Yesterday afternoon, with a lead of 4-1 over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the ninth inning, the Detroit Tigers gave the ball to their veteran closer, Joe Nathan. Nathan pitched a perfect inning and recorded two strikeouts, earning his 18th save on the season and helping the Tigers complete the two-game sweep of the Dodgers.
Although it was refreshing to see Nathan pitch a clean inning, the simple fact remains that he still has an ERA of 5.79 and a WHIP of 1.50. He has also blown five saves as well. There have certainly been times over the first half of the season where the dominant Nathan who used to pitch for the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers has showed up, but there have also been times where he has merely resembled a shell of his former self.
The Tigers are trying to win their first World Series in 30 years, and they should ask themselves if they really feel comfortable heading into October — if they are fortunate enough to get there — with Nathan as their closer. Nathan has had a great career, racking up 359 saves and recording a 2.87 lifetime ERA, but he has been very inconsistent in 2014. Having a fallback option would be a good idea to say the very least.
It wasn’t that long ago, in the 2012 postseason, when Jose Valverde, the Tigers’ then-closer, absolutely imploded. Valverde had been shaky all season long, but the wheels simply fell off in the playoffs. Then Phil Coke, of all people, became the Tigers’ closer-by-default. The Tigers should learn from history and plan on heading into October with a proven backup. This can easily be accomplished by trading for old friend Joaquin Benoit.
Benoit continues to have a great season with the San Diego Padres, currently pitching to the tune of a 1.91 ERA and 0.74 WHIP with 43 strikeouts and 37.2 innings pitched. He, of course, knows the terrain as well, having pitched for the Tigers from 2011-13 and posting a 13-7 record with a 2.89 ERA over that time period. Last season he became the Tigers’ closer and did a very nice job, posting a 2.01 ERA and going 24-for-26 in save opportunities. Yes, he gave up the game-tying grand slam to David Ortiz in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was absolutely terrific in the regular season.
For what he is worth, Benoit has a rather affordable contract as well. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he is due $6 million in 2014 and $8 million next season. There is also an $8 million team option with a $1.5 million buyout for the 2016 season. In all honesty, one would be hard-pressed to find a better fit for the Tigers’ bullpen than Benoit.
The Tigers, of course, also have Joba Chamberlain in their bullpen, who is currently having one of the best seasons of his career as the Tigers’ eighth-inning man. The correct rotation of Chamberlain, Nathan and Benoit in the late innings could be just what the doctor ordered. The sooner the Tigers make a deal for Benoit, the better.