The Detroit Tigers are off to one of the best starts in Major League Baseball, but were hit with some bad news as it was announced that closer Joe Nathan will miss the rest of the season due to a UCL tear and a flexor pronator tear.
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) April 23, 2015
How it Impacts…
Soria is possibly the biggest benefactor in all of this. The two-time All-Star gets to remain in the closer role. He leads the majors in appearances, games finished and saves. Nathan’s injury also bodes well for Soria’s long-term future and his future in Detroit. Regardless of if he had success this season (pre injury), Joe Nathan wasn’t the long-term answer. At only 30-years-old, if Soria continues to pitch well (1.35 ERA, 0 walks, 2 total hits allowed) he could find himself in Detroit as the team’s closer of now and the future.
When he returns healthy, it will be a golden opportunity for Rondon. The young flamethrower will likely assume Soria’s old role of set-up man/closer in waiting. This isn’t only an opportunity for Rondon to establish himself at the big league level, but also an opportunity to pick up some saves. Last season Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Al Albuquerque, Ian Krol and Soria picked up saves despite Nathan being on the roster. Rondon could do the same. Additionally, in the off-chance that Soria struggles, Rondon would be in line for even more save opportunities.
The Tigers’ Plans at the Trade Deadline
It’s a little early to determine which teams will be buyers and which will be sellers, but Detroit may look to add another reliever. With Soria and (a hopefully healthy) Rondon in tow, the Tigers won’t be looking for a closer-type, but a buy-low or depth addition might provide helpful, especially if expendable players in the bullpen continue to struggle. An acquisition would probably be more along the lines of the Tigers re-signing Luke Putkonen then acquiring someone like Jason Grilli.
The Tigers’ Other Relievers
Thanks to Nathan not returning and occupying a spot in the bullpen it would seem that everyone will keep their spots—for now. This is good news for relievers like Ian Krol and Al Alburquerque, who have seen their ERAs rise thanks to poor outings. It’s also a spot of good news for Blaine Hardy, who was promoted when Nathan went on the disabled list. Hardy allowed a run, two walks and two hits in his last outing, actually lowering his ERA from 12.46 to 8.10.
Lobstein has only one career relief appearance, and the Tigers may opt to keep him stretched out as a starter in the minors once Justin Verlander returns. However, in the off-chance that the Tigers want to keep Lobstein around because he’s pitching well, this potentially opens up another opportunity for him.
The Tigers’ Non-25 Man Roster Relievers
This is good news in terms of more opportunities for pretty much all of the following—Alex Wilson, Josh Zeid, Melvin Mercedes, Putkonen, Kyle Ryan, Jose Valdez, etc.
Wilson, one of the relievers acquired in the Rick Porcello/Yoenis Cespedes swap, has an ERA of 0.00 and three saves on the season. Another offseason acquisition, reliever Zeid, has a save to go along with a 1.42 ERA.
Thanks to the severity of the injury, Nathan will move to the 60-day disabled list. This will open up a 40-man roster opportunity for a minor-league pitcher like Melvin Mercedes. Other Triple-A pitchers with major league experience like Rafael Dolis, Alberto Cabrera, Thad Weber and Mike Belfiore could also be in play if they can pitch successfully.
Ryan and Valdez, two pitchers already on the 40-man roster, are long shots, but could be in play. Ryan had success in relief last season, but the team may opt to keep him as a starter to provide depth in that area. Valdez wouldn’t require a roster move to call up, but the reliever’s ERA in 2015 is 6.75.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.