General manager Dave Dombrowski has a new-look bullpen heading into the 2014 season, with Joe Nathan serving as the closer, Ian Krol in place of Drew Smyly (who will move to the rotation in place of the recently traded Doug Fister) and newcomer Joba Chamberlain joining on a one-year, $2.5MM deal.
Despite the fact that Chamberlain's $2.5MM guarantee is less than the $4MM option Detroit declined on Jose Veras and the fact that the team saved money in the Fister and Prince Fielder trades, Dombrowski maintains that his moves haven't been about cutting payroll. When asked about the perception that his team is slashing payroll on today's conference call, he replied:
"The reality is it's not true. We have a very hefty payroll. We'll be one of the highest payrolls in Major League Baseball. We'll continue to be that, and our payroll, actually, as of this year is higher than it was last year."
Asked then if the decision came down to the fact that the Tigers simply like Chamberlain better than Veras, Dombrowski was frank:
"Yes we do, and no offense to Jose Veras because he's a solid guy and we liked him. We had an opportunity to bring him back. We like Joba. … We had our choice of a lot of guys who are still out there for one-year deals — maybe even a two-year deal in a couple different cases. I'm not talking about closer guys. We like Joba. We've liked him in the past. Our scouts that haved liked him. We realized that sometimes coming off Tommy John, it takes awhile to come back. … The ability is still there. The velocity is still there. … We like what he brings to our bullpen, so the answer to that is yes."
Though it's a new-look bullpen for Detroit, some familiar faces will be returning for Tigers fans, and one of those faces is familiar to Chamberlain as well. I asked Dombrowski and Chamberlain if either talked with left-hander Phil Coke — Chamberlains' former teammate with the Yankees — before making the decision. Dombrowski said that while he didn't ask Coke what Chamberlain is like in the clubhouse, the club did a lot of research and spoke with a lot of people about Chamberlain before making the offer. Asked about his former teammate, Chamberlain replied:
"I didn't have the chance to talk to Phil, but every time that Detroit came to New York or I was in Detroit, we'd always talk to Phil. … Phil is a great man. He's a character, and we had some good times in New York, and I'm looking forward to being back with him and sharing some new memories in Detroit, and definitely getting some more stories from Phil. He's a guy that'll keep you entertained. … I'm looking forward to seeing him, giving him a big hug and being his teammate again."
Though he had other offers, Chamberlain called Detroit "an incredible fit," and a "fantastic organization from top to bottom." He added that he was excited to come to Detroit after talking with new manager Brad Ausmus, whom he watched as a player for a number of years.
"There was a lot of interest," said agent Jim Murray of Excel Sports Management. "There were a lot of opportunities out there for potentially even more dollars. However, the money wasn't a driving factor in this. This is more about opportunity. This is more about Joba feeling comfortable."
Detroit designated Danny Worth for assignment in order to clear a 40-man roster spot — a move that Dombrowski acknowledged was influenced by the addition of Steve Lombardozzi in the Doug Fister trade. Though they've been busy to this point, it could be a low-key offseason the rest of the way for Detroit.
"No, we're pretty well set at this point," Dombrowski said when asked if he'd continue shopping for more pieces. "I think this basically sets us up as we want to go forward. Now, there are a lot of players out there. Who knows what happens as the winter progresses? Who knows what the next phone call brings since we're still a couple months away from Spring Training? But as far as us being aggressive and trying to sign somebody and bring them on board, this would be the last move we're looking to make."