After signing utility man Mike Aviles to a yet undisclosed and still possibly infuriating contract on Friday, the Detroit Tigers needed to clear room on their 40-man roster for their newest player. There were several likely candidates to be designated for assignment, but the Tigers zigged where many would have zagged and gave lefthander Kyle Lobstien the heave-ho.
Lobstein has earned the trust of the Tigers fanbase despite some middling overall numbers early in his career. He posted a 4.35 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in seven appearances down the stretch in 2014, stabilizing a starting rotation in flux as the Tigers won the AL Central by a whisker. In 2015, Lobstein had a 4.34 ERA in eight starts before spending three months on the disabled list. He has a career 4.33 FIP, and has been worth 0.8 fWAR in 103 innings.
This is a confusing move. Let's try to make sense of it.
Lobstein has no upside
Sentimental value aside, Lobstein is a very replaceable pitcher. He has a 5.33 ERA in 103 career innings, and his 4.33 FIP is due to a below average home run rate. He doesn't strike out many hitters, and his walk rate is a rather pedestrian 8.3 percent. He throws in the high-80s, his breaking ball isn't much better, and he doesn't throw from a "hello lefties, meet Satan" arm angle like Kyle Ryan. Both Ryan and Buck Farmer seem like their stuff would translate to the bullpen better than Lobstein, who profiles as a long reliever.
Sure, Lobstein's ERA could get a little better. He can provide innings if someone in the starting rotation gets injured, and he's more advanced than the Ryans and Farmers of the world. But when you compare that to the upside of the Tigers' "I have no idea where this is going" flamethrowing relievers -- i.e. he turns into the next Kelvin Herrera -- you can see why the Tigers are willing to see if Lobstein sneaks through waivers.
The Tigers have more depth
When Lobstein made eight starts for the Tigers in 2015, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, and Michael Fulmer were not with the organization. Norris is all but guaranteed a rotation spot in 2016, but the other two will likely be pitching in Triple-A Toledo, along with the near-forgotten Shane Greene. Farmer and Ryan are still around. Sure, the Tigers may toy around with moving someone(s) to the bullpen, but Lobstein isn't the No. 6 starter anymore. He's maybe top 10. It would take a major rash of injuries for Lobstein to see significant innings at the major league level in 2016.
Lobstein has more trade value than Reliever X
The Tigers have 10 days to trade him, or allow him to leave for any team that claims him. As a high-floor starter with little upside, Lobstein is a known product. He's not necessarily a super valuable product, but one that serves a necessary purpose in every baseball organization. As noted above, the Tigers have a few of these products in their upper minors already. Other teams don't, and may be willing to throw a low-level lottery ticket prospect if they know he's available. He has two minor league options remaining, which are like gold when you're dealing with guys on the periphery of your roster.
...okay I'm out of ideas
There are ways you can put a positive spin on this move. Even if Lobstein is claimed and departs the organization a la Hernan Perez and Daniel Fields, this move probably will not come back to haunt the Tigers in any way. However, one could say the same about a reliever like Jose Valdez or Montreal Robertson, both of whom have major command issues. Designating Lobstein still hurts the team's starting pitching depth, as robust as it may be at the moment. With minor league options remaining, he could have easily been stashed in Toledo for two years while the Tigers sort out the rest of their farm system.
Still confused? Yeah, me too.