This afternoon, word comes from Danny Knobler, who served for 18 years as the Detroit Tigers beat writer for Booth Newspapers, that the club from The Motor City was “very interested” in free agent starter Roy Oswalt but the right-hander “didn’t want to go to Detroit.” Apparently not even a recruiting call from the reigning American League Most Valuable Player was enough to sway Oswalt. With that in mind, Knobler then tweeted that the “Tigers seem more likely to leave 5th starter spot up for grabs going into spring.”
With the chances of Oswalt signing with Detroit now slim to none, it’s hard to come to a different conclusion than Knobler has. The options for the Tigers to upgrade their rotation are few and far between. A quick check of the MLB Trade Rumors Free Agent Tracker reveals that just 18 players listed as starting pitchers remain on the market.
Of those, one, Brandon Webb, has thrown a grand total of 16 innings in professional baseball since 2008. Four more, Clay Hensley, Scott Kazmir, Sergio Mitre (not sure if you can even list him as a starter anymore), and Ross Ohlendorf, posted negative FanGraphs WAR figures in 2011. Kyle Davies, Doug Davis, Zach Duke, Jon Garland, Rich Harden, and Chris Young all failed to log more than 82.2 innings last year and the sextuplet combined for just 2.8 WAR. You can probably scratch Javier Vazquez off the list, as rumors have had him leaning toward handing up his cleats for awhile; the Miami Marlins, convinced his retiring was imminent, acquired Carlos Zambrano to replace him. Then there’s Brad Penny. Tom Gage made the case for Penny at The Detroit News over the weekend, but forgive me if I’m not exactly excited at the thought of the most monotonous, wearying pitcher in baseball taking the mound for the Tigers every fifth day.
I made a case for Jeff Francis, the only left-handed hurler in that group, over a month ago, but in reality, there’s not a ton to like here other than the fact that he’s not Brad Penny. Besides, by my count, Francis has been linked to ten different teams at various points this winter and the Tigers aren’t one of them.
As pitchers and catchers report to their respective teams a few weeks into February, Livan Hernandez will be turning 37. The two-time All-Star is certainly not the pitcher he used to be, but he could be useful and will be cheap. His inflated 4.47 ERA in 2011 and right-handedness are turn-offs, but his FIP was a more respectable 3.96 and he appears reliable despite his age; he’s never thrown fewer than 175 innings in a year since his first full season in 1998. He won’t be returning to the Washington Nationals and there hasn’t been word of any teams interested in him across the league. The Tigers could find Hernandez to be a pretty decent bargain, but I’m not sure how much of an upgrade he would be over Penny.
The name of Edwin Jackson has been bandied about quite a bit by Tigers fans, including some of us here at Motor City Bengals, over the last couple months. The prospect of his addition to the Tigers’ rotation is more appealing than that of any other pitcher left on the market. Unfortunately, the contract numbers being thrown around for him are probably far beyond out of the question for Detroit. Last word was that agent Scott Boras was targeting a five-year deal for his client at an annual price upwards of $15 million. Buster Olney reported recently that the price for free agent starters had gone down, but it’s unlikely that drop was severe enough make Jackson a realistic option for the Tigers, who seem likely to sign a veteran pitcher only on a short-term deal.
With the Boston Red Sox apparently uninterested in bringing back Tim Wakefield, the ancient knuckleballer will be forced to look for a job elsewhere. His agent, Barry Meister, was quoted in November on the market for Wakefield, “we’ve got a lot of teams that have called and we’re going to entertain other offers.” The most likely outcome for Wakefield, though, is a deal with a National League club with whom his pitching style would be much more effective.
In summary, there are no pitchers on the free agent market who can offer anything close to what Oswalt could have. Barring a trade (Matt Garza, expensive as he is, is still out there), Knobler’s assertion that the Tigers will probably have spring training competition between youngsters for the final rotation spot is almost certainly true.
To me, that’s a scary thought. We all remember last year, when Detroit gave starts to all of Charlie Furbush, Duane Below, Andy Oliver, and Jacob Turner between Phil Coke’s failed attempt at starting and the trade for Doug Fister with often frustrating results. Turner is a year older, obviously, but as exciting as it would be to have him in the rotation, I think it would be regrettable to award him a major league job as early as April. After watching the Tigers rush Jeremy Bonderman and Rick Porcello to the big leagues, I’m immensely afraid that a promotion of Turner this early, just two years into his professional career, would stunt his development.
Within realistic boundaries, how do you think Detroit should handle their apparent lack of a fifth starter? Leave a comment and let us know.