Any time the Tigers talk to a players agent, we of course are going to cover it. Even if it is just through the rumor mill. A post from MLB Trade Rumors reports the Tigers have inquired about long time Chicago White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle. It could be the Tigers are just kicking some well worn tires when it comes to Buehrle, but this is how these things start. The question becomes, if the Tigers are interested enough to at least make contact, is it a good idea?
As the above link suggests, the Tigers aren’t exactly hurting for pitchers that are young with some upside, and under team control. The first four pitchers in their rotation; Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello are all young, and will be a Tiger through 2014 at least. Unless of course the Tigers don’t want it that way and look to deal one of them. That leaves only one spot in the rotation open to replace the departing Brad Penny.
The Tigers could very well just fill that rotation spot from within in a spring training battle. They have some candidates, and would more than likely want a left-handed pitcher to fill that role. They tried Phil Coke in the 5th starter role in 2011, and unfortunately that didn’t work out, proving to be a much more effective reliever. Duane Below is another option, though he did better in a long relief role as well. Andy Oliver took a step back in 2011, and with his command issues, he certainly can’t be counted on to start games at this point. Casey Crosby was recently added to the 40 man roster, however, he has command issues like Oliver, and could land in the bullpen at some point. The last guy in the mix could easily be Tigers star prospect Jacob Turner, despite not being left-handed. I am of the opinion that Turner isn’t ready, and still needs to show that he can dominate AA hitters before being awarded the job by the Tigers.
Given the question marks surrounding a lot of these options for the 5th spot next year, that spot in the rotation is something the Tigers have to consider looking for in the free agent market. By getting a 5th guy, they could allow Turner, Oliver, Crosby, and Below all more development time. On top of that, it would give them some more flexibility to explore the trade market by dangling a starting pitcher, and finding that 2nd/3rd baseman or young every day LF that they need.
The question then becomes, does Mark Buehrle fit the bill?
In short, he doesn’t fit the fans expectations of what the Tigers are looking for. Most fans believe, and maybe rightfully so, any free agent starting pitcher the Tigers acquire is going to just be keeping the spot warm for Jacob Turner. Buehrle isn’t going to sign a one year deal, and he isn’t some stop gap measure in the sense that guys like Rich Harden are. He is going to more than likely sign at least a 3 year deal, and probably in the ball park of 35M dollars or more. Despite this, I am in favor of the Tigers signing Buehrle, and here is why.
At 32 years old in 2011, Buehrle had his best season ERA wise since 2007 with an ERA of 3.59, so he obviously can still be effective at this point. There is little worry of Buehrle breaking down on you despite pitching at 33 years old next year, he is just not that type of pitcher. His delivery is darn near flawless, and he has the athleticism still to believe that he won’t be breaking down anytime soon. A guy with a fastball that might have trouble breaking glass, Buehrle has lived off of deception, and ability to command his pitches within the zone. In 11 straight seasons, Buehrle has cracked the 200 innings mark. Think about that, 11 years in a row. That is the very definition of a workhorse starter. This guy is a machine and extremely consistent. The Tigers know what they would be getting for their money for the next 3 years by signing him. He is one of the least risky signings available in the market.
Buehrle obviously has experience pitching in the A.L. Central, and has a solid history of pitching against both the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. He sports an ERA in the 3.70 range for both. Cleveland has gotten to him a little bit at a career 4.77 ERA against the tribe, but for the most part he has been solid against division foes and in their parks. His ERA is solid in Comerica Park as well with a mark of 3.78. It’s also good in U.S. Cellular where the White Sox play, so he has the division covered. He also has post-season experience, and being left-handed will help the Tigers break up all the right-handers in their rotation, something that would’ve been beneficial this past post-season.
The Tigers don’t have to look for a one year option, and by talking to Buehrle, it’s clear that they know that. I do realize that him joining the Tigers is probably rather slim, however, it would be a strong move. The fact is, he isn’t a 5th starter, no matter how much Tigers fans would want to label him as much on that team. He is a solid mid-rotation starter still. He is a more trustworthy pitcher, and had a much better 2011 than both Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. In fact, I would be an advocate of bringing Buehrle aboard almost just because some of our younger pitchers could stand to learn a thing or two from him. Him being a strike throwing machine might just rub off on our younger pitchers.
One last bonus about Buehrle. He operates quickly on the mound. Between him, Verlander, and Fister, you could take your kids to games they pitch and still be at home and in bed at a reasonable time.