Tigers nontender Feliz, Alburquerque (updated)
The Tigers’ bullpen reconstruction will not include Neftali Feliz or Al Alburquerque. The two right-handers were nontendered Wednesday, making both of them free agents.
The two decisions cut potentially $7 million off the Tigers’ projected 2016 payroll, which currently has around $145 million guaranteed to eight players after Jordan Zimmermann signed a five-year, $110 million contract on Monday. Three other arbitration-eligible Tigers — shortstop Jose Iglesias, infielder Andrew Romine and outfielder J.D. Martinez — were tendered contract offers.
Neither nontender is a particular surprise, given what they were projected to make in arbitration. Their chances of returning hinged largely on the Tigers avoiding arbitration by working out a deal for a lower salary.
Feliz, a midseason signing by the Tigers, presented a complicated situation. He eligible for arbitration for a fourth time, having achieved “Super-Two” status while he was closing for the Rangers. The 27-year-old right-hander made $4.125 million this past season between Texas, which designated him for assignment July 4, and Detroit, which signed him as a free agent a week later. He gave up 34 runs on 57 hits over 48 innings combined, walking 18 and striking out 39 while recording 10 saves. While his arm showed promise, evidenced by a jump in his velocity in his longest season since Tommy John surgery a few years ago, his results were inconsistent.
Feliz was projected to make around $5.2 million according to MLBTradeRumors.com. The Tigers weren’t going to bring him back for that type of salary, but could have tried to sign him to a lower salary before the deadline. Talks on that front had stalled by Wednesday afternoon. Those talks could be revisited, but Feliz will check out the open market first, making a return highly unlikely.
Feliz and his agent, Ryan Royster, are now free to negotiate with any club. In a relief market seeing high asking prices and long-term contracts for top free agents, Feliz is expected to draw a fair amount of interest for teams looking for a bounceback candidate on a short-term deal.
“He should be some nice interest,” one Major League talent evaluator said Wednesday night. “Still has velo.”
Alburquerque was eligible for arbitration for his second time following a 2015 season in which he set a career high in innings pitched but also dealt with higher hit and walk rates while watching his strikeout rate drop. He gave up 17 runs on 30 hits over 23 1/3 innings after the All-Star break, walking 15 against 19 strikeouts. His inconsistencies were symptomatic of a Tigers bullpen that was in flux for most of the season.
The 30-year-old Alburquerque made $1.725 million this past season, having avoided arbitration in January when players and teams were scheduled to exchange arbitration numbers. MLBTradeRumors.com projected him to make $2.1 million in arbitration. His Tigers tenure ends after five seasons in Detroit, during which he vacillated between dominant strikeout artist and enigmatic middle reliever.
Considering the Tigers signed him out of winter ball in November 2010, inking him to a Major League contract without having thrown a big-league pitch, he enjoyed a bigger career than many expected. His 67 strikeouts over 43 1/3 innings as a rookie in 2011 helped fill out Detroit’s bullpen, setting up a run of four consecutive division titles. He missed most of the 2012 season following elbow surgery and found his top form for stretches over the next three seasons.
With Feliz and Alburquerque out, the right-handed side of the Tigers bullpen after closer Francisco Rodriguez currently consists of Alex Wilson, Drew VerHagen, Bruce Rondon, Buck Farmer, Jose Valdez, Jeff Ferrell and Angel Nesbitt. Top starting pitching prospect Michael Fulmer could be a bullpen candidate, manager Brad Ausmus reiterated Monday, but the Tigers are expected to pursue two more relievers this offseason to fill holes in a bullpen that finished next-to-last in the American League with a 4.38 ERA.