Tigers sign lefty Andrew Chafin to two-year, $13M deal

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — There’s been this little dance going on the first few days of camp. Questions would be asked about potential free agent signings and the answers from manager AJ Hinch and general manager Al Avila would be either shadowy or some sarcastic form of, “You’ll be the first to know.”

The music stopped, ever so briefly, on Wednesday when reports (confirmed by the News) that left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin had agreed to a two-year, $13 million contract with the Tigers.

“That’s awesome,” Tigers late-inning reliever Michael Fulmer said. “He’s going to help us out a lot, especially being from the left side. This bullpen is getting better and better.”

Before Chafin, closer Gregory Soto was the only lefty reliver expected to break camp with the club, presuming that Tyler Alexander stays in the starting rotation.

“Soto was used a lot of times in the ninth inning last year but throughout the year he was mixed in as kind of a lefty specialist when teams had lefties coming up in the seventh or eighth,” Fulmer said. “With Chafin, being the guy he is, absolutely dominant from the left side, it’ll be good to have Soto lock down that ninth inning. That’s where he belongs.

“I’m excited to meet Andrew. Hope he helps us a lot.”

You might remember Chafin from a few years back when he was with the Diamondbacks, walking around wearing a t-shirt that proudly proclaimed, “Failed starter.” He’s Ohio-born, entering his ninth season out of Kent State and will turn 32 on June 14.

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“Obviously we’re looking for things that can help us get better,” said Hinch after the Tigers’ workout Wednesday, still doing the dance because the club hadn’t yet made the Chafin signing official. “I can’t confirm anything other than we’re actively looking to upgrade our team and put ourselves in the best position to win.

“These things tend to leak out before they are finalized.”

The Tigers also signed right-handed starter Wily Peralta to a minor-league deal Wednesday. Peralta, who will turn 33 on May 8, went 4-5 with a 3.07 ERA in 18 starts for the Tigers last season.

Perhaps the last piece of the big-league puzzle will be a veteran starting pitcher. Sources told the News Wednesday that the club was still in pursuit of either Zack Greinke or Michael Pineda — both right-handers with long track records.

It was reported later on Wednesday that Greinke had signed with the Royals.

“To the organization’s credit, Al’s been working tirelessly,” Hinch said. “Let’s see how it all plays out.”

Chafin split last season between the Cubs and Athletics, making 71 appearances and posting a 1.83 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. And he was as tough on right-handed hitters (.196 opponent average) as he was on lefties (.170).

He primarily uses three pitches — a sinker (92 mph), four-seam fastball (92 mph) and a wipeout slider (82 mph). Last season hitters swung and missed at a 55% rate on the slider.

He’s also a strike-thrower, throwing first-pitch strikes 62% of the time.

Most likely, Chafin will join Soto, Fulmer, Funkhouser and right-hander Jose Cisnero as leverage-situation relievers at the back end of the Tigers’ bullpen.

“I feel really good about our bullpen,” Hinch said. “This is something I’m always talking about with the players. We have a path to win. Starting with the starting pitcher getting us to the part of the game when we can start counting outs. And we can do that in a variety of ways.”

As he showed last season, if the game is on the line in the sixth or seventh inning, he won’t hesitate to use Soto or Fulmer or even Chafin if that’s the best way to get through that inning.

“When I say Gregory Soto is our closer, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to pitch a sixth inning,” Hinch said. “Then you can write, ‘Closer Gregory Soto came into a leverage situation in the sixth.’…

“If Soto is needed to come in earlier in the game, someone else has to get the last three outs. It might be that Alex Lange or Joe Jimenez might have to pitch the ninth. I don’t love defined roles as much as I like a pathway to wins.”

The dance will resume, though, until the Tigers sign a starting pitcher to a big-league deal.

“There’s various reasons for adding a player now,” Hinch said. “One is depth, two is competition and three, he’s bona fide on your team. I’m not sure we’re going to hit all three in the next week, but we’d like to.”

The Tigers, covering reasons one and two, have brought back both Peralta and Drew Hutchison on minor-league deals, as well as veteran Chase Anderson. The goal is to cover the third reason with a veteran, lower-cost, innings-eating starter — ala Greinke or Pineda.

With Greinke, who had pitched for Hinch in Houston, off the market, Pineda becomes the Tigers’ next target.

The 33-year-old is coming off a solid three-year run with the Twins (22-13, 3.80 ERA, 1.91 WHIP). He made 52 starts (only five in 2020). He throws strikes (70% first-pitch strike rate) and he gets hitters to chase (34%), especially with his slider, which had a 38% whiff rate last season.

Time is becoming an issue now for teams and free agents. The Tigers open the Grapefruit League schedule on Friday, three ahead of the regular-season opener.

“If guys are signing around the league to compete for a job, you kind of have to hurry and get into camp,” Hinch said. “Hopefully they can come in shape. We don’t have a ton of evaluation time.”

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Twitter: @cmccosky

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