Detroit Tigers: How to Replace Max Scherzer

Changes are coming for the Detroit Tigers. Don’t worry, they won’t be wholesale. The team will still stick to its identity—superb starting pitching and a slugging, star-driven, high-scoring offense. While the bullpen, and to a lesser extent, the bench will likely be bolstered, there is yet another item that will force general manager Dave Dombrowski to make a transaction or two—replacing Max Scherzer.

The writing on the wall may have been the fact that the former Arizona Diamondback turned down a contract extension worth $144 million over six years. Since then, the public opinion thinks Scherzer will be playing for a different team come spring training. That may be public perception in Detroit’s front office as well. Dombrowski, in theory, has already acquired a replacement to take Scherzer’s spot on the front line next to Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. That would be David Price. The fact that the Tigers’ acquired Price mere months after Scherzer turned down the contract could be coincidental, but at the very least served as a backup plan to losing Scherzer.

Here are some options Detroit will have to fill the potentially vacant spot in their rotation.

The Internal Guys

Detroit has a plethora of internal options. A plethora. However, none of the internal options pitched like Cy Young winners, or anywhere close to it. Outside of Scherzer, Verlander, Price, Sanchez, Rick Porcello and the departed Drew Smyly, the Tigers used five other starting pitchers in 2014. That group consisted of Robbie Ray, Buck Farmer, Kyle Lobstein, Kyle Ryan and Drew VerHagen. It’s hard to judge them too harshly. Four of the group are only 23 (Lobstein is the resident greybeard at 25) and none of the five pitched in the big leagues prior to the season. As hard as it is to judge the group, it’s equally as hard to find a front runner in terms of claiming a rotation spot. Lobstein appears to be the leader in the clubhouse. He made the postseason roster as a long reliever, and save a disastrous start in Minnesota, pitched well enough to keep the Tigers in games. However, the former Rays’ farmhand only managed to reach the seven innings pitched plateau once in his six starts. If he can last longer in games and stay effective, he should be the frontrunner of the internal options.

Outside of Lobstein, it’s hard to get a read on things. VerHagen and Ryan only started a game apiece while Farmer struggled immensely in two starts. (Ryan threw six shutout innings in his only start. After that he was limited to bullpen work where he pitched well. He may find it easier to make the team as a reliever than as a starter.)

Ray is the wild card of the bunch. The centerpiece of the return received for Doug Fister pitched exceptionally well in his first two starts. Over 11.1 innings he limited the opposition to one run on nine hits. His strikeout to walk ratio was 7-2. If he can pitch close to that mark for an entire season, then Dombrowski and manager Brad Ausmus should hand him the job outright. Then again, if Ray pitches like he did the rest of the way it will leave the door open for other pitchers. After those two sparkling starts and a brief, two out relief appearance in Boston, Ray’s ERA jumped nearly four runs from 0.75 to 4.70 after surrendering seven runs in 3.1 innings to Texas. It only got worse from their as he posted an 11.12 ERA in three August starts, giving up 14 runs and 20 hits in only 11.1 innings.

If Scherzer’s replacement is an internal option, it remains to be seen who it will be. Lobstein and Ray (should he turn it around) seem like they have the inside track. Still, it’s hard to evaluate a group of young pitchers.

The Free Agents

Outside of Scherzer, the other marquee free agent starting pitchers are Jon Lester and James Shields. Signing either would cost a similar amount of cash to Scherzer, plus the loss of a draft pick, so re-signing Scherzer would seem the most prudent play out of the three.

Still, if the team opts for another free agent to fill the void, or perhaps split time with an internal candidate, there are plenty of options. Options that, on the whole, come with a caveat. That caveat is that most starters available on the open market are either reclamation projects/ buy low candidates or pitchers looking for a big payday.

If the Tigers aren’t willing to commit anything close to Scherzer money on anyone other than Scherzer they should look for a cheaper option. A cheaper option that is more reliable than a buy low candidate. Signing someone like Jason Hammel or Roberto Hernandez would make sense. Neither will wow you with their numbers, but neither will completely implode either. They’d keep the Tigers in game as well as providing decent rotation depth. If the Tigers want a pitcher with a little more experience and one who could win them more games, Jake Peavy would be ideal. He’s no spring chicken at 33, but has been in plenty of pressure situations and knows the division well thanks to his time in Chicago. He won’t be cheap, but he’ll be cheaper than Scherzer.

James Shields could be an interesting target. First off, he’s cheaper than the other two premium starters on the market—Scherzer and Lester. Secondly, signing him away from Kansas City would be a major blow to Detroit’s biggest division rival.

The Trade Market

Their likely won’t be many pitchers of Scherzer’s caliber on the trade market. Knowing this, Detroit could look for a controllable, young, middle of the rotation type to fill the need. The Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson would make sense. Given the fact Tampa may not want to get into a situation with him where they pay him gobs of money and decide to move him instead—a la Scott Kazmir, David Price, James Shields, et al.

San Diego’s Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy would also be pitchers to target. Ross has flourished as a starter in San Diego while Kennedy seems to have rebounded from a rough 2013. Before 2013, the former Yankee farmhand won 36 games between 2011 and 2012. One of Cincinnati’s may starting pitchers could also make sense.

In Conclusion

The simplest may just be to re-sign Scherzer, but should Detroit go another way, Dave Dombrowski will have plenty of options.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: Kyle Lobstein an Unlikely Steadying Presence

Kyle Lobstein has been the most reliable pitcher in the Detroit Tigers’ rotation in the last few weeks.

The man who Brad Ausmus referred to as “Lobber” has been consistent for the Detroit Tigers at a time when they are in dire need of reliability. Starting pitching was once the Tigers’ calling card. And I guess it still is, but right now they’re going through some struggles. Not only is the team trailing the Royals this late in the season (they entered today two games back of Kansas City) their starting pitching hasn’t been as effective. Cy Young winners Max Scherzer and David Price have compiled a few uncharacteristically pedestrian/awful starts as of late while Rick Porcello is having what can be described as a small speed bump in an otherwise superb breakout year. Other pitching woes include Justin Verlander having a down year (compared to his absurdly high standards). In addition, Anibal Sanchez is dealing with an injury that could keep him out for the rest of the year. Sanchez’ replacements, the two headed monster that is Buck Farmer and Robbie Ray, were dreadful in spot starts.

Because of this, Ausmus and the Tigers have turned to “Lobber.”

Lobstein has only thrown two starts, but with the rest of the rotation on a roller coaster in terms of results, those two starts seem like so much more. The former Rays’ prospect hasn’t officially recorded a win, but Detroit has won both of his starts (incidentally, Phil Coke won both of those games). Lobstein isn’t just keeping the Tigers in games; he’s pitching well and giving them a chance to win those games. The former second round pick has succeeded where others have failed in stabilizing a contending team’s rotation as a rookie.

The Tigers’ haven’t had much success in bringing starting pitching up from the minors in recent memory, but with Lobstein it seems they’ve found a keeper.

Detroit Tigers: Why Justin Verlander will be the Tigers’ Key to Reaching the World Series

Thanks to the Detroit Tigers’ recent acquisition of David Price, many pundits and fans alike are earmarking the team for the World Series. However, it won’t be Price, reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer or superstar Miguel Cabrera who will be the key to Detroit reaching baseball’s biggest stage. Granted, those players will play their part, but Verlander will be the most important.

David Price gives Detroit five premium starters—himself, Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. In the playoffs, teams generally use only four starters and use their fifth starter in relief. This situation falls firmly under the “good problem to have” banner. Regardless, the idea has been floated that Verlander should be the fifth starter and moved to the bullpen.

This would be foolish. Admittedly, Verlander’s numbers are down this year, as they were last season, but he brings it in the playoffs. Last season the former MVP went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA across 218+ innings and 34 starts. Decent numbers for most pitchers, but for the seemingly super-human Verlander, that was a down year. Despite the pedestrian showings, the Tigers’ ace turned it on for the playoffs. In three postseason starts, he threw 23 innings, allowing one run on ten hits while posting an absurd 31/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If you like translating ERAs, you would know that Verlander’s would equate to 0.39 in last year’s playoffs. It’s not just the flashy stats that made Verlander a strong performer for the Tigers last year, he also went deep into games, often protecting a shaky bullpen that ended up being the team’s undoing.

The Tigers’ longest tenured player will not only be important because of his past success in the playoffs, but also because of the teams Detroit will be playing. Verlander dominates the A’s in the playoffs. He eats them for breakfast. He wipes the floor with them. He uses their jerseys as dish rags. Ok, one of those examples isn’t true, but the fact is that Justin Verlander is Oakland’s playoff kryptonite. In the last two years, the Detroit pitcher has made four postseason starts against the Athletics. Here are his results against them.

(* indicates deciding game)

2012 ALDS Game 1- Tigers win 3-1. Verlander: 7 innings pitched, 3 hits, 1 earned run, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts.

*2012 ALDS Game 5- Tigers win 6-0. Verlander: 9 innings pitched, 4 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts.

2013 ALDS Game 2- Oakland wins 1-0. Verlander: 7 innings pitched, 4 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 11 strikeouts.

*2013 ALDS Game 5- Tigers win 3-0. Verlander: 8 innings pitched, 2 hits, 0 runs, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts.

Oakland has scored one run off of Verlander in 31 innings. Over that same span, Oakland batters have struck out 43 times compared to a paltry seven walks.

If you’re Brad Ausmus, you want this guy at the top of the rotation for October—if not for Game One, then at the very least Game Two so he can pitch the deciding game should the series get there.

And it’s not just Oakland that Verlander excels against; he owns a 9-2 all-time record against playoff contender Baltimore while also posting dominant numbers against New York and Boston in the last two postseasons. He went at least eight innings in each game, held both teams to a run each and walked a cumulative one batter across both starts.

Despite Justin Verlander’s struggles (by his own high standards) in the last two years, he still brings it in the playoffs. He did it last year, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do it again this year. That, and his overall dominance of Detroit’s biggest rival for the AL crown, Oakland, make him a lock to be the Tigers’ most important player in reaching the World Series.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

 

Detroit Tigers Acquire David Price: How, Why and What it Means for the Tigers and the Pennant Race

Who Was Acquired: The Tigers acquired starting pitcher David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team trade.

Who They Gave Up: Centerfielder Austin Jackson, starting pitcher Drew Smyly and minor league shortstop Willy Adames.

Who Else Was Involved: The Seattle Mariners, who acquired Jackson while also sending infielder Nick Franklin to Tampa Bay.

What it Means for the Tigers:

Detroit acquired one of the premier starting pitchers in the game, David Price. The cost? Austin Jackson, Willy Adames and Drew Smyly. The price to pay (if you excuse the pun) wasn’t as high as say the pieces Kansas City gave up for James Shields, but it was still high. Jackson is as good of a defensive centerfielder as you’ll find and brings pop and speed to the lineup. Smyly, on the other hand, is a young, controllable and versatile pitcher who has quality numbers in his career out of the ‘pen and in the rotation. Adames is in the lower minors and is a long way away from the Majors.

The Tigers didn’t pay a whole lot for Price. You could arguably say that the Red Sox got a better haul for either Jon Lester or John Lackey. Chicago may have gotten a better deal for Jeff Samardjiza. Detroit can now pencil in some combination of Price, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer for games one through three of the postseason. That’s not even mentioning Rick Porcello, who is finally showing all the potential and promise he had earlier in his career, or Anibal Sanchez who not only was ridiculously dominant against Boston in the playoffs last year, but also led the American League in ERA last season.

This trade was partly made possible due to offseason acquisitions Rajai Davis and JD Martinez. Before their acquisitions the outfield was very clearly Jackson, Torii Hunter and some combination of players filling the third spot. Now with Martinez hitting like a middle-of-the-order bat and occupying the corner outfield spot opposite Hunter, the team can slide Davis to center to fill the void created by Jackson. Davis’ skillset also made it easier to part with Jackson. Last season, Jackson was the lone source of speed in the lineup— something that was exposed in October. Davis can cover ground in the outfield, can steal a multitude of bases (even more than Jackson) and hit for some power. On a minor note, this solves the Andy Dirks issue. When he’s healthy, Dirks will be the fourth outfielder, something that wasn’t clear before, due to all the outfielders and Dirks’ injury.

Price’s acquisition also sets up an all-out war for the American League pennant. With all due respect to Anaheim and Baltimore, the AL champ will be from Michigan (more likely) or the Bay Area. The Tigers and A’s have met in the last two postseasons, with Detroit winning both matchups. Oakland has made big acquisitions as well, bringing in Jon Lester and Jeff Samardjiza. The A’s made these trades to win it all, but also to get by Detroit who have knocked them out of the playoffs the last three times Billy Beane’s team have made it.

The acquisition of Price also gives the Tigers insurance down the road. If Max Scherzer leaves, the Tigers now have Price as cover, if you want to call one of the best pitchers in the game “cover.”

If anything, this trade signifies pitching as king in baseball. The Tigers now employ the last three American League Cy Young winners in the league. If the previous thinking holds, and pitching is king, the Tigers have it in spades. Look out World Series, here comes Detroit.

Detroit Tigers: Breaking Down the Doug Fister Trade

When the Detroit Tigers acquired Doug Fister from the Seattle Mariners a few years ago, it was viewed as an under-the-radar trade. After a few months of Fister pitching, it was looked at as a straight-up train robbery.

The train robbery is over. The Tigers have cashed in their bounty from that robbery, dealing Fister to our nation’s Capitol for a package that included utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi, young, lefty reliever Ian Krol and starting pitching prospect Robbie Ray.

At the end of the day, someone was going to be supplanted by Drew Smyly in the Tigers’ rotation. Many thought the supplanted pitcher was going to Rick Porcello, some thought it would be Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

It was Fister.

MLB Trade Rumors arbitration projections show Porcello earning more than Fister, so it wasn’t all about the money. But, Tigers did save some cash by comparison if you match up the former Mariners’ contract with the combined salary owed to the three players he was traded for.

Part of me thinks this has long term implications for the Tigers. They obviously get young players to help them contend in the future, namely Ray, but it also helps them get to that future.

People tend to forget that Rick Porcello is only 24 years of age. He’s already got five years in the big leagues, but is only 24. Fister is five years older. Keeping Porcello makes sense when looking ahead five years from now when Porcello will be in his prime at 29. At that time Fister will be making his way toward retirement.

Dave Dombrowski might be selling high on Fister. The team was determined to move Smyly into the rotation, meaning one of the incumbent starters had to go. Detroit isn’t moving Verlander or Sanchez, and would only take everything and the kitchen sink for Scherzer. This may have been a case of the Tigers getting more value out of Fister than Porcello.

Most people will say that it is a lost trade for the Tigers, but we shouldn’t doubt Dave Dombrowski’s trading prowess. He’s won every major trade he has made in recent memory.

Think about it, he won the Miguel Cabrera trade by a landslide (that’s including the fact that he had to take back Dontrelle Willis’ contract). He won the Curtis Granderson/Edwin Jackson three-teamer by a decent margin. He acquired Fister in said train robbery. He got Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for a backup catcher and two young starting pitchers who haven’t been able to fully establish themselves on one of baseball’s worst teams. The man wins trades.

No one should jump to conclusions on trades. You can only tell who won or lost a trade in four or five years. People have doubted Dombrowski’s deals in the past. (I, for one, thought they gave way too much for Sanchez. I was wrong.) We have to give the team a chance to play together, let alone get through an off-season. It’s premature and foolish, to jump to conclusions about Dombrowski’s trading. Give it time. It’ll all work out.

Tigers’ Dombrowski Keeps Looking Better and Better

Dave Dombrowski is one of the better GMs in the sport of baseball. Maybe the best. His latest trades are a testament to that.

First off, Miguel Cabrera? Remember him? MVP having a ridiculous year? Widely regarded as the best hitter in the known universe?

You know what Dombrowski gave the Marlins for him? Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Burke Badnehop and some minor leaguers. Fun fact, of the players that Florida Miami got from Detroit there are more players currently on the Brewers’ payroll (two) than the Marlins (zero).  So that was a train robbery, not so much of a trade.

The Tigers recently exchanged more players with the Marlins at last year’s trade deadline. Detroit acquired Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for a package of prospects highlighted by starting pitcher Jacob Turner and catcher Rob Brantly. My reaction was extremely skeptical. I thought Turner was much too high of a price to pay for a stop-gap piece (Sanchez). I’ll raise my hand and say I was wrong, because I was. Sanchez has not only resigned with Detroit for the long term, but he has also warranted that contract extension with tremendous pitching. The former Marlin is a Cy Young dark horse and leads the league with a microscopic 2.61 ERA. He was also arguably Detroit’s best pitcher during last year’s World Series run.

There is also the case of Infante. Not only has he solved the massive black hole that was second base, but he has also exceeded expectations with a .325 batting average, further bolstering an already terrifying lineup.

The price that was paid to bring Sanchez and Infante back/ to Detroit was a package including Turner and Brantly. Both are on the Fish’s big league roster and both look to be part of the team’s future. Neither seemed to have that look in Detroit, mostly due to established players ahead of them on the organizational depth chart.

The Tigers continue to make extremely smart trades that make the rest of the league look foolish for not making the deal. Sanchez and Infante join a growing list that includes Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson.

If liked the piece and want to check out more of my work, you can head over to my site dedicated to Seattle Sports, http://www.kingdomeofseattlesports.com/.

The Mariners Really Need to Trade Felix Hernandez

The Upper Echelons of Major League Pitchers-

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. David Price, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, Jered Weaver
  3. Matt Cain, RA Dickey , James Shields, Zack Grienke, Cole Hamels, Gio Gonzalez
  4. Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg,  Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Johnny Cueto
  5. Ian Kennedy, Anibal Sanchez, Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, Trevor Cahill, Jordan Zimmerman etc.

Those, in a nutshell, are the top pitchers in baseball. Notice the placement of RA Dickey and James Shields. Both have been traded in the last month, yet both are ranked below (in my estimate) Felix Hernandez. In addition to those two big offseason moves, the Angels signed Josh Hamilton. I say this for one reason, Texas isn’t going anywhere,  and Los Angeles just added Hamilton to their team. The other team in the division is Oakland who, I might point out, was probably the second best team in the AL playoffs last year.

Regardless of Seattle’s current talent (meh,) the team is in a stacked division. Anything besides last place is probably a miracle (barring an Angels’ season-long flop.)

The team isn’t going anywhere soon. Thus it makes sense to trade Felix Hernandez, especially since their top two pitching prospects (Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen) are ranked fourth and eighth in terms of the top 100 prospects in the game per Jonathan Mayo.

There are two, if not three, (James Paxton could be special as well) potential Hernandez replacements waiting in the system. Yes, the fences are being moved in and the Mariners need to sell tickets, but dealing Hernandez makes sense.

Let’s put a few things out there. One, Hernandez is four years younger than Shields and twelve younger than Dickey. Not surprisingly, King Felix is a much better pitcher than both. The point on Shields, or even Dickey, is that Shields fetched the number three overall prospect (again all this per Mayo,) Wil Myers, who has at least “star” potential if not more. Another prospect that went to Tampa was starter Jake Odorizzi, ranked the 30th best in all of baseball. Tampa also picked up two other prospects who are ranked in the top 20 of their system.

New York got the 11th and 83rd best prospects in the game by selling high on a 38-year old.

What I’m getting at, if you haven’t gotten there first, is that the Rays and Mets got some of the better packages of prospects that the trading market has seen in the past few years. I would think that the Mariners would want to cash in with a haul of that kind.

The Mariners need a hitter to lead them into the next phase of the franchise (hopefully contending.) I’m sure they’d jump at a package of Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt (not that Texas would consider that seriously.) But Seattle needs a corner stone. They need the next Miguel Cabrera or Evan Longoria. They need someone who can carry a team on his backs/bats. Maybe Felix Hernandez is the way to find that player.

Surely if James Shields and RA Dickey can fetch outstanding hauls of prospects, then a younger and better pitcher (Felix Hernandez) can get a better one.

What do you think? Should the Mariners trade King Felix or should they keep him and try to contend?

MLB Trade Deadline Roundup

First off, Happy Birthday to my Aunt Joyce. Last year I promised that I would mention her birthday here, and because I’m a man of my word, I am. So, Happy Birthday Aunt Joyce!

Today is the baseball trade deadline. It’s one of the Holy Grails of sports. A day when the deals go by fast and furious and without a Vin Diesel reference. Oops.

Anyways, since the MLB Network has been so kind as to air a trade deadline special, I’ll just run through the trades in the order that they show them, use it as a framework almost. Continue reading

Trade Reaction: Tigers Acquire Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for Jacob Turner and Prospects

I was surprised that this happened. Not necessarily in a good way.

It was noted, the Tigers’ production at second base has been horrendous this season. Throw all the ugly numbers out there that you want. They have been bad.

A possible starting pitcher was another need seeing as, again throw all your numbers out there, the Tigers’ back end starters, namely the fifth spot, have been inconsistent. Continue reading