Detroit Tigers: Final Moves as Winter Fades

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 16: Rick Porcello #22 of the New York Mets in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during an MLB baseball game at Citizens Bank Park on August 16, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 16: Rick Porcello #22 of the New York Mets in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during an MLB baseball game at Citizens Bank Park on August 16, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

With the days of winter fading away conjuring up the fabled image of a baseball-starved superstar Rogers Hornsby looking out his window and waiting for Spring…it’s getting to be time for any final moves the Detroit Tigers might wish to contemplate before they open operations in Lakeland.

Will the Detroit Tigers bring in any more new faces at this point? Is there a deep need they should act upon now rather than let the tank job continue?

The Detroit Tigers need to sign Rick Porcello to be the pitcher he’s always been. Then they need to sign Taijuan Walker because of the pitcher he still might become.

Tigers GM Al Avila should strongly consider the ex-Tiger Porcello and fellow starting pitcher Walker.  There are different reasons for considering both and neither player should be overly expensive to scare off the flinty budgeted Tigers.

Certainly, there has been change afoot in MLB when it comes to bullpen strategies and the expectations put on starting pitchers. We can’t really look through the same lenses used during the Jim Leyland regime. It’ll be new Tigers skipper AJ Hinch as the guide for these Tigers hurlers to navigate potentially choppy water in ‘21. Hinch certainly seems equipped to handle the modern game and Detroit will need him to be.

Whether it be “the opener”, the 3-Batter Rule for relievers, the third time through the order penalty, shifts, the unceasing growth in strikeouts, 7-inning Doubleheaders, and the Ghost Runner in extra innings…the game has changed for pitchers before our eyes the last few seasons. Throw in the COVID-19 season which limited workloads and added to the chaos.

But why do the Tigers need two more starters in an era where they have elected not to compete and starter workloads are dwindling league-wide? Don’t they have a long list of starters now? Well…kinda.

The Case for Rick Porcello

For signing Porcello, it seems an easy call. Colleague Kellen Gove wrote about a Porcello Reunion three months ago and hit all the high notes. But as we get close and Porcello is still out there, it’s worth a fresh look.

Porcello shouldn’t cost much and the man shows up for work when it’s his turn. (As an irrelevant aside…am I the only one who’d love to see Porcello shed the “Kid Rick” image by growing a dark beard, changing his name to Fred Porcello—his true name is Frederick—and adopt a menacing persona like when Hulk Hogan became Hollywood Hogan? Oh, I am the only one? Fine)  He will provide the club with innings. Even if his ERA isn’t pretty once again like the last two years it really doesn’t matter. The Tigers just need him around to protect the young star prospects from having to shoulder too much burden in ‘21 after barely pitching in 2020.

Detroit does return Matthew Boyd and Spencer Turnbull from last season’s rotation and both could possibly provide innings. Then there are the three budding stars hopeful to emerge from the minors plus a bevy of question mark guys.

Boyd has thrown more than 170 innings (IP) twice in his career. But the steep decline he’s experienced over the last two seasons plus the home run conga-line he’s coughed up raise concerns about his chances to get through another season.

Turnbull was the club Ace in ‘20 mainly due to keeping his ERA at 3.97. His high innings mark is 148 IP in ‘19. Turnbull has a live arm and certainly has the chance to improve…but he’s also a guy who can spend 118 pitches not getting out of the 4th inning. He can be a bullpen taxing starting pitcher.

Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning are three of the Crown Jewels of the organization. Assuming decent health they should all get chances to take 20+ starts as Tigers. But Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter will be walking a very fine line with these three. None of them have tossed more than 135 innings in a season as a pro. Plus they’re coming off the weird COVID season where they tossed pitches in scrimmages. Mize and Skubal both arrived in Detroit with drab results and Manning had forearm soreness in Toledo.

In the end, it seems safe to take “the under” on any of those three giving Detroit over 130 innings this season.

The Tigers will also have 2016 AL Rookie of the Year and 2017 All-Star Michael Fulmer continuing to attempt his comeback. It’s been rocky thus far to be kind. Plus journeyman lefty Tyler Alexander and 3rd tier free agent Jose Urena will be vying for innings from the rotation. None of these three seems like better bets than Porcello.

Porcello would be the guy to give the Tigers a level of stability every 5th day (or 6th if Hinch goes to 6-man rotation). The Tigers don’t have the bullpen depth right now to assume they can cover night after night of 3 to 5 inning starts. Few teams would. Porcello has the health and performance record to rely on to take a chunk out of the schedule for the Hinch.

The Case for Taijuan Walker

For Taijuan Walker the whole idea of signing him is a pure speculation play of a late 20’s breakout as he gets further away from his Tommy John Surgery. In 11 starts last year between Seattle and Toronto he flashed a 2.70 ERA and 50 K in 53.1 IP. Walker looked very similar to his best campaign in Arizona in 2017 before injuries set in.

The Tigers, linked to Walker early in the Hot Stove season, would be taking a mini-gamble that the small sample of results from ‘20 is real. Walker likewise to some others probably isn’t a great bet for more than 120 IP. However it’s a gamble that could pay off if the Tigers get Walker while in his late 20’s and he puts it together. He’s a piece that could be around for the next Tigers contender if things go right or a valuable trade asset.

Pitching Depth Needed

A team can’t have “too much pitching”. Even with signing Porcello and Walker, the Tigers staff is likely short. But have a long list of starters also might build up the bullpen depth over the course of a 162-game season.

Detroit has some decent bullpen arms on hand but no one can say for sure which direction Joe Jimenez is going, if Bryan Garcia was a mirage, or just exactly how Gregory Soto will follow up his good 58-game season in ‘20. Also if the team is struggling but Daniel Norris or Buck Farmer are pitching well they’ll possibly get dealt.

Sign Porcello for the reliability as a strong safety net for the rotation and take away part of the chance of overworking the youngsters.

Sign Walker to gamble on his upside and hope you’ve gotten a starter on your next good team or a guy who can bring a good return in trade in July.

Will Detroit stun us with these two signings? Probably not. But the case is there for both of them and the prices aren’t daunting.