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Tigers bring back Hanrahan with Minor League deal

Veteran righty reliever receives invite to Major League Spring Training

DETROIT -- The Tigers took a chance on Joel Hanrahan this past spring and got nothing out of it. Six months later, they're going to give it another go.

With bullpen looming as Detroit's next major need, the Tigers and the veteran reliever agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with incentives. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed the deal following the team's news conference for Victor Martinez's re-signing Friday.

"We have re-signed Joel Hanrahan, which is great for us," Dombrowski said. "He's an additional guy in our bullpen. It's a Minor League contract with a Major League invite. I talked to him on the phone [Thursday]. He's in a position where he feels great, but he isn't throwing at this time. But Dr. [James] Andrews says he's healed and should be ready to go."

Hanrahan will make $1 million if he makes the team, with another $2.5 million available in roster bonuses should he remain healthy. It's a similar deal to the one he signed in May, except that it does not include a Major League roster spot at the outset, thus saving room on Detroit's 40-man roster.

Hanrahan is a year and a half removed from Tommy John surgery. The Tigers signed the former closer to a one-year Major League deal in May in hopes of adding him to their bullpen for the second half. He was a year removed from surgery at that point and looked good in a showcase session for scouts in April, throwing his fastball in the lower 90s.

Hanrahan progressed in his throwing program until he was on the verge of pitching in Minor League games. At that point, however, he had trouble repeating his velocity and dealt with arm stiffness. He spent the rest of the summer trying to get past that point, but couldn't.

"We thought he would help us by the All-Star break, but he just had some setbacks and never really got over the Tommy John surgery. He was checked again to see if he would need another surgery, which he did not. "

Though the Tigers essentially ruled him out in August, they continued to have him work out at their Spring Training facility in Lakeland, Fla., a gesture that Hanrahan appreciated. Once the season ended, there was mutual interest in getting a new deal done for next spring, when Hanrahan is expected to be ready and at full strength.

"He's more of a chance," Dombrowski said. "I can't tell you that we're 100 percent counting on him, because he still has to go forward and bounce back from the surgery. But he is a guy that we wanted.

"You're in a situation that until [he goes] out there, you're not sure. But we're hopeful."

Hanrahan last pitched in 2013 for the Red Sox, pitching in nine games after Boston acquired him from Pittsburgh. He saved four games, but gave up eight runs on 10 hits over 7 1/3 innings with six walks and five strikeouts.

Before that, a healthy Hanrahan saved 76 games over two seasons in Pittsburgh, allowing 96 hits over 128 1/3 innings with 128 strikeouts. If he can get anywhere near that form, he could be a major boost to a Tigers bullpen that lacked depth and suffered from it down the stretch, culminating in a two-game meltdown during the Tigers' Division Series sweep to the Orioles.

Dombrowski reiterated the Tigers go into Spring Training with Joe Nathan as their closer while insisting that he needs to pitch effectively. Joakim Soria is expected to be the setup man, but could slot into the closer's role if Nathan struggles. Dombrowski said they're increasing optimistic that hard-throwing youngster Bruce Rondon, who also missed last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, should be ready to go in Spring Training.

At this point, the Tigers aren't slotting Hanrahan into a role so much as they're classifying him as a hope.

"He's a gamble," said Dombrowski. "He wanted to back here."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
Read More: Detroit Tigers, Joel Hanrahan