DETROIT — The Tigers were ready to enter the offseason with a lengthy to-do list coming off a 96-loss season. That now includes lefty relief help after Andrew Chafin opted out of his contract for next year.
Chafin hits the open market, where he’s expected to seek a long-term contract.
The Tigers signed Chafin to a two-year, $13 million deal in March, but with a clause that allowed Chafin to opt out after the first year. The Tigers still have exclusive rights to negotiate until Thursday at 5 p.m. ET, when free agents can begin discussing contracts with other clubs. However, Detroit’s needs in other areas — especially with a lineup that scored the fewest runs in the Majors — are expected to take a higher priority.
Despite the Tigers’ overall struggles, Chafin was one of the most effective members of a relief corps that posted a 3.43 ERA, eighth lowest among Major League bullpens. Chafin posted a 2.83 ERA and a 3.06 FIP to go with three saves and 19 holds, allowing 48 hits over 57 1/3 innings with 19 walks and 67 strikeouts.
Only Alex Lange pitched in more games for the Tigers this season than Chafin, whose 64 appearances matched closer Gregory Soto’s total. His 0.9 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs, ranked fourth among Tigers pitchers and second among Tigers relievers, trailing only Joe Jiménez.
The Tigers explored interest in Chafin around the Trade Deadline, but then-general manager Al Avila said at the time that Chafin’s contract status impacted interest from clubs. While Avila saw him as a reliever with a season-plus of control, interested teams viewed him as a rental for the stretch run given his ability to opt out. That difference in perception impacted what teams were willing to offer for him.
Chafin, for his part, said he was fine not being traded. While he wasn’t pitching in a playoff race the first time since 2018, he was able to pitch close to his farm in Central Ohio, allowing him to drive home on off-days. That proximity was a big appeal in him signing with the Tigers in the first place.
Yet the combination of Chafin’s performance and situational versatility gives the 32-year-old an opportunity to gauge interest. Top free-agent lefties include Brad Hand, Will Smith, Taylor Rogers, Aroldis Chapman, Matt Strahm and Matt Moore. Compared with that group, Chafin has been more consistent over the past two years, having posted a 2.29 ERA, a 3.02 FIP, 6.6 hits per nine innings and 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings over 135 appearances between 2021 and ’22.
Without Chafin, Soto and swingman Tyler Alexander are the only Tigers lefty relievers under team control for next season. Another lefty reliever, Daniel Norris, is also a free agent. Detroit claimed lefty reliever Sean Guenther off waivers from the Marlins on Wednesday, but the 26-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery in April and is not expected to be ready for the start of next season.