Maybe Max Scherzer won't be the only new face in the Tigers' rotation this season -- although Jeremy Bonderman has been out of it so long it's debatable how many people still recognize him. On Tuesday, Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski again brought up the possibility offseason-acquisition Phil Coke could be a starter, rather than a reliever like he was in New York.
Dombrowski said in a conference call, reported by MLB.com's Jason Beck:
"I think he'll get the ball with a chance to lengthen out in the spring and get a chance to compete for the fifth spot."
I've said many times in the past the Tigers' decision to trade for multiple relievers disconcerted me. A 27-year-old left hander, Coke (stats) becoming a reliable back-of-the-rotation player for the next season or two would make the offseason moves much more palatable.
He started 77 of 125 games in the minor leagues, putting together a 3.68 FIP and 49.1 percent ground-ball rate. He struck out 7.5 batters per nine innings while walking three. In the majors, the baseball card numbers slipped as you would expect. Not only did Coke step up to the highest level of baseball, he entered arguably the best division in the sport. But interestingly enough, he kept his peripherals pretty intact. Pitching exclusively out of the Yankees' bullpen in 2009, he struck out 7.35 batters per nine and walked 3.00, though his ground-ball rate slipped to 35.4 percent. He gave up more than twice the home runs (1.2 per 9 innings) as he did throughout his minor-league career. One would expect him to get that figure a bit closer to normal, especially spending half his time in Comerica Park.
One big argument in his favor, Coke would give the Tigers' their only left-handed presence behind a rotation that has right-handers Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Scherzer and Bonderman already penciled in. (OK, the first three were written in indelible marker).
Competing with Coke for the fifth rotation spot will likely be lefty Nate Robertson and RHP Armando Galarraga. (Some might add LHP Dontrelle Willis.) Simulations pin Coke at around 4.15 for a FIP, which far outclasses any of his competitors for the starting bid. But maybe simulations are putting too much gloom on Robertson's past two seasons, in which he pitched with growths in his elbow for a period before having surgery in the middle of 2009. Or maybe Galarraga is more like the 2008 version than the 2009. I don't think so. His peripherals in 2008 were not that great. But maybe his struggles in 2009 were not indicative of the type of pitcher he could be either.
So this spring training battle -- now less than a month away! -- should be an interesting one to follow.