3. The Starting Rotation Stays Healthy
The Tigers were very fortunate in this regard in 2013. They only used six starting pitchers to get through the season, with only six starts being made by the sixth guy (and one start coming out of luxury, not necessity, in the final week of the season). Other than basically a month missed by Anibal Sanchez due to elbow soreness, the Tigers’ starters were healthy and durable.
No team can expect to get through a season unscathed as far as the starting rotation is concerned – we’re simply talking about too many innings for something not to go wrong – but the 2014 Tigers look less able to afford a significant injury than the 2013 Tigers were. If you’re an optimistic type, you could make a reasonable argument for Drew Smyly making up for much of Doug Fister’s production as a starting pitcher, but he can’t also make up for the lack of depth caused by his own movement from the bullpen to the rotation.
The Tigers didn’t elect to do this for the few starts they needed, but if a significant injury occurred (particularly early on), they could have stretched out Smyly rather quickly to serve as an instant (and legitimate) major league fill-in. And I think that’s my biggest beef with the Fister trade. It’s no so much the marginal decline in overall ability of the starting five (as I said, one could argue that it won’t be all that much different), it’s in the lack of depth (both bullpen and rotation) that it also caused.
It would never be easy to lose someone like Max Scherzer in April, but right now the Tigers are looking at one of Kyle Lobstein, Duane Below, Jose Alvarez, or Robbie Ray as the long-term fill-in should that happen. It’s not immediately clear that any of those four could manage to hold their ERA much below 5.00 for a season. Perhaps someone like Lobstein or Ray could be surprisingly good in 2014, but I wouldn’t like to see either pitcher have to throw 150 innings in a pennant race.
The Tigers are still good enough to win the division even if they should suffer an injury to one of their top three starters, but an already thin margin for error and a questionable bullpen would make it far from a sure thing.