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.

MLB August Trades Part One: Winners

Baseball’s biggest trade deadline is July 31st. Up until that date players can be moved without passing through waivers. After the 31st, players must be subjected to waivers if they are to be dealt. In the waiver process, the team with the worst record in the same league gets first crack at the player. After that it is passed to the next worst team in the league. If no team from the same league claims a player, he is put through the same process in the opposite league starting with the worst team from a record standpoint.

If a player is claimed, the team that put him on waivers can either work out a trade, simply let the claiming team assume is salary, or pull the player off waivers and keep him on the team. The caveat with the last statement is that once a player is pulled back, they can’t be dealt.

Most August trades generally have minimal impact. Most are salary dumps or simply teams shedding excess players for little-to-no return. Here are the winners (if you can call them that). Check back tomorrow for the losers (again, if you can call them that) and teams who could have done more.

Winners:

Los Angeles Dodgers

When healthy the Dodgers will have a glut of starting pitchers—and then maybe another glut on top of that. But the rub is that most of them aren’t healthy. Chad Billingsley hasn’t pitched yet while Josh Beckett and Paul Maholm are likely out for the year. In addition to those three, the team also has a healthy Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren. With no suitable options for the fifth spot in the rotation, LA acquired Phillies’ pitcher Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona) and Kevin Correia from the Twins. Neither has been Orel Hershiser, but both have filled a need. Both are rental players and likely won’t be in Dodger blue next season, but they’ve helped Los Angeles maintain the lead in the NL West.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs acquired former top prospect Jacob Turner for two Class A pitchers. Chicago is in the midst of hoarding as much young talent as they can. Whether it’s to feature the youngsters on their next contending team, or to flip some of them for an established star to help the team improve, every piece helps. The fact that Theo Epstein acquired a player once regarded as an elite prospect, and still could realize that potential, for two A-ball pitchers is a massive coup.

Oakland A’s

Billy Beane made headlines for trading Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester. Despite the fact that the team acquired Jonny Gomes in addition to Lester, Oakland’s offense has struggled without the Cuban slugger. Adding Adam Dunn for a relatively low price will greatly improve the Athletics’ suddenly dwindling playoff chances. His tendency to hit for a low batting average isn’t the best trait to have, but the former Cincinnati Reds slugger walks a lot, which will be appreciated greatly in Oakland.  Batting average and walks aside, Dunn’s tremendous power will help the A’s recover from losing Cespedes.

Check back tomorrow for August’s losers and teams who could have done more.  Did I miss any team? Who do you think was a big winner?

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?

Can Justin Verlander Repeat?

A Cy Young and an MVP award in the same season is no small feat. You won’t find it on many resumes anywhere. But can it be done again? Surely you would think no, but it’s not as obscene as you might think.

There are a of couple contributing factors to this. One is named Prince Fielder. Of Verlander’s five losses, two were by two runs or less. I’m not saying Prince Fielder will change that, but he will surely help in the run department category.

The big thing though is that the division might have gotten worse. Yes, Kansas City will get better, but everyone from Jacoby Ellsbury and Adam Jones to So Taguchi and Joey Gathright struggle against the reigning MVP.

Minnesota might still be in the same rut they were in last season. Cleveland will contend, but doesn’t seem to figure into the big picture. Same with Chicago, who might have gotten worse by trading off Carlos Quentin among others.

Which brings us to our next point, Carlos Quentin is gone. I’m not going to say that this will drastically impact Verlander’s season, but in one of his many losses (read five with a heavy dose of sarcasm) he lost 8-2 to the White Sox. In that game one certain Quentin went 3 for 5 and drove in three runs while scoring another. Also is the fact that only Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Victor Martinez have hit more homeruns off of the reigning MVP than Quentin. It should be noted that Quentin is now playing on the complete opposite end of the spectrum as Verlander, on a west coast NL team (read San Diego).

(As a quick aside, Dye isn’t in the league, Thome is in a reduced role in Philly and Martinez is with Detroit and out for the year with a torn ACL).

(Another quick aside is that the 8-2 loss was Verlander’s last of the year. And it was in mid-to-early July. Yowza!).

As far as repeats go, back-to-back Cy Young’s certainly isn’t obnoxious. Most of his stiffest competition in the past (see Zack Grienke, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay) have all gone over to the NL. The real challengers that are left are mainly Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia, Jon Lester and Jered Weaver. This list can probably be lowered down to three with Hernandez’s exclusion. He is certainly worthy, but is backed by a shaky offense. But you never know. Funnier things have happened. As for the other three, they will be in it. But look for Verlander to come back strong in this year’s Cy Young voting.

The MVP repeat is a little more tricky. Of past AL MVP winners, only Hal Newhouser and Frank Thomas have repeated. Incidentally, Newhouser was a pitcher who pitched for, you guessed it, Detroit. It’s not that small of a club, Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Mike Schmidt, Ernie Banks and Joe Morgan have all done it in the Senior Circuit. OK maybe it is a small club, but the point is that it’s tricky. Especially for a pitcher such as Verlander. The only other pitcher to repeat was Newhouser, who was a Tiger. So maybe it could happen again.

The fact of the matter is Justin Verlander and the Tigers are going to be extremely dangerous come playoff time. Heck, they’ll be extremely dangerous in the middle of a cross country road trip in Seattle.