January 14th, 2011

Tigers avoid arbitration with Zumaya

The Tigers agreed to terms on Friday on a one-year, $1.4 million contract with reliever Joel Zumaya, inking another of their arbitration eligibles 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 pay 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.

When healthy, 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’s deal leaves Armando Galarraga as the lone arbitration-eligible Tiger 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 general manager duties in 2002.

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