With just three days remaining until the non-waiver deadline hits, teams are finally coming off the fence to buy and sell while the gettin's still good. While bullpen reinforcements are typically a pretty popular summer addition, they seem to be grabbing most of the attention (save for Jake Peavy) as the Wednesday deadline approaches.
The Tigers and the Braves are the latest postseason hopefuls to add an extra arm to their bullpens, joining the ranks of the the Dodgers (Carlos Marmol), Orioles (Francisco Rodriguez), and Red Sox (Matt Thornton). Detroit has added Astros closer Jose Veras in exchange for outfield prospect Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later, while Atlanta has acquired veteran southpaw Scott Downs from the Angels for Triple-A right-hander Cory Rasmus (younger brother of Colby).
The addition of Veras, 32, gives the Tigers a much-needed arm at the back of the 'pen to help Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly, who have been the saving graces of a rather miserable relief corps this season.
The bullpen's 4.01 earned-run average -- 10th in the AL -- doesn't look that bad until you realize eight of the 13 relievers the Tigers have employed this season have ERAs over 5.00; Benoit and Smyly's sub-2.00 ERAs are the only thing keeping Detroit's numbers somewhat reasonable.
GM Dave Dombrowski and company have been on the hunt for late-inning relief help since the winter, and likely hope that the acquisition of Veras will help fans forget the desperation (and failure) of Jose Valverde: Redux. The club was also rumored to be interested in right-handers Joe Nathan and Jonathan Papelbon, but made the smart decision by netting the (likely) cheapest option.
Veras pitched well in the Astros' closer role this season -- in the few save chances he got, at least -- posting a career-best 2.93 ERA and striking out over three batters per free pass in 43 innings. Unlike left-hander Phil Coke, Veras doesn't really have a platoon split at all (.047 OPS diff.) over his career, so manager Jim Leyland should be able to throw him into any situation without causing the Tigers' fanbase too much grief.
Downs, 37, joins a Braves bullpen that has been on the lookout for a left-hander since losing both Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters to Tommy John surgery earlier in the year.
Atlanta's bullpen has been solid this year even without O'Flaherty or Venters -- the Braves seem to have a knack for pulling solid pitchers out of the woodwork -- but the team seems well aware that back-up LOOGY Luis Avilan's good fortune (.177 BABIP against) is likely to run out soon and that rookie southpaw Alex Wood will hit a few bumps down the stretch. Downs should be the perfect supplement if/when that happens.
Downs took the loss in Saturday's game against the A's, but pitched well overall in his third and final season with the Halos, posting a 1.84 ERA in 29⅓ innings. He is no longer the setup man he was when he arrived in Anaheim in 2011, but he remains an enigma to left-handed batters. Lefties are hitting just .196/.255/.216 off him with no home runs in 55 plate appearances on the year, so he should slide comfortably into the Atlanta 'pen as a LOOGY.
With Veras and Downs changing hands, the bullpen market has thinned some but still has some intriguing arms available. White Sox right-hander Jesse Crain is still garnering interest despite his lingering shoulder issues, the Rangers are shopping Joe Nathan now that Joakim Soria is healthy, and the Padres have a veritable fleet of arms they could move in the next three days.
None of the five bullpen arms added by contending clubs so far have guaranteed money coming their way next season, and only two -- Veras and Matt Thornton -- even have contract options for 2014. While rental players are typically a high-risk/low-reward gamble, relief arms (not named Papelbon) typically come at such a low cost that they're worth it; especially now that compensation picks for relievers are essentially extinct.