Starting pitching isn’t a concern for the Tigers. Even if they don’t re-sign the much sought after Anibal Sanchez, the rotation for 2013 appears to be set. Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Drew Smyly are all quality pitchers in their own right, and would likely make up the Tigers rotation as it stands today. Signing Sanchez would give the Tigers some flexibility with their roster, and would bolster the rotation even further. He is clearly more trustworthy and better than Porcello and Smyly at this point, but he isn’t absolutely needed.
But while Sanchez himself isn’t absolutely needed, someone, or some starting pitching depth certainly is.
The Tigers can’t really afford to go into 2013 without adding another starting pitcher, either through free agency or trade. The pitcher doesn’t need to be a big time signing, just a guy that the Tigers could count on if one of their starting five gets hurt, and be an adequate, if not solid, fill in.
There are several reasons why, but first and foremost, Justin Verlander isn’t a concern in any of this. Verlander is going to do what he always does. That’s pitch well over 200 innings and be in the Cy Young race. If he doesn’t, no depth signing is going to be able to make up for that anyway, and the Tigers are likely toast.
There are genuine concerns with the other starting pitchers though.
Max Scherzer at the end of the season last year had some shoulder soreness. If we think back to before 2010, one of the reasons that the Tigers were able to acquire Scherzer was that the Diamondbacks believed his delivery was going to lend itself to injury in the future. Scherzer has been very durable in his three years with the Tigers, but we have seen several times where his delivery apparently gets out of whack. He fixes it, but it has led to inconsistency. Scherzer has yet to put together back to back impressive seasons in a Tigers uniform. 2013 is due to be a Scherzer off year.
Doug Fister himself dealt with nagging injuries in 2012, spending some time on the disabled list in the process. I’m not as concerned with Fister’s long term health prospects, as his delivery seems to be just fine to me, and his injury last year was more fluke than anything. However, what was apparent is losing Fister is to Verlander like losing Robin would be to Batman. Fister’s production on the mound is an important aspect of the Tigers pitching staff, and we saw when he went out the Tigers didn’t have a reliable replacement for him this past season.
Rick Porcello’s concern is that he just isn’t good enough to be more than a fourth starter. That is okay I guess. There is nothing to say that he needs to better, but I think more was expected of him when the Tigers drafted him. They just haven’t got it to this point. His production could certainly be improved upon.
Smyly is kind of a wild card. He looked like he could handle his own most of his rookie season this past summer. I think that bodes well for the future. However, he has yet to really extend his innings into what you would like to see out of a starting pitcher. Since being drafted a couple of years ago, Smyly has never made it through a whole season unscathed by the injury buy. Until he makes it through, it would be good to have a back up plan in place.
The back up plan right now in the Tigers system doesn’t necessarily exist. As of now, those two options continue to be Casey Crosby and Andy Oliver. Maybe even Adam Wilk. That is of course if the Tigers don’t sign Anibal Sanchez. While I still have a little faith that Crosby might be able to get the job done, he is certainly no sure thing. The Tigers would do better to find a reliable starter with some experience, so maybe they could have Smyly pitch in AAA until he is needed.
It’s a rare thing that a baseball team makes it through the season with all five starters intact. The Tigers didn’t last year, and I don’t suspect they will next season either. Next time, maybe the Tigers aren’t so lucky and a starter misses extended time.
The good thing is, I am by no means a baseball genius, and I am certain David Dombrowski is aware they could use a starting pitcher or two. How he obtains that, I don’t know. The off-season just started, so it will be something worth following as the off-season goes along.