Nathan/Fister Swap Beneficial for Tigers?
Four winters ago, the Tigers signed 31-year old closer Jose Valverde. He had two 40+ save seasons under his belt (one with Arizona and another with Houston) and he’d posted a solid 2.33 ERA during the 2009 campaign. If you were just judging by the regular season stats, you would think that Valverde’s 2-year $14 million deal in 2010 was a pretty good price, and that the $9 million club option for a third year wasn’t bad either (picked up after the 2011 season, a year before the postseason meltdown - before you Google it). Valverde recorded 110 saves in his first three seasons with the Tigers, with only 8 blown saves. In 2011, he set a single season record for most saves without a blown save, 49. It was a somewhat deceiving record as he lost 4 games that year and was pretty dreadful in any non-save opportunity, but the 110/118 saves in his first three seasons in Detroit? Not bad.
Since Valverde’s playoff meltdown, though, the questions circulating Detroit’s bullpen have continuously hovered over the team. There were Carlos Marmol rumors, Brian Wilson rumors, Huston Street rumors - really just about every closer that wasn’t already on an established competitor. But GM Dave Dombrowski never pulled the trigger. At first his plan was to groom youngster Bruce Rondon into the team’s next big thing out of the bullpen, but Rondon’s control issues greatly stunted his development and now it looks unlikely that he’ll ever get another shot as a big league closer. Then there was Joaquin Benoit who filled in great for the Tigers in 2013, but the organization feared he just wasn’t the right guy for the job, better suited for a set-up role and he’s currently a free agent.
Then came December 2nd, 2013: the signing of 39-year-old Joe Nathan to a 2-year contract allegedly worth around $20 million. The deal came just a day after Dombrowski traded starting pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for starting pitcher Robbie Ray (22 years old), reliever Ian Krol (22), and utility man Steve Lombardozzi (24).
Fister is eligible for arbitration this offseason and is likely to make around $6 or $7 million in 2014. Without that contract on the payroll, Dombrowski of course had extra money to spend.
Last season, Nathan was terrific. He saved 43 games in 46 opportunities for the Texas Rangers, allowing only 10 runs in 64.2 innings (1.39 ERA). In total, he saved 80 games in 86 opportunities in his two years with Texas.