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.

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?

Really?

Did the Mariners just trade Michael Pineda? Really? I’m not a Mariner fan by any stretch, but living in the northwest you tend to hear a lot about them. Though I didn’t get this from any Tacoma News Tribune or Everett Herald, I got it from ESPN.com, which is probably because the Yankees are involved. That in and of itself is an entirely different matter (big market bias, etc…). The Mariners will supposedly get phenom-hitting-extraordinaire-whatever-term-makes-sense-to-you hitter (at this point he’s probably a DH and not a catcher — which is what he was originally going to play) Jesus Montero as well as pitcher Hector Noesi. Montero is number nine overall on MLB.com’s Top 50 prospect list. Noesi is a swingman type, or pitched like one last year. Pineda is an All-Star already at age 22. An All-Star at 22! Minor Leaguer Jose Campos is also heading to the Bronx.

This could turn out a number of ways:

One: Pineda joins an established group of players who thrived or enjoyed success after leaving Seattle (past success or no). This group includes Randy Johnson, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, Raul Ibanez, Carlos Guillen, Gil Meche, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek, Freddy Garcia, Adam Jones, Michael Morse, JJ Putz, George Sherrill (now back in Seattle), Miguel Olivo (ditto), Joel Pinero, Adrian Beltre, Doug Fister, Jamie Moyer, Shin-Soo Choo, Randy Winn, Cliff Lee and Ken Griffey Jr.

Two: All players and parties succeed and come out beautifully (see Edwin Jackson, Curtis Granderson and Max Scherzer trade).

Three: Montero joins a list of his own in the number of hitters who have arrived in the hitters’ death row that is Safeco Field. See Richie Sexson, Chone Figgins, Milton Bradley, older Griffey, Kenji Johjima, Bill Hall, Brad Wilkerson and Ben Broussard.

It’s probably somewhat of a combination of all three. Number three probably only at the beginning of Montero’s Emerald City career only because of the adjustment it will take. On the flip side Pineda will probably flourish with an actual offense scoring runs for him.

So, at the end of the day (that day being the day when all players involved have filed retirement papers) this will probably end up like number two. But if I’m jinxing it by writing this and it turns into solely one and three, I won’t be surprised.

Logjam

Montero gives the M’s somewhat of a nice problem to have. He gives them an abundance of somewhat unproven corner-outfielder-firstbase-DH types. Throw him in with Justin Smoak, Mike Carp and Casper Wells and the word logjam comes to mind.

Montero, Smoak and second baseman Dustin Ackley form an intriguing young middle-of-the-order type. A combo of Ackley, Montero and Smoak in the 3-4-5 order is likely. This acquisition probably spells the end of Mike Carp or Casper Wells starts on a regular basis. One is probably going to take over in left with the other waiting for Ichiro to retire before taking over right field.

To be clear, Carp, Kyle Seager and Brendan Ryan aren’t a supporting cast that’s going to get it done championship-wise in the future, or now frankly. Franklin Guitierrez and Miguel Olivo could play on a lot of teams, but Gutierrez is on the mend from an injury-plagued season, and Olivo is being pursued by recently acquired John Jaso at the catcher position.

Montero clearly gives the Mariners a player to build around offensively. But did they give up too much?

Of the teams that made successful runs in the postseason, or to it, had somewhat of an effective one-two punch. Detroit: Justin Verlander and Doug Fister. New York: CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. St. Louis Cardinals: Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia. Tampa Bay: James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson. Arizona: Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. Philadelphia and Milwaukee were a few of the exceptions, seeing as they have a one-two-three punch at the top of their rotations. Zack Grienke, Shawn Marcum and Yovanni Gallardo lead the beer makers’ staff while Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will roll out 1-2-3 for Philly.

(Notice how I left out Texas? See, they don’t have an ace so they don’t really fit on the list.)

The Mariners had an enticing future one-two punch now and later with Pineda and Felix Hernandez. This is probably along the lines of the M’s thinking: We need hitting for one, and two we have an abundance (somewhat) of young pitchers to dangle to get some. Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are both top prospects for Seattle, but New York probably wanted a young pitcher who could contribute right away (Pineda) instead of a prospect who has yet to throw a pitch in AAA.

Think about those two and possibly Jason Vargas or Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush or even Campos as a fifth pitcher paired with Felix and Pineda.

(It probably should be noted that Campos isn’t just an afterthought or a throw in, he was the M’s number four overall prospect according to MLB.com.)

The Campos addition makes for somewhat of a tougher loss for Seattle. Yes, he probably would have had issues cracking a rotation with all the projected talent, but why not keep the depth, or at least put it towards somewhat of an experienced hitter like a Hanley Ramirez (not that that is going to happen, I was just throwing that name out there as an example).

Positional Problems

Jesus Montero will suit up for your Seattle Mariners. The only thing that will be in question is where the hitting-phenom will play. Montero is a catcher by trade, but has been tabbed by scouts and higher ups as a player up for positional relocation due to lack of defensive prowess. (I just moved to jolly old England and became an established professor with a large library for one sentence there.)

So if not at catcher, then where?

Montero might have an outfielder’s glove up his sleeve, (in which case the guy has some big sleeves). Who knows? In all likely-hood he will probably find his starts at DH with the occasional start at first base or catching, (like a Victor Martinez situation, almost) or at first base with dosages of time at DH and behind the dish.

The latter situation there probably won’t come to fruition unless Justin Smoak is moved. If he’s moved it will either be as a piece in a trade for a more experienced hitter at say third base, or a swap for more pitching.

Smoak probably isn’t going anywhere seeing as he was the M’s key in the Cliff Lee trade, and he provides a substantial part of their hazy future.