The Detroit Tigers’ decision to trade Doug Fister was one of the more perplexing moves of this past offseason. General manager Dave Dombrowski maintained that the $7.2 million the 30-year-old Fister was in line to earn through arbitration could be used elsewhere–specifically, on a free-agent closer.
Two days later, the Tigers inked Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20 million contract. Somewhat predictably, the 39-year-old closer has fallen apart in 2014. Nathan has pitched to the tune of a 5.28 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 4.13 xFIP) and 1.92 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
Still without a solution for the ninth inning, Dombrowski acquired Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Soria tossed 4.1 innings of 10.38 ERA-baseball until succumbing to a strained left abdominal. It’s quite possible the impending free agent will not throw another pitch in 2014.
Yet, despite wasting funds and prospect assets on finding a “proven” closer, the Tigers have continued to overlook a perfectly capable, internal option: Al Alburquerque.
Alburquerque has boasted a 2.76 ERA (versus a 3.01 xFIP) and 3.60 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 45.2 innings thus far in 2014. His success shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, however.
Since 2011, the Tigers’ reliever has owned a fruitful 2.91 ERA (versus a 3.09 xFIP) and 2.43 strikeouts-to-walks clip. And while right-hander has struggled with control, posting a career 5.11 walks-per-nine-innings ratio, the 28-year-old has witnessed that metric fall to 2.96 walks-per-nine-innings in 2014.
But similar to the Tigers’ delayed utilization of Joaquin Benoit as closer in 2013, the team continues to trot Joe Nathan out in the ninth instead of Alburquerque (or even Joba Chamberlain, for that matter).
Even though demoting Nathan and his $20 million contract to middle-relief duties would be a tough pill to swallow, the Tigers cannot continue to subject Alburquerque–their most dominant reliever—to low-leverage situations. In the event Alburquerque were to succeed in a month-long test run, it’s quite possible the Tigers won’t feel compelled to make another unnecessary closer splash in the offseason.