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Tigers Sign Joel Zumaya To One-Year Deal, Avoiding Arbitration

This surely isn’t the last time we’ll say it, but we’ll say it again, anyway: Dave Dombrowski does not do arbitration.

Since becoming the president and general manager of the Detroit Tigers in 2002, Dombrowski and the team have not gone to an arbitration hearing with an eligible player. The Tigers and the player have agreed to terms beforehand every single time.

Today was no exception, as pitcher Joel Zumaya agreed to a one-year contract with Detroit. The deal is for $1.4 million, approximately a $500,000 raise over what he made last season.

Before suffering a season-ending fracture in his right elbow, Zumaya was pitching well out of the bullpen. In 31 appearances, he posted a 2.58 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. It was his best performance since his breakout rookie season in 2006.

Detroit already has the back end of their relief corps taken care of with Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde tabbed to pitch in late innings. That frees up Jim Leyland to use Zumaya in any necessary middle relief situation. What if the Tigers find themselves in a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning and need a strikeout? Zumaya can come in for that.

Given Zumaya’s injury history, signing him to any sort of contract might seem like a risk. And there were some rumblings that the Tigers might not tender him a contract during the offseason. But when healthy, Zumaya can still be a dominant reliever. And if he recovers from his elbow injury and is able to pitch regularly, he provides the Tigers with a bullpen weapon that not many other teams have.

Of course, Zumaya is all about that “if.” He’s had his season cut short by injuries (finger, shoulder, elbow) in each of the past four years. A full season could lead to a big payday, however, as Zumaya is eligible for free agency this October.

Armando Galarraga becomes the Tigers’ remaining arbitration-eligible player.