Tigers sign Gorzelanny to one-year deal (updated)
Long before the Tigers built their dream rotation, they tried to trade for a young lefty starter in Pittsburgh named Tom Gorzelanny. They’ve tried to trade for him at other times over the years as a reliever.
Years later, they’ve finally got him, and they’re hoping he can fill out their bullpen.
“He’s a guy that we look at as being our veteran left-hander in the bullpen,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday after signing Gorzelanny to a one-year contract. “He’s a guy that’s got solid stuff with experience and knows how to get big-league hitters out.”
The guaranteed Major League deal — the first the Tigers have done for a free-agent lefty reliever since Dombrowski took over — includes a $1 million base salary plus incentives, according to industry sources.
At the same time, the low-risk, high-reward deal fits the Tigers profile for such a role. Like Joba Chamberlain a year ago, the Tigers are investing in the upside of Gorzelanny in his second season back from shoulder surgery.
It came together quickly after the holiday season, according to both sides.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” Gorzelanny told MLB.com in a text message. “When they called and made an offer, I was ready to get something done. Great team to play for, an obvious World Series contender, it was an easy choice.”
The Tigers had interest in Gorzelanny back when he was a young starter in Pittsburgh five years ago. He has bounced around in the years since, spending two years each with the Cubs, Nationals and most recently the Brewers, but only became a full-time reliever in 2012 and again last season.
Gorzelanny worked his way back from shoulder surgery a year ago to make 23 appearances out of the Brewers bullpen last summer, allowing two earned runs on 22 hits over 21 innings with eight walks and 23 strikeouts. Left-handed hitters batted 11-for-34 (.324) against him, but the lone extra-base hit was a double.
Most of those appearances came in lower-pressure situations. Gorzelanny entered with the Brewers trailing in 20 of his 23 appearances last year, 10 times by three runs or more. Still, teams were watching.
“We saw him early coming back, and his velocity was down. He didn’t throw nearly as well as he did later in the year,” Dombrowski said. “His velocity picked up back to the normal range, upper 80s, low 90s. He’s always had a deceptive delivery.”
For his career, Gorzelanny has allowed a .231 average to left-handed batters, including 18-for-98 (.184) with 28 strikeouts with Milwaukee in 2013.
Though Gorzelanny was fine after returning in June, his velocity on all of his pitches was down, including a fastball that dropped from an average of 91.1 mph in 2013 to 89.2 mph last season, according to Fangraphs.
“It was a little bit of a struggle to come back from the surgery,” Gorzelanny said. “It was the first surgery of my career and it was a learning experience for me. Once I got more comfortable throwing, things got better.
“Now, having a normal offseason this year, I feel much better and stronger than I have in a while.”
It’s not a high-profile addition after bigger-name lefties such as Andrew Miller and Zach Duke signed lucrative deals off the market earlier this offseason, but it’s the kind of deal the Tigers have made in their bullpen in recent years.
Gorzelanny is expected to fill the slot left open by Phil Coke, who became a free agent after five seasons in Detroit, and complement Ian Krol, who wore down at midseason, and Alex Wilson, acquired in the Rick Porcello trade last month.
Dombrowski didn’t rule out re-signing Coke, but haven’t had active talks.
“I think our siutation with Phil is we’re open-minded,” Dombrowski said. “We’ve been open-minded. We haven’t aggressively been pursuing signing Phil. I can’t really say one way or the other.”
With Detroit’s 40-man roster full, the Tigers designated long reliever Luke Putkonen’s contract for assignment to make room. Putkonen pitched in just two games last season before undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. Detroit could still end up with the 28-year-old Putkonen in camp as a non-roster invite if he clears waivers and is outrighted to Triple-A Toledo.