Last off season, JJ Putz was the best move the Tigers didn't make.
If not for an injury to Fernando Perez that killed a three-way deal involving the Rays, JJ Putz may have been hamstringing Detroit in 2009 and not the Mets, and Edwin Jackson may have formed a dominant pitching tandem with Felix Hernandez instead of Justin Verlander.
Putz became a free agent today when New York declined his nine million dollar option. This time around, the Tigers have much less to lose in taking a shot on the Trenton native and former Michigan wolverine.
Putz's story this year was one of injury and inconsistency. As recently as Spring Training 2008 however, he was being mentioned in the same sentence with Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, and Mariano Rivera (that was the pecking order at the time; sickening I know) as one of the game's elite closers.
He lost his closer's job to the aforementioned Rodriguez when the Mets traded for him last year. At the time, he accepted the role but word on the street is that Putz wants to pitch the ninth again. That's where the money is after all.
So long as the Tigers don't go into 2010 counting on him to close games for them, they should be more than willing to give Putz that chance.
And if Detroit is interested in Putz, you'd have to think the interest would be mutual though no one knows this for sure but Putz himself. However, as his hometown team was being connected to him in trade rumors last December, the word was that Putz was at least a little excited about the prospect of coming home. At the least, he said he thought he was going to be a Tiger before the Mets swooped in.
Like I said, if Detroit signs him, they can't count on him to close games for them in 2010. The success of their pen can't hinge on Putz bouncing back. That means first resigning either Fernando Rodney or Brandon Lyon, preferably the latter. If neither resigns, they need to focus on signing a more dependable, sure-thing reliever. The Tigers have no choice given where they're at financially right now.
There is never a sure-thing on the hot stove. There are two very unlikely but not impossible deal-breakers I could envision blocking Putz's path back home.
The first scenario is if a team tells Putz he'd be their closer. Any team who does this is pretty desperate in my estimation. Jose Valverde, Rafael Soriano, Rodney, and Billy Wagner are all more appealing options on the free agent market.
Even a few dominant closers like Joe Nathan and Bobby Jenks have been mentioned as possible trade candidates. Putz should have to prove he's healthy and able before any team starts promising him the ball in the ninth, the key word there being "should."
The second case would be if a team extended Putz an overwhelming offer, one he can't refuse. Putz isn't poised to receive any offers like this either; any team that throws that kind of cash his way has quite the steady revenue stream. Wherever Putz signs, I don't think it will be for more than one year and five million dollars guaranteed.
Ultimately, I think the list of suitors for Putz is going to be relatively short. I could see the Braves getting involved, and possibly the Phillies if they want more insurance in the event of another year-long Brad Lidge meltdown.
And if Putz isn't going to receive one offer that blows the rest away, it's at least feasible to think Detroit would have the inside track as his hometown team.
Is this speculation? Sure, but that's what the hot stove is all about.
There are no sure things in the off season, but some matches just seem too good not to happen. Take the recent Jeremy Hermida and JJ Hardy trades; both were about as predictable as trades come.
This looks like one of those matches to me. There are too many sparks here for fire not to ensue.
It's no secret Dave Dombrowski is a power arm guy. A bullpen of a healthy Putz in the ninth, preceded by potentially Lyon, the young flamethrower Ryan Perry, and the overpowering yet injury prone Joel Zumaya, has to tempt him.
A year after missing out on him last winter, JJ Putz again is an option for Dombrowski and the Tigers. He was too risky for them then. Now that he won't cost precious prospects, and with his value at an all-time low, they can and should make this gamble.