Tuesday's priority: Upgrade bullpen, 'd'

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
7:03
PM ET
It was a very, very busy Tuesday in baseball and the priorities for the teams involved in making moves revolved around two areas- relief pitching and defense.

The Tigers made the biggest transaction of the day so far, signing free agent closer Joe Nathan to a two-year contract.

Nathan is the active leader in saves with 341, tied with Hall-of-Famer Rollie Fingers for 10th most all-time. Nathan comes off a season in which he had a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves. His four seasons with 43 or more saves rank tied for third-most all-time.

The upgrade in putting Nathan as closer ahead of Joaquin Benoit is tied to the history of each with regards to giving up home runs.

Benoit has allowed a homer every 30 at-bats over the last three seasons. Nathan has allowed one every 39 at-bats.

Athletics continue remake with Gregerson
The Athletics traded Seth Smith to the Padres for middle-relief specialist Luke Gregerson.

Gregerson brings durability, having made 70 or more appearances in four of the last five seasons. His 132 holds in that span are by far the most in the majors.

Gregerson succeeds despite not throwing that hard. His average fastball is 89 mph. He’s thrown nearly 1,800 sliders over the last three seasons. The only reliever to throw more is Carlos Marmol.

Gregerson will pair with Jim Johnson to form a new back end of the Athletics bullpen.

Bell will toll for Rays
Heath Bell will join his fourth team in as many seasons, as he’s headed to the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade.

After three straight 40-save seasons, Bell has sputtered the last two years with the Marlins and Diamondbacks.

Bell did have 72 strikeouts and 16 walks last season, a ratio comparable to what the Rays got from their closer, Fernando Rodney, in 2012.

But the focus for the Rays will be on keeping Bell’s homer total down. He yielded 12 in 65 2/3 innings, or two more than he allowed in nearly 200 innings of work from 2010 to 2012.

Gentry goes to the Athletics
The Athletics obtained Craig Gentry from the Texas Rangers and could plug him into their outfield in a number of ways.

His best spot from a defensive perspective is centerfield. Gentry ranks 29th in innings at that position over the last three seasons, but rates tied for third with 32 Defensive Runs Saved in that same span.

Gentry doesn’t hit for power but does have a .365 on-base percentage over the last three seasons.

He also can net extra bases after reaching, as he’s 55 for 65 in stolen base tries over the last three seasons (an 85 percent success rate that rates 11th-best among those with 40 or more steals).

Hanigan to the Rays
A bunch of catchers changed teams, with A.J. Pierzynski signing with the Red Sox and Jarrod Saltalamacchia subsequently heading to the Marlins.

Those were offensive-minded moves in each case (as noted in the chart at right), but the Rays snuck in and made a prominent move for their defense.

The trade with the Reds for Ryan Hanigan gives the Rays a second catcher highly regarded for his pitch-framing (as noted in this Grantland piece) and throwing arm.

Opponents have 52 steals against Hanigan and have been caught 38 times by him (they were also caught nine times by pitchers) over the last two seasons. The 58 percent steal success rate was the second-lowest against a catcher, behind only the 56 percent success rate against Yadier Molina.

Hanigan hit only .198 last season, but he walked more than he struck out for the fifth time in the five seasons in which he’s had at least 200 plate appearances. He had an on-base percentage of .350 or better in each season from 2009 to 2012.

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