DETROIT -- The Tigers agreed to terms on a one-year, $1.4 million contract with reliever Joel Zumaya on Friday, inking another of their arbitration-eligible players as they try to wrap up their offseason to-do list.
The deal has been expected for a while. Zumaya said earlier this offseason he wasn't going to be greedy as he looked for a contract. With free agency coming for him next winter, he knows his big payday should come shortly if he can come through with a healthy 2011 season.
That, of course, has been the problem. His elbow fracture on the mound in a game last June ended his 2010 season at 31 appearances, yet it was his highest total since his rookie season of 2006. Zumaya went 2-1 with a 2.58 ERA and one save, striking out 34 batters over 38 1/3 innings. He made $915,000 last year, but just missed a $20,000 bonus had he pitched in 35 games. His new contract includes no such incentives.
When healthy, which he's expected to be going into Spring Training, Zumaya has the chance to be a valuable piece in the bullpen, even with the depth the Tigers have built up in their relief corps this winter. His ability to get swings and misses in big situations with a fastball around 100 mph is extremely difficult to replace, and his willingness to work on his secondary pitches bodes well for improvement. He also has the potential to work two innings, which could make him a must-have bridge between Tigers starters and their late-inning tandem of setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde.
Zumaya has been healthy early in the season the past couple years. Staying healthy, of course, has been the problem. But he also realizes how critical this year is for him, not just for free agency but for his career in general at age 26.
Zumaya's deal leaves Armando Galarraga as the lone arbitration-eligible member of the Tigers who has yet to sign. Given his resume, plus the Tigers' recent agreement with Brad Penny, his situation might take a while to resolve.
The Tigers have not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since Dave Dombrowski took over as general manager in 2002.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.