The Detroit Tigers surprised observers when they announced the unconditional release of right-handed reliever Mark Lowe on Sunday. While Lowe’s performance certainly deserved a release, the news was still unexpected.
In more predictable news, relief prospect Joe Jimenez was assigned to minor league camp. Fans have been clamoring for Jimenez’s major league debut since last summer, but the organization has cited command issues and inconsistency with his secondary pitches as reason to leave him in the minors. Jimenez pitched well in the World Baseball Classic, but still showed flashes of that inconsistency.
The Tigers still have 16 pitchers remaining in major league camp, but the last few cuts shouldn’t be too surprising. The BYB staff got together to discuss the bullpen prior to Sunday’s news, so some of the answers below may be outdated, but I think the answers provided are still interesting.
This week’s question: Which seven relievers should make the Tigers’ Opening Day roster?
[Again, this question was posed prior to Mark Lowe’s release on Sunday.]
Ashley: My choices for the relief positions have to go to Francisco Rodriguez, Bruce Rondon, Alex Wilson, Justin Wilson, Kyle Ryan, Shane Greene, and Blaine Hardy. I'm not including Anibal Sanchez or Mike Pelfrey because I'd rather just see their contracts dropped than to add them as uncertain weight in the bullpen. And no, Mark Lowe isn't even a consideration. I'd like to put Joe Jimenez on the list but think he might benefit from a little longer stretch in Toledo first. Plus, it would give the Tigers enough time to see what they're working with from the old guard before moving him up. The real result will likely look a bit uglier than this because I imagine one, if not all, of the Pelfrey-Sanchez-Lowe trifecta of disappointment will need to be in the mix.
Nolan: Let's go with Rodriguez, Rondon, Wilson, Wilson, Greene, Hardy, and Sanchez. It will be difficult for the Tigers to swallow the contacts of Pelfrey and Sanchez, and one of them could be a relatively valuable swingman out of the bullpen. Furthermore, Sanchez really wasn't all that bad out of the windup last year. Giving him several clean innings at a time may be a good way to squeeze some value out of him. It's tough to kiss Kyle Ryan goodbye after a fantastic 2016, but the odds are that that was a career year for him. His low strikeout rate and mediocre stuff make him a prime regression candidate.
Jeff: The Tigers should take the best seven, which means eating the contracts of Sanchez, Pelfrey, and Lowe. The first spot is the closer, which is obviously Francisco Rodriguez. Then the two Wilsons. Alex had the best ERA among Tiger relievers last year, at 2.96. While Justin Wilson’s ERA was high at 4.14 last year, his FIP was much better at 3.18, suggesting a bit of bad fortune. Shane Greene also had a bit of bad fortune with a 5.82 ERA, but a very respectful 3.13 FIP. Greene’s first 29 games in relief last year resulted in a 2.89 ERA before faltering at the end of the year. Bruce Rondon gets a spot for having a 2.97 ERA and over 11 strikeouts per nine inning in about a half season of work last year. Daniel Stumpf had a rough year last year with a high ERA in a short amount of innings and a PED suspension. But the Tigers were interested enough to grab him in the Rule 5 draft, so I’d give him a spot to start the season to see what he has. Finally, Kyle Ryan. It’s not unheard of to carry three lefties in the bullpen, but it is unusual. However, Ryan had a 3.07 ERA, 3.33 FIP, and a team-best 10.99 RE24 among Tiger relievers last year. He has earned a spot this year.
Brandon: Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, Shane Greene and Bruce Rondon are the locks. Unless Daniel Stumpf does something worthy of a longer look, I'd take Kyle Ryan and then Anibal Sanchez. Ryan and Blaine Hardy can battle for the second lefty position, based on who is pitching better. I remain totally skeptical about Sanchez, but giving him a chance to work in relief from the start may be good for him, and lends some protection in case of injury to a starter. For the first four to six weeks, I'd start with that group, and then re-evaluate once the season is well under way.
Ron: There are a few no doubters when it comes to making the bullpen on the Opening Day roster. Those including Francisco Rodriguez, Alex Wilson, Bruce Rondon and Justin Wilson. I would actually include Ryan in that group, as he had a great season last year and is showing even more promise this year. He is seventh in innings pitched and seventh in ERA, counting Tigers with at least four innings pitched this spring. That leaves two spots remaining and a few possible guys who could claim them, including Blaine Hardy, Shane Greene, Daniel Stumpf and Mark Lowe. You could also throw Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez in there, depending on how the final starting spot shakes down. Greene still has an option left, so they could choose to start him in the minors so he can work on things some more before bringing him up. This would allow some wiggle room with the Pelfrey, Sanchez, Lowe situation, since otherwise it’s hard to find a spot anywhere for Mark Lowe. If it were my choice, I’d designate Pelfrey and Lowe for assignment, keep Sanchez in the pen along with Rondon, K-Rod, Alex and Justin Wilson, as well as Ryan and Hardy.
Kyle: For righthanders, it has to be Francisco Rodriguez, Alex Wilson, Shane Greene and Bruce Rondon. Two lefty spots will be claimed by Justin Wilson and either Kyle Ryan or Blaine Hardy; though the former was better last season, I think Hardy should get the edge here based on his track record and strikeout ability. The last spot could go a few different directions, but I would like to see Anibal Sanchez moved to the bullpen. Like most fans, I would be fine with never seeing Sanchez or Mike Pelfrey in the rotation again. Sanchez has better stuff and has a better chance of finding success as a reliever and could also be used in a few different ways since the more essential roles in the bullpen are already accounted for.
Cameron: Francisco Rodriguez, Alex Wilson, Justin Wilson, Shane Greene, Joe Jimenez, Matt Boyd (assuming Sanchez wins the fifth starter spot), Blaine Hardy, and Bruce Rondon. Mark Lowe and Mike Pelfrey are toast, and Kyle Ryan is due to regress. I want the guys that have the best stuff. The bullpen might struggle this year, but I'd rather start with the guys who feature the best arsenals and go from there.
Rob: ANTHONY GOSE