While the Tigers had been pegged by the media as buyers of expensive proven closers, Dave Dombrowski just ignored the high profile end of the relief market and found a much better value in Jose Veras, who they acquired from the Astros today for outfield prospect Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later.
While he isn’t a big name, Veras has quietly turned into a very effective reliever. In 43 innings this year, opposing batters have a .265 wOBA against him. For comparison, hitters have a .266 wOBA against Yu Darvish, a .269 wOBA against Stephen Strasburg, a .270 wOBA against Adam Wainwright, and a .274 wOBA against Felix Hernandez. Sure, it’s easier to pitch in relief, so this isn’t exactly apples to apples, but it at least gives you an idea of the level that Veras has pitched at.
If you want a reliever-to-reliever comparison, well, how about this one?
That’s Veras and Papelbon, side by side, over the last calendar year. Papelbon’s long term track record is much better, but over the last 365 days, they’ve basically been equals.
That isn’t to say Veras is as good as Papelbon. He’s not. For one, he’s better suited to a right-handed setup role, as his command against lefties has always been a little spotty. He’s not a pure situational reliever, and he can get left-handers out, but the 14.5% walk rate against LHBs in his career is a little bit concerning. He hasn’t been as wild this year, but his K% against LHBs has also been way below the norms as well.
In many ways, Veras is similar to Octavio Dotel, and I’d imagine he’ll likely be used in a similar manner down the stretch. If they put him in situations where he’s going to face more right-handers than left-handers, he can be an excellent bullpen piece, and a nice compliment to the left-handed Drew Smyly in front of Joaquin Benoit. Neither Veras nor Smyly need to be lifted every time an opposite-handed hitter steps up, so having both can allow Leyland to mix and match in the 7th and 8th innings depending on what kind of hitters are due up in which inning.
Veras might not be as highly thought of as many of the big name relievers, but that doesn’t mean that those with sterling reputations were going to be that much more valuable down to the Tigers. In Veras, the Tigers get a quality relief arm without having to take on a significant contract, and thanks to a $3.25 million team option for 2014, they actually can retain him for next season as well, which should limit their need to overspend on a reliever in free agency this winter.
Veras didn’t come free, of course. They parted with toolsy outfield prospect Danry Vasquez, who Marc Hulet rated as Detroit’s #8 prospect heading into the season, but he’s a 19-year-old in low-A ball who is more potential than performance. It’s certainly possible that Vasquez eventually develops into something valuable, but he’s nowhere close to the big leagues, and he’s the kind of prospect that flames out more often than not.
Given that the Orioles gave up Nicky Delmonico to rent Francisco Rodriguez for the stretch run, getting a better, younger, under-control pitcher like Veras for a lesser prospect seems like a relative steal. Of course, the PTBNL could change that calculation, but right now, this seems like a very nice little upgrade for the Tigers.
And, of course, the Astros need a solid relief pitcher less than any other team in the sport, so flipping an asset for a young player with upside is exactly the type of move they should be making. Houston keeps doing what they’ve been doing, turning short term pieces into longer term upside. This move keeps the Astros headed in the right direction, but also gives the Tigers a bullpen upgrade at a reasonable price. Looks like a win-win to me.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.