The Max Scherzer era officially came to an end this week when the 30-year-old right-hander signed with the Washington Nationals. Many felt that the Tigers "needed" to sign Scherzer in order to remain competitive this season, and a lot of those people are now moving down the ladder. Naturally, this led to a lot of questions about starting pitching. Remember, you can send us questions via email at email@example.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter!
@BYBRob Despite what Dombrowski, the Prince of Lies has said, do you think the Tigers will end up signing Shields?— Joel (@Spockmaster) January 22, 2015
No. While Dombrowski did not explicitly state that the Tigers would not sign Shields, he has been unusually terse with the media when asked about it. I'm not trying to read body language or anything here, but it seems like the rotation is set. Dombrowski's comments about David Price, Alfredo Simon, and the state of the starting rotation suggest that he and the Tigers are happy with this group of starters heading into 2015. Things look a bit dicey when you think about David Price walking away in 2016, but there are five starters in place now with a decent group of pitchers in the minors ready to take over if someone falters.
Looking past 2015, there is a bumper crop of good-to-great starting pitchers set to hit the free agent market next offseason. Price is the best of the bunch, but Johnny Cueto, Doug Fister, Mat Latos, Jordan Zimmermann, Yovani Gallardo, and potentially even Zack Greinke could be up for grabs. And those are just the guys ahead of Rick Porcello, who will also be available. I don't want to call it a buyer's market -- with all of these guys leaving, their teams will need to fill holes as well -- but it's a lot better than the all-or-nothing crop of free agents we had this season. If this was Dombrowski's end game when he traded for Price last July, then he's playing chess while we're still trying to figure out how to take the checkers out of the box.
@BYBRob How much is the Tigers' success riding on a dominant Verlander? Or if not JV, who is the "make-or-break" Tiger of 2015?— Lowell Wyse (@LowellDW) January 22, 2015
I don't think that there is anyone more crucial to the Tigers' 2015 success than Justin Verlander. Assuming the Tigers don't make a move before spring training, Verlander is the lynchpin of the rotation. If we see a repeat of the 2014 Verlander, the Tigers could be in trouble. David Price and Anibal Sanchez are an excellent one-two punch, but then there would be a sharp drop-off to the other three starters.
On the other hand, if Verlander returns to his previous level of success, the Tigers will feature one of the best rotations in the majors. Assuming Sanchez stays relatively healthy, the Tigers will have three starters capable of throwing 200 innings with an ERA around 3.00. That's a whale of a playoff rotation, and tough sledding for anyone who faces those three in a weekend series.
@blessyouboys Do you think the Tigers should trade for either Zimmermann or Hamels? Thanks ahead in advance.— Christine K (@accio_7) January 19, 2015
As fun as it would be to see Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, David Price, and Cole Hamels in the Tigers' rotation, that move won't happen. Ruben Amaro Jr. has reportedly been asking for the moon three times over in negotiations for Hamels and the Tigers simply don't have the minor league pieces to even start a conversation for the 31 year old left-hander.
I like the idea of trading for Jordan Zimmermann, but the Tigers' recent trade history makes me tentative about what a deal would actually look like. Dave Dombrowski has done a phenomenal job of leveraging the farm system in trade negotiations to pick up necessary pieces at the big league level, but even he can't keep shipping prospects out forever. He started to dip into the major league talent pool last season, trading Austin Jackson and Drew Smyly for David Price, and Eugenio Suarez for Alfredo Simon. Picking up Zimmermann would probably cost the Tigers another major league piece. This would likely create a larger hole than it fills, and with Zimmermann only under contract for one year it would put the Tigers under the gun to get an extension negotiated in short order.
Instead, wait a year and sign him next offseason.
@blessyouboys I'm curious as to who you think our "breakout" player will be? Will it be Castellanos, Iglesias, Greene, Simon, Rondo, etc?— Ron (@FIPmyWHIP) January 23, 2015
I don't know if you can call him a "breakout" player, but I think the excitement surrounding Shane Greene is warranted. He struggled in the minor leagues, but showed a couple of things -- stuff and command -- that you can't teach in the major leagues. Greene was one of the best pitchers in the majors at locating his fastball in the bottom third of the strike zone, a big reason why his ground ball rate was at 50.2 percent.
Greene's main task for 2015 will be keeping hitters off the fastball. He has a wipeout slider that induced a 15 percent whiff rate last year. Right-handed batters hit .242/.305/.356 off him last year, and will probably continue to struggle in the future. Left-handed batters fared much better, hitting .281/.365/.400. This is where the progression of Greene's changeup is key, and where I'm optimistic that he will succeed. Throwing lots of changeups has been the Tigers' modus operandi since Jeff Jones took over as pitching coach. Anibal Sanchez and David Price both saw big jumps in changeup usage after being traded to Detroit, and I imagine that Greene will get a similar earful this offseason.
I was hopeful that the luxury tax would not hinder the Tigers' ability to spend this offseason, but I also hope that hitting the luxury tax ceiling doesn't result in a "damn the torpedoes" moment where the Tigers go out and buy three more free agents. There are more than financial concerns here. Signing James Shields costs the Tigers their first round pick. Trading for Jordan Zimmermann costs them valuable players, barring an absolute fleecing.
Sanchez's health is a concern, but not one that we should alter the roster for. There are several capable starters sitting in the minor leagues. Calling up Kyle Lobstein or Drew VerHagen for a few starts in June isn't the end of the world, and will probably happen at some point this season anyway. Lobstein stepped up in a key spot last season, and it's likely that one will do so again if needed in 2015.