After six seasons, two outright assignments, several stints in Detroit’s bullpen and a couple of stints in the rotation, Drew VerHagen’s Tiger tenure appears to be over. The team released the versatile right-hander on Monday so that he could sign a one-year contract to play with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of the Japanese Pacific League.
The move allowed VerHagen to finalize the deal on Monday. The Tigers quickly filled the roster spot by acquiring right-hander Dario Agrazal from the Pirates for cash considerations. Detroit’s 40-man roster remains at 39, allowing the club to use its first overall pick in next month’s Rule 5 Draft.
The Tigers designated VerHagen for assignment in each of the past two seasons, and he could’ve become a free agent after the second such move in May. Instead, he accepted a spot in Triple-A Toledo, where he found his better form again as a starter and earned his return to Detroit. He found success down the stretch piggybacking Daniel Norris in the Tigers' rotation, including five scoreless innings in a 2-0 win at Tampa Bay on Aug. 16 and four scoreless innings in an 8-4 win over the Orioles on Sept. 14. He also struck out 11 Twins over six quality innings in an Aug. 23 spot start.
Statistically, however, VerHagen never recovered from a rough opening month in the Tigers' bullpen caused in part by control issues. The 29-year-old finished with a 4-3 record and 5.90 ERA in four starts and 18 relief appearances. He allowed 70 hits over 58 innings with 23 walks and 51 strikeouts.
The VerHagen move closes what looked like the Tigers’ last potential non-tender decision with an arbitration-eligible player. Detroit had already cut ties with arb-eligible relievers Blaine Hardy and Daniel Stumpf and catcher John Hicks at the end of October.
From a practical standpoint, however, the move gives VerHagen a fresh start and some roster stability after spending much of the past few seasons bouncing between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo.
“After some back and forth between the Fighters, my agency and the Tigers, we came to an agreement,” VerHagen told MLB.com in a text message. “I will be a starter and am really excited about it.”
Amazingly, VerHagen -- a fourth-round Draft pick out of Vanderbilt in 2012 -- had one of the longest Tigers tenures on Detroit’s rebuilt staff, having made his debut in a start at Comerica Park on July 19, 2014. He made 127 appearances over six seasons as a Tiger, covering 199 innings with a 5.11 ERA. He also transitioned from a sinkerball pitcher and ground-ball specialist into more of a swing-and-miss pitcher. Yet with the ups and downs, he never made more than 41 appearances in a season.
Agrazal won’t be filling that role so much as he’ll be providing some depth and Spring Training competition after making 14 starts and a relief appearance for the Pirates this past season. The 24-year-old posted a 4-5 record and 4.91 ERA in 73 1/3 innings, allowing 15 home runs among his 82 hits with 18 walks, 41 strikeouts and 10 hit batsmen. The low strikeout rate and 29.8 percent hard-hit rate were a concern for a young right-hander with a power sinker.
The Pirates designated Agrazal for assignment on Nov. 20, allowing the Tigers to put in a claim. Unlike VerHagen, he still has Minor League options remaining, giving Detroit some roster versatility.
A native of Aguadulce, Panama, Agrazal has made 114 appearances (111 starts) in his Minor League career, and he has a 38-36 record with a 3.62 ERA and 394 strikeouts. He was ranked as the No. 26 prospect in the Pirates' organization by MLB Pipeline following the 2018 season. Agrazal was selected to the New York-Penn League All-Star team in '15 and the Florida State League All-Star team in '17.