Detroit Tigers: Best Closer Options If Brian Wilson Signs Elsewhere
Conversations between the Detroit Tigers and zany closer Brian Wilson are getting more and more serious.
According to the Detroit News, Wilson, a 31-year-old right-hander who led the major leagues with 48 saves in 2010, met with Tigers manager Brad Ausmus on Sunday along with his agent in Los Angeles.
Wilson signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent in late July after recovering from Tommy John surgery, making 18 appearances for the Dodgers, going 2-1 with a 0.66 ERA as an eighth inning guy. He went 1-0 in the playoffs last year, throwing six shutout innings.
After earning $1 million for the Dodgers last season, the beard is projected to garner a short-term deal close to $10 million per year.
If Wilson should choose to sign with another team, the Tigers do have several formidable backup options to take the mound for Detroit in the ninth inning next year.
Here are the four best options for the Tigers if Wilson signs elsewhere:
Joe Nathan has always been my first choice to take over the Tigers closer position this offseason, and although he hasn't had serious discussions with Detroit, he's still on the radar and could become the No. 1 option if Brian Wilson is not available.
The six-time All-Star expressed mutual interest in the Tigers, according to a tweet from Fox Sports reporter Jon Paul Morosi earlier this month.
The 39-year-old has yet to win a World Series title and could potentially take a pay cut to join a team in position to win it all as the Tigers seem to be every season as of late.
Nathan is one of several free agent relievers who converted at least 21 saves last season, and he had one of his best years in 2012, going 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP for the Rangers.
He chose to opt out of his player option, which would have earned him $9 million for Texas in 2014, and he's projected to get a short-term deal worth up to $15 million per year.
Nathan earned 43 saves last season in 46 chances and is one of the hottest commodities on the market this offseason.
The former Tiger kept fans in Detroit on the edge of their seats during his seven-year tenure wearing the Old English D, but after spending time with the Los Angeles Angels, Fernando Rodney drastically improved with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Rodney spent two seasons in Tampa where he exploded on the scene in 2012 posting a career-best 0.60 ERA with 48 saves and only two blown saves in 76 appearances on his way to his first career All-Star Game and a fifth place finish in the Cy Young race.
The 36-year-old couldn't duplicate his outstanding performance last season, but earned a respectable 3.38 ERA with 37 saves out of 45 chances in 68 games.
Rodney, who was granted free agency in October would be one of the cheaper options for Detroit after only earning $4.25 million over his two seasons in Tampa.
Most talking heads believe that after Wilson and Nathan, Grant Balfour is one of the next best options for a closer in Detroit, but I disagree.
While Balfour's alpha-dog personality and negative history with the Tigers would be a bad fit in Detroit, Mujica has the experience and mindset to fit right in with the Tigers clubhouse.
Mujica, the hard-throwing right-handed 29-year-old, was traded from the Miami Marlins to the St. Louis Cardinals for the stretch run in 2012 and was extremely successful during his short tenure in St. Louis.
In 29 regular season games for the Cardinals in 2012, Mujica earned a 1.03 ERA with 21 strikeouts compared to only three walks.
Last season, Mujica went 2-1 with a 2.78, 46 strikeouts and 37 saves in 65 games on his way to his first career All-Star Game.
Perhaps most importantly for the Tigers, Mujica has continued his consistency in the postseason for the Cardinals the last two seasons, boasting a 2.79 ERA and 1-0 record in 11 games.
Mujica, who is entering his sixth MLB season in 2014 should earn more than the $3.2 million that he made last year, but he wouldn't command the type of money that players like Wilson or Nathan are looking for.
If the Tigers aren't satisfied with any of the available closing options on the market, they could opt to bring back Joaquin Benoit and give him another chance in the ninth inning.
Benoit wasn't extended a one-year qualifying offer worth $14 million in early November, but Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has made it no secret he's entertained the thought of re-signing the 11-year veteran.
The right-hander, who has spent the last three seasons with the Tigers, was forced into the closer role last year after the Jose Valverde experiment became permanently disastrous, and Benoit performed well in his new role.
He went 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA in 67 innings, earning 24 saves with only two blown opportunities.
He had a less-than-stellar postseason, giving up four earned runs in 5.2 innings not including the back-breaking grand slam to David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
Last season, the free agent forced opposing batters to swing through 13.6 percent of his pitches, earned 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings and has been a model of consistency. After undergoing surgery on his right rotator cuff and missing all of the 2009 season, Benoit has played in at least 66 games in each of the past three seasons.
Consistency. Something the Tigers haven't had throughout their bullpen lately, and something they could desperately use again moving forward.