Are Detroit Tigers Interested in Trading for Orioles Reliever Brian Matusz?


Mar 28, 2015; Tampa, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Brian Matusz (17) throws a pitch during the seventh inning of a spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. The Orioles won 10-2. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Two days ago, Jon Morosi tweeted a trade rumor out of Baltimore regarding two relief pitchers.

Generally this sort of Baltimorean gossip would hardly qualify as news around here, but any time a relief pitcher is mentioned on the trade market, our ears perk up. The Detroit Tigers, as we know all too well, have sported a bullpen of sub par quality for some time now. It is perhaps not the worst bullpen in the major leagues, but reasonable projection systems confirm that it is certainly among the worst in baseball.

Yesterday evening we learned that embattled closer Joe Nathan would be hitting the disabled list, which puts further strain on an already weak bullpen. Not that Nathan performed exceptionally well in his first season with the Tigers in 2014 or anything, but one should expect him to be at least a reasonable reliever this season. And at this point we’ll take reasonable.

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All this to say: no one would be the least bit surprised if the Detroit Tigers were looking to bolster the bullpen with additional arms through the trade market, and Matusz would seem qualify as an improvement. Since moving to the bullpen full-time in 2013, he’s compiled a 3.50 ERA in 103 innings with a 9.1 K/9 strikeout rate and a 3.1 BB/9 walk rate. Those numbers don’t set the world on fire — especially for a reliever, where’s it league average line — but the Tigers have had a hard enough time finding that level of reliability out of their relief arms.

But two things might work against Matusz landing in Detroit.

One, he’s making $3.2 million this year. That’s not a ton of money in general terms, but it becomes a bit more money when one considers that he’s not better than an average middle reliever. It would be one thing to pay that money to someone who could help setup in the late innings but Matusz doesn’t appear to be that kind of guy because of the next point.

Two, that he’s a left-handed pitcher who has shown large platoon splits in his career. For his entire career — starting and relieving — lefties have hit for a .620 OPS off him compared to an .861 OPS for right handers. And those splits haven’t entirely disappeared with his move to the bullpen. In 2013 he held lefties to a .502 OPS, but righties hit him for a .747 OPS. Last year, in 2014, he held lefties to a .627 OPS, but righties crushed him at an .876 OPS clip.

Matusz has shown to be a solid reliever out of the bullpen when a manager can pick his spots with him, but he’s not a guy you want to throw out there to hold down the seventh inning, say. You really don’t want him facing right-handed hitters at all, and $3.2 million is a lot to pay for a LOOGY, especially if you’re also giving up an asset to acquire him in a trade.

Again, we have no idea if the Tigers were involved with the Orioles with regard to Matusz, but it looks like it wouldn’t be a great fit for Detroit (who now have three left-handed relievers on the roster after calling up Blaine Hardy). Adding a reliable bullpen arm still sounds like a good idea, but I think the Tigers can allocate their resources better than chasing Matusz.