, Boggs, repeat). If you had Edward Mujica replacing the injured Jason Motte with 21 saves, please take over my pathetic fantasy team. 

Onto the point! 

Either Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is playing a nice hand of poker by according to Jon Heyman by placing an astronomical price tag on Jonathan Papelbon (and Cliff Lee, which is more appropriate IMO), or likes having a Ferrari in his snowy Alaskan driveway. Because that’s what having a $13 million dollar closer, not named Mariano Rivera, on a aging, mediocre team, bereft of elite prospects ensuring near-future success is like. Whew. Mouthful. 

If Dave Dombrowski doesn’t want to ante up for Papelbon and his postseason ERA of 1, then so be it. There ARE alternatives.

Jesse Crain and his Grilli’fied stuff over the least few years would be a welcome, but likely pricey addition to the Tigers bullpen. 

What about other names? Let’s scan the dregs of baseball, shall we? With some need-to-knows beside the candidates. 

The last place Brewers feature:

Francisco Rodriguez. 300 saves, dwindling fastball, but back healthy in 15 IP this year he features a WHIP of .71. Also, a 2.95 postseason ERA. Pricey, but not Papelbon pricey

Burke Badenhop. Journeyman ground ball speciliast. His career ground ball sits at 55%, while the average is 44%. Hit it AT Jhonny! Cheap.

Mike Gonzalez. Do the Tigers need another lefty in the pen? No, but while he’s a bit erratic (career 4 BB per 9 IP), he’s a strikeout per inning guy, and for a career LH’s hit .215 off him and RH’s are at .222. Injuries have kept him from being known as one of MLB’s finer setup guys. Cheap.

Kevin Gregg, Cubs. What!? He’s terrible! He’s so awful the Orioles are paying his salary for Chicago this year. The Cubs have benefitted to the tone of a 1.11 ERA from Gregg and a WHIP under 1. There’s risk, and he could disintegrate in the second half, but a plausible potential. Cheap, but not that cheap because Epstein knows what he’s doing in the Cubs rebuild.

Jose Veras, Astros. On his 6th team, fashiong more than 10 K’s per 9 IP, and a WHIP just over 1. If you’ll buy line drive percentage, he’s been sensational this year in avoiding squared up balls, with his LD% at 12% (average is 20). I also like this because if he’s acquired and any good, he’s potentially the setup man next year for a reason $3.2 million dollar option. Not cheap, but maybe verrrrry worth it

Steve Cishek, Ryan Webb, MarlinsTigers have scouted both? Cishek is someone we’ve heard mentioned as potential trade bait since Opening Day. What the hell do the Marlins need a closer for? Well, he’s cheap and pretty good. How would he perform in the crucible that is a chilly, fall pennant race? Webb? I can’t find anything that distinguished him as a potential asset to the Tigers bullpen. Sorry. You can look yourself

If the Marlins throw in Stanton…

Stop. He’s going Pittsburgh 😉

I know they have Glen Perkins (SABR-y lefty closer) and Brian Duensing, but Casey Fien of the Twins (former Tiger) caught my eye. In 70 games with the Twins the last two years he’s got a sub-1 WHIP, and a .220ish BABIP powered by his cutter he uses 45% of the time, which is just about equal to his fastball usage. Not sure

Lastly, let’s check out those wretched Mariners, with the caveat that Seattle may still be smarting from getting swindled out of Doug Fister. 

Charlie Furbush. Strikeout freak. Nearly 13 1/2 per 9 IP. He’s already walked as many as he did last year, but he’s got a nasty fastball/slider combo. He’s cheap for Seattle to maintain, so probably NO.

Tom Wilhemson. He sounds like someone in accounting, but I brought him up over the winter as a potential target in a Porcello swap. Did you know he saved 29 games last year? He may top that this year, but his K’s are down down down, but his fastball velocity is steady, though its usage is up to 70% (dude, shake off the 1!). His FIP is an absurd 4.02. All I’ll say is, that’s lousy, and FIP normalizes things like a pitcher’s defense. Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average. Wilhemson is also inexpensive for the Mariners, so unless the Tigers can convince Seattle he’s broken, when he’s really not…NOT LIKELY

Carter Capps. Lotta K’s, 37 in 29 IP, and lotta HRs allowed, 7. Pass

So there you go. On June 24th with much baseball left before the trade deadline, those are some non-Papelbon/Crain potential relievers for the Tigers to consider adding to their bullpen woes/questions/doubts/etc…

And that, once again is my unsolicited personnel free consultation to Mr. Dombrowski and Tiger fans worldwide. 



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