Tag: Joe Nathan

Brad Ausmus

2015 Preview: Detroit Tigers


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Detroit Tigers.

The Big Question: Are the Tigers falling apart?

Detroit has had a very impressive run of success built around bold trades, big-money investments, and a roster full of star power, winning four straight AL Central division titles and a pair of American League pennants. Brad Ausmus took over for Jim Leyland as manager last season and kept things rolling with 90 wins, but the Tigers were swept out of the playoffs by the Orioles and enter 2015 with a lot of question marks thanks to injuries, free agent departures, and an aging core.

Detroit finished last season with three former Cy Young winners in the rotation, but Max Scherzer is gone, signing a $210 million deal with the Nationals after going 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA and 492 strikeouts in 435 innings for the Tigers during the past two seasons. Justin Verlander is still around–he’s signed through 2018 at a cost of $28 million per year–but looked like a shell of his former self last year while allowing the most earned runs in the league.

Detroit’s biggest star, two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera, failed to top a .900 OPS last season for the first time since 2008 and underwent offseason surgeries on his foot and ankle. Cabrera actually thrived down the stretch despite being beat up physically, but at age 31 and one year into a $248 million deal he’s been hobbled an awful lot recently.

Victor Martinez had a career-year at age 35 and then re-signed with the Tigers for $68 million, but now he’s at risk to miss Opening Day after tearing the meniscus in his left knee during offseason workouts. Concussions have made Alex Avila a question mark behind the plate. Joe Nathan appears to be on his last legs despite being a $10 million closer. Anibal Sanchez’s arm acting up again limited him to 126 innings. Jose Iglesias needs to show that he can solidify the shortstop position after shin problems knocked him out for all of 2014.

You get the idea. If healthy the Tigers’ star power is still unmatched in the American League, but nearly every impact player’s health and/or production is an issue. Fortunately for the Tigers no other AL Central team looks particularly strong this season and it may not take another 90 wins to claim the division title, which is why they remain the consensus favorites.

What else is going on?

  • Yoenis Cespedes was the Tigers’ big offseason pickup, coming over from the Red Sox in exchange for 25-year-old starter Rick Porcello. In addition to his big-time power Cespedes injects some much-needed upside into the lineup. Cespedes is generally talked about as being a much more fearsome hitter than his modest .780 career OPS would suggest and Detroit is betting on him making The Leap at age 29 because Porcello took a big step forward himself with a 3.43 ERA in 205 innings last season.
  • Despite losing Scherzer and trading Porcello the Tigers still have more than $70 million invested in the starting rotation and David Price is 33 starts away from free agency. They need Verlander to bounce back in a huge way and they need Sanchez to stay healthy for 175-plus innings, but the Tigers are also counting on the success Alfredo Simon had with the Reds last year carrying over despite his sub par strikeout rate of 5.8 per nine innings not matching his raw stuff. He’s obviously not going to replace Scherzer, but more or less replacing Porcello would be key.
  • Bullpen problems have plagued the Tigers and signing Nathan to an expensive two-year deal compounded the problem instead of fixing it. Nathan now looks more like a middle reliever than a closer, which could lead to Joakim Soria stepping into ninth-inning duties. Joba Chamberlain was re-signed to fill a setup role despite mixed results last season and Ausmus figures to count on Tom Gorzelanny to get lots of key outs versus left-handed hitters. There’s plenty of talent in the bullpen, but if the relief corps is once again a weakness in 2015 the Tigers’ rotation may not be quite as able to carry the pitching staff.
  • J.D. Martinez’s breakout 2014 season being for real is a huge key in 2015 and beyond. Martinez was once a top prospect in the Astros’ farm system, but then he hit just .251 with a .687 OPS in 252 games through age 25. Houston released him, Detroit snatched him up, and Martinez went on to hit .315 with 23 homers and a .912 OPS in 123 games last season. He’s a big reason why Detroit’s lineup could be scary for opposing pitchers.
  • Detroit’s recent success has revolved around power arms and power bats, but the Tigers have shifted their focus to add more defense of late by acquiring Iglesias, center fielder Anthony Gose, second baseman Ian Kinsler, and outfield speedster Rajai Davis. And ditching Torii Hunter in right field will also help, as the 39-year-old former Gold Glove-winning center fielder rated as one of MLB’s worst defenders statistically in 2014. It’s a much more balanced offense/defense approach, at least in theory.

Prediction: It won’t always be pretty, but 86 wins takes home the most mediocre on-paper division in baseball.

Joe Nathan is still a mess

Joe Nathan Tigers

Joe Nathan spent the offseason talking about how he planned to have a bounceback year and show everyone he wasn’t washed up after a decade as an elite closer, but the early results aren’t promising.

Nathan, whose first season in Detroit included a 4.81 ERA and lots of boos from Tigers fans, allowed six runs while recording two outs this afternoon. Even more worrisome, his fastball was clocked in the high-80s and he topped out at 91 miles per hour.

Nathan was so good for so long with the Twins and Rangers that a bounceback season at age 40 didn’t seem as crazy as it might for other pitchers, but unfortunately it’s looking more and more like he may simply be finished as a top-end reliever. Detroit owes him $10 million this year.

Joe Nathan: “I don’t want people thinking that I’m done”

Joe Nathan Tigers

After a decade as an elite closer Joe Nathan was bad enough in his first season in Detroit that Tigers fans booed him of the mound at one point and he responded with a chin-flick gesture that later came with an apology.

Nathan is under contract for $10 million in 2015, but the Tigers have indicated that he’ll be on a much shorter leash in the closer role at age 40.

Nathan told Jason Beck of MLB.com that he understands the criticism and plans to bounce back in a big way this season:

I don’t want people thinking that I’m done. I think coming into not just the spring, but coming into the season, I want to prove to myself and other people I still have something left in the tank.

Part of Nathan’s struggles were due to elbow problems, so the six-time All-Star said he’s been focusing on improving his arm strength this offseason as well as getting more agile. And while it’s not quite Best Shape of His Life stuff, Nathan did say “I’ve gotten stronger than I’ve ever felt.”

We’ll see if it makes a difference in the battle against father time.

What to watch for at the 2014 Winter Meetings

Grand Hyatt

SAN DIEGO — Greetings from beautiful southern California. Where the weather is gorgeous and the speculation about free agents and trade possibilities is endless. It’s the Winter Meetings, baseball’s annual transaction frenzy, where owners, GMs, agents and everyone else in and around the game assemble and make the moves which set the groundwork for the coming year. This year the work is being done at the Manchester Grand Hyatt In San Diego, and it is from here I will be writing all week to keep you in the loop.

This year’s Winter Meetings are shaping up to be very different from last year’s when, it seemed anyway, all of the big deals happened before the Winter Meetings got underway. Robinson Cano signed with Seattle in the runup to it all. As did  Carlos Beltran, Joe Nathan, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau, Scott Kazmir and Ryan Vogelsong. Indeed, it seemed like most of the big names were off the board before everyone even made it to Orlando in 2013. But this year it is a different story indeed, with all manner of players still available.

On the market:


We still await Jon Lester’s decision. He, reportedly, has offers in hand from the Cubs and Red Sox and possibly the Dodgers and Giants. The deal he ultimately accepts could be around $150 million, but for now, he is leaving everyone guessing and the rest of the pitching market is likely waiting for him to make a choice before it all falls into line. Once he does, expect the market for Max Scherzer to heat up as well as the trade market for any number of other starting pitchers, any of whom could go to teams which fell short of Lester. Included in this group could be Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Jeff Samardzija and any of the Reds’ many pitchers reportedly on the market.


Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp are the big bats on the block. If the Dodgers can’t move Kemp they may try to trade Andre Ethier and/or Carl Crawford. Jay Bruce of the Reds and free agent Melky Cabrera each own some big bats which are also in demand, the former via trade and the latter via free agency.


David Robertson is the biggest name reliever left, though his market is hard to define. The Yankees may welcome him back, but probably not at the salary he’s expecting given that they signed Andrew Miller already. The Astros — who actually outbid the Yankees for Miller, only to see him choose New York — are a possibility. Other free agent relievers include Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek, Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and Francisco Rodriguez. Jonathan Papelbon is being shopped by the Phillies and, given their rebuild, the Braves could dangle Craig Kimbrel as well.


Beyond the free agents, trade targets and rumor news, there is some other business to be attended to at the Winter Meetings. Most notably today, when the Veterans Committee announces which of the Golden Age candidates it has voted into the Hall of Fame. The candidates: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills. If I had to guess I’d say that Howsam — the executive who built the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s — Hodges and Oliva get voted in, but really it’s anyone’s guess. Dick Allen and Minnie Minoso are certainly deserving of a plaque in Cooperstown, but whether they get there or not is an open question.

But really, we can preview until the cows come home but every year there are some surprises at the Winter Meetings. Follow us at HardballTalk all week to keep abreast of what is going on at baseball’s biggest offseason event.

Tigers re-sign rehabbing Joel Hanrahan

Joel Hanrahan Getty

Setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John elbow surgery meant Joel Hanrahan never pitched for the Tigers after signing a $1 million deal in May, but now they’ve re-signed him for 2015.

Bob Nightingale of USA Today reports that Hanrahan gets $1 million upfront again, plus another $2.5 million in potential incentives.

Detroit’s bullpen can certainly use plenty of help and Hanrahan was one of the best, hardest-throwing relievers in baseball before injuries derailed him, posting a 2.73 ERA with 228 strikeouts in 198 innings from 2010-2012. However, he threw just seven ineffective innings in 2013 and didn’t pitch in the majors at all this year.

Joe Nathan’s grip on the closer job is anything but secure and now the Tigers have former All-Star closers Hanrahan and Joakim Soria as other ninth-inning options.