DETROIT – With the Detroit Tigers determined to bring home the World Series crown in 2014, it's only a matter of time before general manager Dave Dombrowski makes a move to improve a struggling bullpen.
On Friday night the Tigers' toughest opponent, the Oakland Athletics, made a blockbuster trade to acquire starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs, boosting their starting rotation and improving a team already on pace for over 100 wins.
Now it's Detroit's turn to counter the move and shore up its most glaring weakness. An improved starting rotation will make Oakland a tough team to beat in the postseason, and the Tigers will need more reliable relief pitching to position themselves for another World Series run.
The bullpen as a whole owns a 4.58 ERA in 232 innings this season. Dominant starting pitching has allowed the Tigers to use their relief pitchers less than any other team in the American League, but another quality arm would really give that bullpen a boost.
Jon Morosi is reporting that Detroit is interested in Joaquin Benoit, who posted a 2.01 ERA in 67 innings while saving 24 games for the team last season. The 36-year-old is enjoying perhaps the best season of his career, owning a 1.26 ERA and 0.70 WHIP for the San Diego Padres in 35 appearances.
Adding Benoit to the bullpen makes sense for the Tigers, as the veteran reliever held down the eighth inning for over two years in Detroit. Getting the ball to closer Joe Nathan has been an issue for the Tigers in close games, and Benoit would give the team an almost automatic eighth-inning arm.
Since May 11, Benoit has pitched in 18 games for the Padres, allowing just 10 hits and no runs in 18 innings. His pinpoint command allowed him to strike out 40 batters, while walking just seven.
If Benoit moves into an eighth-inning role, Brad Ausmus would likely use a combination of Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque to cover the seventh. The two righties have been outstanding for the Tigers this season, appearing in a combined 78 games and recording 26 holds.
Chamberlain: 3-2 record, 2.94 ERA, 37 strikeouts, 33.2 innings pitched
Alburquerque: 2-1, 3.19 ERA, 35 SO, 31 IP
Phil Coke will also maintain his role after putting together a phenomenal June. In 12.1 innings, Coke posted a 2.92 ERA and walked just one batter during the month.
Adding Benoit would likely push one of three rookies out of the bullpen and back to Toledo. Left-handed Blaine Hardy figures to stay with the team, as Ausmus has trusted the 27-year-old during close games since his call-up in mid-June. Chad Smith and Patrick McCoy will probably battle for the final spot.
Hardy: 1-1, 2.38 ERA, 12 SO, 11.1 IP
McCoy: 0-0, 2.08 ERA, 3 SO, 4.1 IP
Smith: 0-0, 5.63 ERA, 7 SO, 8 IP
Though Benoit appears to be the top target for the Tigers, Morosi says they've also showed interest in Joakim Soria, Jason Frasor and Chad Qualls. But with Joel Hanrahan hopefully on track to return after the All-Star break, Dombrowski may be content with adding just one relief pitcher.
If Detroit adds Benoit, the bullpen could look something like this down the stretch:
Nathan definitely needs to turn his season around in the second half, and if he does, this group is talented enough to take the Tigers deep into the postseason.