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.
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.