The Detroit Tigers have too many pitchers right now. More precisely, they have too many mediocre pitchers without options. At the same time, teams in need of starting pitching are faced with the worst crop of available free agents in recent memory. This may explain the run on relief pitchers, as teams try to work around the traditional conception of a pitching staff to shore up their run prevention. But it also leaves the Tigers in an interesting position to fulfill one of their few imperatives this offseason.
As things stand, Mark Lowe, Anibal Sanchez, and Mike Pelfrey will all be pitching for the Tigers when the 2017 season begins. As a result, both Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd likely will be Mud Hens next April. This is a lousy use of resources. While pitching depth is important, the concept works a lot better when it’s your lesser options waiting in Triple-A. The Tigers’ situation is unfortunately reversed, and again raises the specter of Sanchez and Pelfrey being allowed to torpedo the season while better pitchers wait for a call-up.
This is where Tigers general manager Al Avila has to intercede.
Right now, former Yankees starter, Ivan Nova, looks like the cream of the crop where starters are concerned. He’s joined by such luminaries as Jason Hammel, Jered Weaver, and Colby Lewis. These are poor fifth starter candidates for any team expecting to have a shot at contending. Just about everyone still available is beyond 35 years old, recently awful or injured, or all of the above. And it isn’t as though only a few teams need innings eaten. From the Astros, Yankees, and Rangers, to bottom feeders like the Angels and A’s, all are actively looking for starting pitching. Presumably, they aren’t alone.
And as we’ve seen so far, teams seem to be taking a pretty frugal approach to free agency this season, while also doing everything possible to hoard their prospects. It’s hard to imagine Ivan Nova getting a four-year deal for $52 million as one projection estimates. Plenty of bad pitchers are thought to be in line for modest, multi-year deals. And apart from the White Sox big guns, there aren’t any top tier starters with trade rumors dogging them that these teams could reach for in trade.
No one is going to mistake Mike Pelfrey or Anibal Sanchez as a great option, but in a bleak landscape they fit right in. Moreover, the Tigers aren’t going to require anything more than a nominal minor-league player to move them. They’d also send some cash in return, at least where Sanchez’s $16 million salary this season, and option in 2017, are concerned. We know that teams have at least checked into the availability of both pitchers.
In addition to stars cabrera, verlander, martinez (2), Kinsler coming up in trade talks, anibal/pelf draw (some) interest— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 10, 2016
As always, these reports — particularly one nearly a month old — need to be seasoned with a grain of salt, but at least cursory inquiries have been made by other clubs. And for teams willing to take a very low-risk shot on a buy low candidate, Anibal Sanchez isn’t a bad option. Were the Tigers willing to pay $6 million of his salary, you’re getting a pitcher every bit as good as the free agents in play, who was healthy in 2016, and has had a much better career than most.
Heading into his age 33 season, Sanchez is also one of the younger starters who could be had. Just ignore those brutal numbers last season. Rick Porcello had an awful 2015 and look at him now. Sanchez and Doug Fister are clearly still due a Cy Young award at some point, right?
In Pelfrey’s case, no one is going to argue that he’s a rebound candidate. But he’s of similar ability to the other pitchers available, and as an extreme groundball pitcher, fits a profile that could attract a team with the defense to back him up. And he’d only require a one-year, $8 million commitment. Other fifth starter types available are all looking for multi-year deals.
As for Mark Lowe? That’s a tough one. Of the three, he appears the least valuable unless a team buys into his late season, low leverage renaissance.
The Tigers’ options are cheap, short-term, and would require nothing of note in return. For teams looking for help, but loathe to part with young players or sign on to a longer-term commitment, Detroit is a good place to shop. Avila needs to take this opportunity and make something happen.
The Tigers don’t appear to have anything major in store this week at the Winter Meetings. They need a backup catcher. They need to explore the possibility of finding help in center field. But the most important thing on the agenda has to be clearing the roster of dead weight.
If they’re unable to do so, they’ll once again be in a position where they can’t bring their best options to bear. Boyd, and possibly Norris or a better reliever than Mark Lowe, will be stuck in the minor leagues, simply because there’s no flexibility at the bottom of the depth chart. That can’t happen. This is a case where less is more. Sanchez, Pelfrey, and Lowe combined to give the Tigers 0.8 fWAR in 323 2⁄3 innings last season. They can’t be allowed to carry that kind of load again.
Here is a custom chart, fully sortable, with the free agent starting pitchers entering this off season. Pelfrey and Sanchez have been added for comparison purposes. Note that most of the top pitchers are already off the board.