Detroit Tigers Bolster Bullpen Crew With Jose Veras

by Jon Erkkila | Posted on Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
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Jose Veras

It was always in the cards. It was just a matter of who, when, and how much.

Despite moving to a season high 13-games over .500 with a sweep of the woeful Philadelphia Phillies an ongoing saga that had occupied the Tigers-related rumor mill for  much of the season was always, “What will the Detroit Tigers do to solve their bullpen inadequacies?”

On Monday morning an off-day on the schedule provided the answer. The Tigers swung a deal with the Houston Astros to get their Closer, Jose Veras, in trade for Class A prospect Danry Vasquez and a Player-to-be-Named-Later (PTBNL). The move came as little surprise to anyone as the Tigers had been linked to just about every reliever on the market with a pulse (and not always necessarily a strong pulse at that). What can the Tigers expect moving forward? We’ll discuss some of Veras’ merits as go along, but suffice it to say acquiring relievers is a dice roll whenever you do it. At the end of July we’re talking about less than 30-innings of work most likely. Veras could easily continue to be as sharp as he’s been all season or a run of 6 or 7 bad appearances could throw a wrench into matters if the “regression monster” visits with old his old walk-rate in hand. In the end, it’s the depth the Tigers have added and the easing of the workload for those carrying the torch now which may be equally important as Veras’ actual contributions on the mound.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski made the trade even though his club’s wobbly bullpen situation was starting to stabilize on the surface with a solid string of relief efforts from their reorganized group. Having cast aside long time Closer Jose Valverde after one too many (“many too many” for several Detroit fan’s tastes) veteran Joaquin Benoit had moved into the Closer-role and not missed a beat, currently perfect in 10-save opportunities on the season. Southpaw Drew Smyly has moved into a set-up role and has quickly become as effective as just about any reliever in the American League. Smyly’s repertoire has held up to the higher leverage situations he been thrust into and his calm demeanour belies his youthful appearance.

With the end of the game bullpen crew sorting itself out the Tigers have also been getting a better showing of late from rookie fireballer Bruce Rondon. Rondon was ticketed for the 9th inning in the off-season but that quickly proved premature. However Rondon continued to dominate in the minors once his three-appearance cameo didn’t go so well back in April. Rondon has returned throwing far more strikes and shown some ability to get outs with something besides his triple-digit heat.

But this improvement from the relief corps did not prove to be enough to satiate Dombrowski. The trigger was pulled on the swap with Houston. The Tigers take the shot that Veras can continue what is shaping up into a career best season in 2013. Veras had built up 19 saves in 22 chances for the last place Astros. “Closers from bad teams” are a common sight in the trade market. Veras has proved once again that a club looking to rebuild can take someone who has compiled the magic “save” stat and flip this player for younger assets to build around.

Veras is having a very solid season. Currently he is sporting a 2.93 ERA (FIP-3.39, xFIP- 3.54) and a career best K/BB ratio of 3.14 in 43 innings pitched. The much-travelled reliever has cut his walk-rate drastically from prior seasons issuing merely 2.9 free passes per nine-innings pitched. This after giving up 5.4 per 9 last season for the Milwaukee Brewers. (the Tigers will be Veras’ 7th team…he’s truly a journeyman) Certainly the question is not about Veras’ ability to strike batters out…it’s about whether he can sustain that low walk-rate. Especially to left-handed batters.
Veras sports a three pitch mix (fastball, curve, splitter) with a heater that averages a solid 93.3-mph according to Veras does not have a massive platoon split in his career but during this, what his looking like a “career year”, he has started to become absolutely devilish on right-handed batters. Righties sport a slash-line against him of: .160/.250/.307 and should he continue that Tigers manager Jim Leyland should be running him out there for plenty of at-bats against Paul Konerko, Josh Willingham, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez and the other AL Central righties the Tigers will see a lot of down the stretch. (Cleveland has so many switch-hitters and lefties its hard to include someone from their club on this list…Ryan Raburn?! I couldn’t resist.)

An added bonus for the Tigers is that Veras has a very affordable club-option for next season should he emerge from this campaign having stayed healthy and effective. With new Closer Benoit set for free agency and the young Rondon still a work in progress, Veras could be a cheap safety net to have on hand in 2014.

To complete the deal the Tigers paid a premium. The Astros are likely very pleased with the haul they cashed in their Closer to get. This was no “steal” despite the anonymity most associate with the 19-year old Vasquez. The Tigers signed Vasquez out of Venezuela at the age of 16 by lavishing a $1M+ dollar signing bonus on the youngster. Vasquez was repeating a level at Class A West Michigan and posting solid numbers including nice 56/31 strikeout to walk ratio in over 400 plate appearances showing he wasn’t just a kid hacking at everything he saw. Since most scouts typically agree that power is the last tool to show itself, it’s a fair bet that the 6’3” Vasquez may fill out and add power to his game. His slash line as a Whitecap was sitting at .281/.333/.390 on the season.

The Astros will also get the PTBNL by September 15th. It’s anyone’s guess at this time what level of prospect that will be. For a building club like the Astros, it might be a decent bet to think they will look to add power arms to their stable. A couple of live armed lotto tickets to keep in mind might be A-Ball hurlers Montreal Robertson and Endrys Briceno. Both have limited results but light up radar guns.

The Tigers had a need. Everyone thought so and obviously Dombrowski agreed. He paid a fairly stiff price to pull of this trade but it’s one he couldn’t leave to chance. The Tigers are definitely intent on winning a World Series this year and hoarding prospects was not the play at this time even in a seller’s market for relief help.

While Dombrowski’s bullpen had evolved into one that wasn’t the nightly crisis it had been in April and May, it needed depth. Benoit celebrated his 36th birthday which helped buttress a point Leyland had been careful to make of late that he didn’t want to overwork Benoit. Adding Veras to the mix will give Leyland the chance to perhaps use the new guy on night’s where he may have needed Benoit for a third consecutive night.

Mark this down as slight overpay for Detroit in order to acquire 25 to 30-innings of work for their bullpen crew. However a move with enough benefit associated with it to justify the expense when noted that Veras can return next year. It should also be noted that the Tigers did not have to give up top prospects Nick Castellanos, Avisail Garcia, Jake Thompson, and James McCann to get this deal done. The Tigers were dealing from an area of depth due to their decent stable of minor league outfielders.

Late on Monday night there have also been tweets from Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi that despite Monday’s trade for Veras, the Tigers are in communication with the San Francisco Giants about another deal. Lefty Javier Lopez could be the Tigers target in these discussions should Morosi’s report be accurate.

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Jon Erkkila
About the Author

Jon Erkkila is a native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and a lifelong Detroit Tigers fan. Currently living in MLB Blackout Hell, otherwise known as Iowa. Follow him on twitter @yooper_ia

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