No one wanted to turn the 2020 season on its head, but some players are less adversely affected than others. Let’s take a look at three of them.
When baseball shut down at first, the powers that be within the sport indicated that they would do everything in their power to reclaim all 162 games in the regular season schedule, calling to mind something my philosophy professor used to say – you can believe any thing you want to believe. A pack of yetis aren’t about to crash through wall and stampede through here just because you believe it will happen. In other words, regardless of what was said, it quickly became evident that there is no chance of reclaiming the a normal number of games.
Although no fan or player prefers to play less baseball, there are some players for whom a shortened schedule could be a blessing in disguise. Let’s take a look at three.
LHP Tyler Alexander
The Tigers’ 2015 second-round pick became a forgotten man as a wave of tremendous pitchers washed over the organization in the proceeding years. His underwhelming minor league numbers and touch-and-feel arsenal put him well behind players like Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, and others of that ilk. A lack-of-depth pitching disaster led to his MLB debut in 2019, and his performance in the majors was eye-opening for Tigers fans. True, he’ll probably never put up gaudy numbers or win a bunch of hardware, but he cemented himself as a legitimate major leaguer.
Although he has been a starter for the entirety of his career, Alexander was a swingman in the bigs, pitching out of the bullpen and making spot starts when needed. That is the likely role for him in 2020, but a long relief arm is going to be of much more value in the upcoming season than years before. We’re in uncharted territory, but there is a strong likelihood that when baseball returns, it will feature a large number of doubleheaders. Pitchers like Alexander who can take some of the pressure off the starting rotation during a taxing season will be prized by the organization.
OF Cameron Maybin
The Tigers signed plenty of reinforcements for their outfield situation during the offseason. The best of the batch is Maybin – a $1.5 million bargain in February. Once a Tigers draft pick, he came back to Detroit in 2016, only to be traded to the Angels, making this his third stint with the team. The 32-year-old spent last season with the Yankees as their backup, putting up some of the best numbers of his career. No coincidence, Maybin has proved over the course of his career that he’s not a 162-game player.
What luck! The 2020 season won’t be 162 games.
If the Tigers intended to use Maybin nearly every day, they’ll have a much easier time doing so now. If even some of adjustments he made with the Yankees stick around, he’ll probably be one of the best offensive performers on the team next season. He endeared himself to fans in his second stint with the team with his high-energy style and earned the nickname “sparkplug.” That kind of joyful energy and offensive production was completely absent from the team that lost 114 games, but Maybin will bring it back to Detroit with regular playing time in a snack-sized season.
RHP Rony Garcia
Garcia, who came to the Tigers through the Rule 5 draft, is in a similar situation as Alexander. He has been used as a starter for his career in the minor leagues and has legitimate upside as a rotation piece, but the Yankees didn’t have room to protect him on the 40-man roster. The Tigers, who have a full rotation with Michael Fulmer on his way back from injury and plenty major-league ready or serviceable pieces in Triple-A, have no need for Garcia to be a starter this season. He probably isn’t ready for a full-time role anyway.
If he performs early, though, he could be very useful to the club in a swingman-type role. He has the stamina to maintain his level of performance over multiple innings and a deep enough arsenal to theoretically keep hitters off-balance multiple times through the order, especially with his new cutter. Even if he doesn’t perform well enough to be trusted with multiple innings in close games, the league is considering awarding service time to players for lost games. If he sticks on the Tigers’ roster for the whole of a shortened season, he could probably stay in the organization as a preferred sixth starter or even develop into a backend starter.