Tigers fortify 'pen, agree to 2-year deal with Chafin

March 17th, 2022

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers are bolstering their talented young bullpen with one of the top left-handers on the market, adding former A’s reliever Andrew Chafin on a two-year contract.

The deal is for $13 million, according to sources. The contract includes an opt-out after this season. Chafin would make $6.5 million in each year of the deal.

“To the organization’s credit, [general manager] Al [Avila] has been working tirelessly,” manager A.J. Hinch said Wednesday afternoon.

The move is a major one for the Tigers, not just for fortifying their bullpen but fulfilling their bigger-picture aim to become more active at the top end of the free-agent market. The 31-year-old Chafin was a popular target after posting a 1.83 ERA and five saves in 71 appearances last year between the A’s and Cubs. He was a major cog in Oakland’s closer-by-committee arrangement last September, recording four saves over the season’s final two months as the A’s vied for a postseason berth.

Chafin was stingy against hitters from both sides of the plate last year, holding left-handed hitters to a .170 average and .473 OPS compared to .196 and .551 from righties.

The metrics show a reliever who succeeds without overpowering stuff. Though Chafin’s low-90s fastball ranked in the bottom third among Major League pitchers in both velocity and spin rate according to Statcast, he ranked among the top 11 percent in chase rate, the top 13 percent in lowest hard-hit rate and the top 15 percent in several extrapolated categories such as expected ERA, batting average and slugging percentage.

Opponents hit just .141 off Chafin’s slider, and he had a 54.6 percent whiff rate on his slider. He also changes eye levels well with a four-seam fastball and sinker.

While Chafin’s big hair and mustache fits the prototypical reliever look, his pitching provides a different look for a Tigers bullpen that has stockpiled young, hard-throwing arms, from closer Gregory Soto to former AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer to former first-round pick Kyle Funkhouser.

“He’s going to help us out a lot, especially being from the left side,” Fulmer said Wednesday. “This bullpen’s getting better and better.”

Not only does Chafin add to that mix, he allows Hinch the option to save Soto for the ninth inning or beyond when a dangerous left-handed hitter comes up earlier. Hinch waited until season’s end to officially anoint Soto as the closer but said earlier this week that Soto could still see some appearances earlier in games if situations dictate.

Besides the Tigers’ rise from AL Central doormat to 77 wins last year under Hinch, the Tigers had the geographical advantage of being relatively close to Chafin’s Ohio home.