Tigers strike 2-year deal with reliever Lowe
Right-hander expected to be eighth-inning setup man for closer Rodriguez
DETROIT -- A year ago, Mark Lowe was trying to work out a Minor League contract with the Mariners, hoping for another chance to resurrect his career after a rough campaign in the Indians' farm system at Triple-A Columbus. On Tuesday, he ended the Tigers' search for a right-hander setup reliever, his two-year contract becoming official.
It doesn't completely fill out the bullpen for the Tigers, who continue to look for a left-handed reliever in a market that hasn't moved much, but it fills the biggest needs Detroit had left on its list.
Between Lowe's rebound with Seattle and Toronto, the Tigers saw a reliever turn it around with a harder fastball and a better slider. And as they watched the relief market finally move on Sunday, they saw somebody they felt could fill the eighth inning for closer Francisco Rodriguez.
"We've actually liked him over the years as a pitcher," Tigers general manager Al Avila said. "Right now, we thought he's a perfect fit. To me, we signed him to be our eighth-inning guy, and I think that's where he fits best right now."
Lowe, 32, racked up a career-best 1.96 ERA this past season to go along with 61 strikeouts over 55 combined innings between the Mariners and Blue Jays. In the process, he rekindled his career after pitching just 18 2/3 Major League innings over the previous two seasons.
Right-handed hitters batted just .196 (22-for-112) against Lowe with five walks and 36 strikeouts, compared with a .276 (24-for-87) average from left-handed batters. While Lowe's average fastball velocity jumped from 92-93 mph to 95.5, according to Fangraphs, opponents hit just .169 off his slider, whiffing on about 43 percent of their swings at it.
"He has a good slider, a very good slider," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He used it quite a bit this year. I couldn't tell you how much he used it prior [to this year], but I know he used it quite a bit. It's a very effective pitch, a good swing-and-miss pitch.
"His velocity was up. His slider was good. He showed he could pitch at the back end of a bullpen -- not the very back end, but toward the back end."
He also provided a veteran presence in a young Blue Jays bullpen that was fronted by rookies Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez.
The presence was apparently important. Avila said he called Triple-A Toledo manager Lloyd McClendon, Lowe's manager in Seattle this past season, as well as Lowe's old Texas teammate Ian Kinsler.
"We know we have a good guy in the clubhouse," Avila said, "and a good guy on the mound."
Lowe will make $11 million over the course of his deal, which came together late Sunday night around the same time former Tiger Joakim Soria agreed to a three-year, $25 million deal with the Royals. The Tigers had rekindled talks with Soria and made him a three-year, $24 million offer, according to an industry source, but Soria took the offer with the Royals, more for the chance to return to the place where he starred as a closer years ago than the money.
"You have to look at years of the contract, the overall cost of the contract, and the overall performance," Avila said. "And we felt that [Lowe] performed as well as anybody. We had Soria, and we like Soria a lot, but Mark also performed very well.
"I think at the end of the day, Mark Lowe wanted to come to Detroit, and Joakim Soria wanted to go to Kansas City. I think that's why that happened the way it did. That's just my personal opinion."
Lowe joins Rodriguez, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy as locks in the Tigers' bullpen, according to Ausmus, with Drew VerHagen not far off. The Tigers would like another lefty to come to Detroit to join that mix with Hardy, and they've been in talks with free agents and other clubs. They've dicussed top free agents Tony Sipp and Antonio Bastardo, according to FOXSports.com, and an industry source confirmed they've checked on former Royals lefty Franklin Morales.
None of those guys have signed. The only major lefty reliever to sign so far has been new Nationals reliever Oliver Perez, in whom the Tigers had interest.
"Everybody's looking for bullpen [help]," Avila said. "It's a tough market. If I could make a deal today for a left-handed reliever, I'd do it right now. But it's not happening. Like I've said before, you have to be as fast as the market allows.
"It probably won't be this week, the way things are going. It might be something that goes into the rest of the winter. I don't know. But if we were stop right now where we're at, with Lowe and K-Rod and the guys that we have coming back, in all honesty, we would be happy. But we want a little bit more, and we're going to try to get a little bit more, if at all possible."