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Tigers reportedly sign Russell to Minors deal

Veteran lefty will try to earn spot in Detroit's bullpen
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- As the free-agent reliever market remains hot, fueled by interest among contending teams, the Tigers' search for undervalued bullpen arms and bounce-back candidates continues. Their latest target appears to be former Cubs left-hander James Russell, who reportedly agreed to a Minor League contract with the Tigers last week.

Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish first reported the deal. The Tigers, who announced a batch of Minor League signings last week, have yet to confirm.

DETROIT -- As the free-agent reliever market remains hot, fueled by interest among contending teams, the Tigers' search for undervalued bullpen arms and bounce-back candidates continues. Their latest target appears to be former Cubs left-hander James Russell, who reportedly agreed to a Minor League contract with the Tigers last week.

Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish first reported the deal. The Tigers, who announced a batch of Minor League signings last week, have yet to confirm.

The 32-year-old son of former big league closer Jeff Russell has 394 MLB appearances across seven seasons, all but 29 of them with the Cubs. After seven appearances with the Phillies in 2016, Russell was a Spring Training invite with the Indians last year before being released at the end of camp. He became a starter and made 14 starts between Yucatan of the Mexican League and the Texas AirHogs of the independent American Association.

Russell has never been a power lefty; his fastball consistently averaged 89-90 mph during his big league tenure, according to FanGraphs. But when he's on, he complements it with a diverse offspeed arsenal, including a slow slider he leaned on in the past, a breaking ball, cutter and changeup he mixed in.

With that repertoire, Russell has been a short-outing lefty during his big league time. He has held left-handed hitters to a .248 average and .700 OPS in his career, compared with .278 and .808 for righty batters.

Former Rule 5 Draft pick Daniel Stumpf established himself as a reliable short-outing lefty for the Tigers in 2017, holding left-handed hitters to a .220 average and as many hits as strikeouts (13) after being called up at the start of June. While the Tigers have plenty of questions in their bullpen, Stumpf should have a chance to build on his solid late-season run.

The challenge for the Tigers is to identify another lefty to complement him. It could be Blaine Hardy, who has gone back and forth between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo the past two seasons. It could be Chad Bell, who was more of a long reliever and spot starter last year but held hitters to a .238 average and .667 OPS over his first 25 pitches in an outing. It could be Ryan Carpenter -- he signed a big league contract with Detroit to compete as a starter -- if Detroit decides it has enough starting depth in the system to carry him in the bullpen. Or it could be Matthew Boyd or Daniel Norris if they're beaten out for a rotation spot, though that's unlikely.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, James Russell