Chafin returns to Tigers on 1-year deal

December 12th, 2023

The Tigers have filled a void in their bullpen by turning to a familiar, distinctive face. , whose combination of versatile relief and quirky personality made him a fan favorite in Detroit in 2022, agreed to a one-year, $4.25 million contract that includes a club option for 2025 for $6.5 million on Tuesday. If the club option is not exercised, Chafin will get a $500,000 buyout.

Chafin’s contract includes performance bonuses in 2024 and '25 that can increase his base salary up to $1.25 million for games pitched in each season: $125,000 for 50 games pitched, $250,000 each for 55 and 60 games pitched, $300,000 for 65 games pitched and $325,000 for 70 games pitched.

The 33-year-old Chafin was one of the Tigers’ bright spots of 2022, posting a 2-3 record with three saves, 19 holds and a 2.83 ERA in 64 games out of Detroit’s bullpen. He had joined the Tigers on a two-year, $13 million deal just as Spring Training was beginning that year, but the contract included an opt-out. Though he made it clear he enjoyed Detroit, he opted out of the deal and signed a one-year deal plus a club option with the D-backs.

Chafin posted a 3-4 record with eight saves and a 4.73 ERA in 63 games between Arizona and Milwaukee, having been dealt at the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline. He struggled to a 5.82 ERA in 20 appearances with the Brewers, who did not pick up his option for 2024.

Having returned to the open market, Chafin looked back to Detroit, which offered the combination of familiar surroundings and coaches along with a reasonable drive from his farm in northeast Ohio.

“It was very clear from his representation that he wanted to be a Tiger,” president of baseball operations Scott Harris said. “He wanted to be here. He really enjoyed his time here, and he understands that this place has changed a little bit since he left. He was really intrigued by some of the things that he's heard from his former teammates. [Manager] A.J. [Hinch] got to talk to him before we signed him and he expressed some interest in some of the changes that have happened here. 

“I think stepping back for a second, it's a good sign. We want players who want to be here. We want players to want to come pitch in Detroit, and I think Andrew just demonstrated that some of the things that we're trying to do here are working a little bit. And at the end of the day, we are always happy to bring someone here who wants to pitch here and is willing to sign with us early when he may have had a bigger market in other places. He chose to be a Tiger, and that feels really good.”

Part of Chafin’s struggles were reflected in a ground-ball rate that plummeted and a line-drive rate that rose about 10 percent, according to Statcast. While the pitches didn’t seem drastically different during his struggles – his velocity was slightly up from 2022, his whiff rate on his slider was slightly down -- Harris said the Tigers believe they can help Chafin to repeat his mechanics.

The Tigers largely filled Chafin’s void last season with waiver claim Tyler Holton, whom the D-backs had designated for assignment last February to make room for Chafin. However, Detroit struggled to find another lefty for late-game situations. Chasen Shreve posted a 4.79 ERA in 47 appearances before the Tigers released him in August. Waiver claim Andrew Vasquez gave up eight earned runs on 11 hits over 8 2/3 innings down the stretch before Detroit dropped him from the 40-man roster at season’s end. Tyler Alexander had an up-and-down half-season before suffering a season-ending lat injury in July; he went to the Rays on waivers last month.

By pairing Chafin with Holton, the Tigers will have two left-handed relievers with a track record of handling hitters from both sides of the plate as well as multi-inning capability. Joey Wentz could also join the lefty relief mix if he doesn’t win a rotation spot in Spring Training.

“I think he does a few things for us,” Harris said. “First, he strengthens our bullpen. Second, it adds another reliever that A.J. can use to match up at any time during the game. And third, his presence in our pen frees up A.J. to use Tyler Holton in a variety of ways. …

“I think our left-handed relief corps has a chance to emerge as a strength for us next year, and we have a manager that we trust to use those guys effectively on the path to a win. [Chafin] fits this group really well.”