As I was running through this morning’s roster cuts, a thought struck me: What if the Tigers are planning to open the season with an 11-man pitching staff?
The way the current bullpen shakes out, the Tigers will have Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, and Ryan Perry as right handers, with Enrique Gonzalez likely becoming the long man over Brayan Villarreal. Gonzalez is a non-roster player, so a move would have to be made if he were to make the team. He is more a known quantity than Villarreal, however., and I can’t see them both making the club. In my mind, it’s one or the other.
They still have three southpaws in camp in Adam Wilk, Brad Thomas, and Daniel Schlereth. That makes seven relievers to go along with the five starting pitchers, or a standard (these days) 12-man staff. But Phil Coke won’t start the season in the rotation thanks to a plethora of off-days during the first week of the season. Not only does Coke’s presence mean an eight-man bullpen, but it would mean that four of those eight hurlers would be left handed.
Once the season settles into its groove, I’m certain that more roster moves will be made, but why would the Tigers need 12 pitchers in the first week, when they already have enough off days that they only need four starters? They wouldn’t. Innings would be scarce for that many arms, which leads me to wonder if Jim Leyland and the Tigers don’t have another move up their sleeve.
If we determine that the four right handers are safe in the bullpen, and that there will be only three left handers (which is still a lot), it’s likely that Adam Wilk will be hearing back to the minor leagues. With an 11-man staff, at least until the home opener, the Tigers could carry an extra bat.
We have Will Rhymes in camp along with Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago, all vying for a spot either as the second baseman or as a utility infielder. There are also three extra outfielders in camp as well. Two of those three outfielders will make the team and it had been the thought of most that two of the infielders would also start the season with the Tigers. But if they go with 11 pitchers in the first week, they could easily take all three infielders with them when they break camp and head to new York to open the regular season.
This would allow them to make sure they have enough innings to keep each of their pitchers fresh while at the same time giving themselves enough depth to handle any scenario that should come up offensively or defensively. They would also have more time to find a taker for Santiago, who is rumored to be on the trade block.
Leyland talked the other day about something in camp “sticking out like a sore thumb”, but declined to elaborate. There is a pretty glaring thing happening in the bullpen right now, and I can’t see any reason why they would need four left handed relievers. It looks to me that the decisions are pretty clear from here on out. Wilk and Dirks will move on to minor league camp at some point and the Tigers will take 11 pitchers to Yankee Stadium.