DETROIT -- The Tigers have had to give late-inning opportunities to quite a few young relievers the last few months after injuries to Bobby Seay, Zach Miner and Joel Zumaya depleted Detroit's bullpen. But that big-game experience doesn't mean they have the depth they want in their bullpen for next year.
In other words, add relievers (plural) to the Tigers' lengthy wish list for their payroll space this winter, even if Zumaya returns healthy in time for Opening Day and Phil Coke remains in the bullpen.
"The free-agent market, we're going to look for some relievers," manager Jim Leyland said. "We need help, and that's where we're going to get it, we think. We're hoping to get it through maybe some free agency."
It's not a certainty, Leyland cautioned, but he made it clear Detroit needs help, whether it's through free agency or trades.
The good news for the Tigers is that they're set at closer with Jose Valverde, so they won't have to hit that end of the market. But the setup relief market in recent years has been just about as competitive, and some of the best signings end up being among the most obscure. While the Astros inked Brandon Lyon to a 3-year, $15 million contract to set up for Matt Lindstrom in Houston before taking over at closer, Joaquin Benoit has been one of the best in the game since making the Rays as a non-roster invitee this spring coming off rotator cuff surgery.
Detroit could still stick with left-hander Coke as a part-time setup man or specialist, but it appears they'll look for eighth-inning help regardless. Ryan Perry has had ups and downs in setup situations this year, his second full pro season, and while he's likely a key part of next year's bullpen, Leyland still wants to see more consistency from him, as well as more effectiveness pitching on back-to-back days.
Robbie Weinhardt and Daniel Schlereth have a chance to make next year's club after making some late-season impressions as rookies, but their relative inexperience will likely keep them out of primary late-inning roles. Miner might not be ready for the start of next season, and he wasn't really a late-inning reliever when he was healthy anyway.