DETROIT -- The Tigers' search for low-risk, high-upside pitching has brought them to a familiar foe, reaching agreement on a one-year $6 million contract with former Astros starter Mike Fiers. The club announced the deal on Friday, and the 40-man roster is now at 40.
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For the Tigers, it was the second deal this week with a recently non-tendered player, following a one-year contract with outfielder Leonys Martin on Tuesday. For Fiers, it was a chance to get his game back in order with players and coaches he knows.
"I want to pitch in Detroit," Fiers told MLB.com in a phone interview from his home in South Florida. "I think Detroit is a good fit for me."
Fiers said he had two-year contract offers from multiple clubs, but liked the fit in Detroit. New Tigers coach Chris Bosio was his pitching coach on his way up the Brewers farm system. He went 8-0 with a 1.11 ERA under Bosio's tutelage.
"I had a great season that year," Fiers said, "and I think he was one of the reasons why. Just a great guy, knows his stuff, really connects with you as a pitcher instead of just going through the motions."
Fiers was a key late-season acquisition for Houston in 2015, tossing a no-hitter against the Dodgers in his fourth Houston start, and became an 11-game winner for the Astros in 2016 before inconsistent command hampered him this past season. He went 8-10 with a 5.22 ERA in 28 starts and a relief appearance. He struck out 146 batters over 153 1/3 innings, but his 62 walks marked a career-high ratio of 3.6 walks per nine innings. He also led the league with 13 hit batsmen while yielding 32 home runs, half of them at hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park.
Fiers had flashes of his old form, including seven innings of two-run ball with no walks and 11 strikeouts against the Twins on July 16. But he also ended his season with eight runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings against the Angels on Sept. 13 in Anaheim. Yet there was neither a velocity drop in his pitches -- his fastball has averaged just over 89 mph in each of his last four seasons -- nor a major change of use rate in his pitches.
"I started off the year all right," Fiers said. "I hit a stretch in June and July where I was probably one of the best pitchers in baseball at the time. My last four of five starts didn't go well at all and my ERA jumped up pretty quick. Obviously one of my worst years in terms of numbers that way, but I still did a lot for that team to get to the postseason and ended up winning at all.
"The hit-by-pitches were moreso curveballs backing up. I was struggling with my curveball, so I was trying different things throughout the year. I would have it and then not have it, just couldn't get in a good run except for those two months in June and July."
Fiers was left off the postseason roster on Houston's road through the World Series and its first-ever title. The Astros non-tendered him last week rather than go through arbitration; Fiers made $3.45 million this year.
The one-year contract could benefit Fiers and the Tigers next offseason if he has a bounce-back season. The 32-year-old is two seasons away from free agency; he can go through the arbitration process next offseason if the Tigers (or another team, if he's traded) hold on to him, or he can hit the open market again if he's again non-tendered.
Most important for Fiers, though, was the fit. Besides his familiarity with Bosio, he knows several Tigers from growing up in South Florida, including Nick Castellanos and the Avila family. He has worked out at times with Miguel Cabrera over the years, and was a college teammate of former Tiger J.D. Martinez, whom he said gave him good reviews of the organization.
"Just having reviews from other players was the biggest thing," he said.
In addition to the Orioles' offer, the Cubs and Twins also showed interest.
The Tigers have been searching for upside in a free-agent market that has seen Miles Mikolas and Tyler Chatwood sign multiyear deals. They've shown interest in former Orioles starter Chris Tillman, who had similar struggles this past season after a 16-win, 4.1-WAR season in 2016. Detroit has also in recent offseasons been quick on the market for free-agent starters under general manager Al Avila, who inked Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey before the Winter Meetings two years ago.
The Tigers would like to sign a couple of starters to provide rotation depth behind youngsters Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris, with Zimmermann trying to bounce back from his struggles over the last season and a half. Detroit also has former Rockies farmhand Ryan Carpenter, a left-hander who became a Minor League free agent last month but signed a big league deal.