The Tigers have been looking for a bullpen piece for a long while, essentially all season long. They’ve had great contributions from Benoit and Smyly, but do need a trusted arm to round out the back end of the bullpen. What they need is a righty who dominates righties and can get lefties out as well in big situations. That’s pretty much what they got. They needed a healthy Dotel, which they don’t have yet, so they went out and traded for one.
The deal looks like this. The Tigers sent 19 year old OF prospect Danry Vasquez and a Player to Be Named Later to the Astros for RHP Jose Veras. Veras will be used in late inning setup situations in tandem with Drew Smyly and instead of Bruce Rondon. I like this trade, let’s break it down.
Jose Veras is a journeyman reliever on a cheap contract that includes a cheap team option for 2014. The Tigers are getting a year plus of Veras in this deal and at almost no financial cost. Veras has thrown 43 inning in 42 games this season and has a 9.21 K/9 and 2.93 BB/9. The strikeout rate is very much in line with his career pace, but the walks are a big step forward. He has a 2.93 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, and 0.6 WAR, which all point to a very good overall season. He’s also doing it in the AL West, so his competition is actually going to get easier.
Veras is having his best season to date and his win probability added and run expectancy numbers are also in line with his stat line. All told, it looks like the Tigers are getting a solid relief pitcher and there aren’t any red flags involved. By New English D’s own reliever metric, SOEFA, Veras comes in at 0.24, which is an above average number.
Veras throws a sinking fastball, curveball, and splitter which all seem to be effective pitches for him and he doesn’t have a big platoon split. What is very encouraging for me about the Veras pick up is that the entire key to his improved value is his decreased walk rate. Take a look at his BB/9 over his career:
What I find encouraging about this is that I think this is coming from a real change in his approach on the mound. Something I found out while researching a piece about Adam Wainwright and Matt Moore is that throwing strikes overall is less important than throwing first pitch strikes. Getting ahead early is more important than hitting the zone period. Check. This. Out.
Veras is throwing dramatically more first pitch strikes this season than ever before and it seems to be leading to fewer walks. If Veras has really changed his approach this much, I can completely buy into the drop in walk rate. If Veras really is a 3 BB/9 guy with his K rate, he could be a very solid and valuable piece for the Tigers as they go deep into October.
This move doesn’t just improve their 7/8th combination, but it makes the middle relief better by pushing Alburquerque and Rondon earlier into the game. Veras makes the Tigers better.
As for what they gave up, I’m comfortable with it. Vasquez ranks 5th in TigsTown’s midseason update and #8 on Marc Hulet’s preseason list among Tigers prospects. He has plus potential at the plate, but there are questions about his defense already. He’s 19 and already a LF only type player, it seems. The key to Vasquez is that he’s at least three seasons away from the majors and won’t be ready to contribute until about 2016 and beyond. The Tigers window is now and another solid bullpen arm could be very helpful in October. The Tigers are trading potential value from 2016-2022 for a shot at a title in 2013-2014. As far as I’m concerned that is a risk you take when the prospect isn’t a top tier guy. Unless the PTBNL is a significant piece, the cost is worth the benefit.
The Tigers needed another high leverage reliever for the stretch run and the postseason and they got one in Veras who seems to have turned a corner in his ability to limit runs via a lower walk rate. That walk rate looks real given his first pitch strike rate. They gave up a good prospect to get him, but that prospect is far from the big leagues and the Tigers are in a very real position to win now.
Veras should help the Tigers down the stretch and could be a difference maker in October. Flags fly forever and this is a move that makes a flag more likely without a huge cost.