The Detroit Tigers' playoff aspirations ended early this year, largely due to an atrocious bullpen. Addressing their poor relief crop appears like it will be a priority this winter, as MLive.com's James Schmehl writes, though it appears that the back of the bullpen will remain largely untouched.
The Tigers were recently eliminated from the postseason after being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the ALDS. The club's bullpen was arguably the most notable reason for their demise, as their staff posted a horrendous 19.29 ERA. This isn't anything new for the Tigers either. As Schmehl notes, Detroit's playoff bullpen ERA has ranked among the bottom three of postseason teams in each of the past four years. With a loaded rotation and high-powered offense, a serviceable bullpen could finally enable the Tigers and 85-year-old owner Mike Ilitch to win the franchise's first World Series since 1984.
The Tigers' bullpen was easily their biggest weakness this season, as the club's relief crop posted a 0.6 collective WAR, which ranked 27th in the majors. Their staff also finished in the bottom five of FIP, ERA, and K/BB.
The soon-to-be 40-year-old Joe Nathan, who was absolutely terrible (4.81 ERA, 83 ERA+, 1.86 K/BB) in the first of a two-year, $20 million deal signed prior to the season, is expected to remain in the ninth inning role for the Tigers. Joakim Soria had a rough time (4.91 ERA, 84 ERA+, 3.0 K/BB) in Detroit after joining the club in a mid-season trade with the Rangers. However, he still finished with strong numbers on the season (3.25 ERA, 2.09 FIP, 1.5 WAR), and will only make $7 million next year, assuming his club option is picked up.
With Nathan and Soria manning the ninth and eighth innings, respectively, the Tigers have a number of internal options to fill out the rest of their staff. Schmehl lists Al Alburquerque, Bruce Rondon, Blaine Hardy, Luke Putkonen, Ian Krol, Kyle Lobstein, Pat McCoy, Chad Smith, Evan Reed, Kyle Ryan, and Melvin Mercedes as possible options for next season.
Of course, the club is also scheduled to lose Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain this offseason, as the pair will become free agents, and while they could still theoretically return, it's likely that they end up elsewhere. Coke and Chamberlain were easily two of the best arms in Detroit's bullpen this season, so having to replace them only worsens an already dire situation.
As for possible targets this winter, Schmehl notes Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson, Neal Cotts, and Andrew Miller as potential options. Miller and Gregerson have previously been on the Tigers' radar, as the club tried to deal for them at July's trade deadline.