There are a lot of good starting pitchers that are at least potentially available right now. Not a lot of second basemen (if any at all) nor a lot of corner outfielders with power and range to cover the spacious Comerica alleys. Perhaps that – and not that starting pitching is the Tigers biggest need – is why we keep hearing about the Tigers interest in all these pitchers. No national prognosticator is going to make the case for the Tigers to acquire Dustins Ackley or Pedroia… these guys are simply not available at any price. Ryan Dempster IS available, but at what price?
We have heard that the Tigers are – if not in hot pursuit – at least inquiring about Jason Vargas, James Shields, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Wandy Rodriguez. I don’t recall hearing Cole Hamels, Francisco Liriano or Zack Greinke mentioned in conjunction with Detroit (yet), but these guys are also “on the market”. Are these guys what we need? Are they worth what they will cost?
The Tigers, it has been said, have Justin Verlander and a bunch of question marks. That is true, but it’s a far cry from Justin Verlander a steaming pile. Doug Fister and Max Scherzer have been inconsistent – but aren’t far from being aces (like a Garza or a Shields). Rick Porcello has plenty of potential, but seems to be struggling to learn how to handle his improved stuff in 2012. Drew Smyly has great peripherals, but nagging injuries and a tendency to see his mistakes fly over the fences. Jacob Turner – the Tigers 6th starter – doesn’t seem to be any readier for big-league competition than Casey Crosby.
One would presume that if the Tigers acquire a starter, that starter is going to replace Drew Smyly in the rotation – unless someone like Porcello is included in the trade. [And if Porcello is included in the trade - exactly what are the Tigers hoping to gain?] Jacob Turner would likely go in the trade – unless the trade is for a less accomplished pitcher – which would make Drew Smyly the new 6th starter and leave the Tigers (as before) without anybody they trust as a seventh. Smyly does have that nagging muscle strain and a 4.42 ERA, but he also has 8.5 Ks to 2.4 BBs per 9 innings and a FIP of 3.85. Assuming he’s healthy (and if the trade doesn’t happen for another 10 days, he probably will be) how much do the Tigers hope to gain from replacing him with any of the names on the list?
Shields? 4.39 ERA, 3.89 FIP
Vargas? 3.91 ERA, 4.95 FIP
Garza? 3.91 ERA, 4.14 FIP
Rodriguez? 3.75 ERA, 3.84 FIP
Those three guys would be under contract for at least another year, but would certainly increase payroll going into 2013 relative to a rotation with Smyly in it. The other four (Hamels, Greinke, Liriano and Dempster) are free agents after this season – and so would have to be paid the going rate in order to keep them at all, assuming they were willing to sign with Detroit at any price (and many players are not for reasons that have nothing to do with baseball).
I expect any of those seven to cost several top-tier prospects, quite probably going beyond what Dave Dombrowski would be willing to part with, and I’m not entirely sure that they are better bets than a healthy Smyly. They certainly could be. No argument there. But a lot of that would come down to a lack of faith in Smyly rather than confidence in the other guys. a 3.91 ERA in the national league doesn’t sound all that impressive to me, does it to you? Worse still – it is possible that any of those non-rentals would add enough to payroll to prevent the Tigers from fixing other holes through free agency after the season. A rental that would cost a Castellanos and a Turner sounds terrible – even if the guy keeps an ERA under 3 for the Tigers down the stretch.
In my personal opinion, what the Tigers actually need isn’t an improvement over Smyly but a better insurance policy than Jacob Turner should Drew Smyly or any other member of the rotation miss time down the stretch. Guys who can be expected to put up an ERA between 4.5 and 5 and eat some innings don’t exactly grow on trees (at least not in the American League) but should be possible to acquire for lower tier prospects. Let us know what you think, that’s what our comments section is for.