Breaking Down the Detroit Tigers Bullpen Spring Training Roster Battle

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June 27, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Phil Coke (40) pitches in the tenth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Comerica Park. Los Angeles won 3-1 in ten innings. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Likely Candidates

I think there are three guys who will start the spring campaign with a leg up on the others:

Phil Coke

Coke is apparently going to get every chance to succeed in Detroit. As a third-year arbitration eligible player, Coke looked like a strong candidate to be non-tendered this past offseason, but he ended up signing a one-year non-guaranteed contract that could be worth $1.9 million. The Tigers are only on the hook for that full amount if he makes the team this spring.

Coke became an ALCS hero in 2012 when he shut down the Yankees night after night to help lift the team to the World Series, but that’s really the only highlight in his four-year career with the Tigers; he hasn’t finished a season with an ERA below 4.00 in the last three years.

Luke Putkonen

Putkonen was quietly very good last season for the Tigers. He was only pitching in low leverage spots, but he ended up making 30 appearances with a 3.03 ERA a 3.45 xFIP, and 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings (all of which were above-average for MLB relievers). He’s probably not going to suddenly morph into a guy who is a steadying force in the late innings, but the Tigers apparently liked him enough to carry on their ALDS roster last October (before being replaced by Coke on the ALCS roster). He didn’t appear in a postseason game, but he was on the team when it counted.

Ian Krol

Krol was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Doug Fister trade. Once a top pitching prospect in the Oakland Athletics organization, Krol has had some ups and downs along the way, but he’s a lefty with a fastball that can reach 95 mph and the Tigers have hopes he can develop into a late-inning arm.