Decision Looming for Tigers

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With the Tigers in Minnesota to take on the Twins over the next three days, the big draw for me is the return of Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers’ rotation. He will make his season debut on Wednesday, opposing lefty Glen Perkins. Willis will take over the rotation spot previously held by Zach Miner, who has posted an unimpressive 14:11 K/BB ratio and 1.76 WHIP this season. In order to clear space for Willis on the active roster, the Tigers will have to send someone out. Barring an injury in tonight’s game, or a surprise trade, that move will likely be to either option a player to Toledo, or to release someone altogether. I would assume that since Carlos Guillen and Marcus Thames are currently still on the DL, that player will be a pitcher. So, let’s look at the candidates:

Ryan Perry: the 22 year old fireballer has been impressive, if a bit wild this season. 10 K’s in 12.1 IP, but also 11 walks. Of all the possibilties, I think this one is the most likely. Joel Zumaya’s return has limited the late inning appearances for Perry, he has minor league options left, and could use some seasoning in the minors while he attempts to gain better command of his pitches. But the sky is the limit on his potential, and he has been able to wiggle out of jams consistently, even if those jams are of his own making.

Juan Rincon: Rincon made the team as a non-roster invitee in Lakeland this spring by dominating the grapefruit league. His role in the ‘pen has diminished since the start of the year, due mainly to a few poor performances. He is still striking out a batter per inning, but has allowed 12 hits and six walks in 10.1 innings of work, and Jim Leyland has been reluctant to use him in tight games. Rincon has no minor league options and could be released.

Brandon Lyon: Lyon was signed in the off-season to compete for the closer’s job, one he lost last season in Arizona. He had a rough spring and lost the competition to Fernando Rodney this year. Lyon has shown signs of being a capable pitcher in Motown, just so long as Leyland doesn’t send him out there for a second inning. The return of Zumaya has affected Leyland’s use of Lyon as well, as he is no longer the primary set-up man. The balance of his $4MM salary would have to be eaten by the team if he were to be designated for assignment, but they may be able to bring back a low to mid level prospect in a trade.

Nate Robertson: Isn’t this the whole point of Rogo’s blog? Robertson’s fall from grace has been well documented. He failed to crack the rotation out of spring training, then talked openly about his future possibly being with another organization. He has the credentials to pitch in long relief, but Leyland has been hesitant to use him in that role, or much at all recently. Robertson has not been effective for much of the season and he would seem the obvious choice to be DFA’d. Of course there’s the small matter of the balance of his contract, that pays him $7MM this season and $10MM next year. After the Tigers ate the $13.6MM on Gary Sheffield’s deal this spring, I doubt Mr. Illitch is too keen on swallowing that much more, and that may be the only reason Robertson’s still around.

Of course, all this could be for naught if the team decides that someone like Jeff Larish needs regular AB’s in Toledo and they go forward with a 13 man pitching staff. To me, however, that would only enable them to continue to carry the dead-weight contracts of Rincon and Robertson. Let’s just hope that Willis can become a solid contributor to the team, and pitch his way into the good graces of Tiger fans worldwide. I’m not counting on a return to his days of Marlins glory, but I’m hopeful, and somewhat confident, that he can be a solid #4 starter for this team. He doesn’t need to win the Cy Young award to be a success, just be a servicable pitcher again.