The 2018 season will be more about the individual than the team for the Detroit Tigers, as player performance and development will be more fruitful than the group’s collective record. As with any rebuilding situation, the franchise’s main goal is to posture itself for as bright of a future as possible, even if that future is a few seasons away.
The obvious output of this mission is through the growth and experience of younger players, who will undoubtedly see ample playing time. However, perhaps just as important is the eventual unloading of the remaining assets of value left on the roster. Names like Nicholas Castellanos and Jose Iglesias have been thrown around this winter, but the perhaps the most interesting piece left in Detroit is Shane Greene.
Finding a home
Greene is entering his fourth season with the Tigers and fifth in the majors, but his young career already has two distinct chapters. As a rookie with the Yankees, Greene was solid in 14 starts, recording a 3.78 ERA and 3.73 FIP. Detroit was hoping for an encore in his sophomore season, but following a trade to the Tigers, Greene struggled mightily.
This led to his migration to the bullpen. Greene’s transition is no rarity in today’s MLB, and with enough other starters available for the rotation, the Tigers found this to be the best option. The experiment came with mixed results in 2016, as Greene saw ups and downs in 47 relief appearances, but there were enough positives for Detroit to move forward.
Everything seemed to pay off in 2017, with Greene notching a career-best 2.66 ERA, 9.71 strikeouts per nine innings, and 1.24 WHIP. He led the Tigers bullpen with 67 2⁄3 innings pitched and was second on the team in fWAR after closer Justin Wilson, whose role he assumed after the trade deadline. With all arrows pointing up, Greene will carry this spot into the 2018 season.
Last season may be the Shane Greene from here on out. At 29 years old, there may be minor room for improvement — especially given his relatively short time as a reliever — but odds are against him becoming one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. Even if this were to happen, the Tigers would be foolish to hold on to him for too long.
A below-average team like Detroit has no need for a top-end closer, but many of their competitors will certainly be interested in Greene if he continues to produce. Every year, teams are willing to part with multiple prospects for a reliable bullpen arm at the trade deadline. The Tigers would be wise to shop Greene around this July. For a player with multiple years of club control left at a reasonable cost, the list of suitors should be significant.
One way forward
The decision is essentially out of Detroit’s hands. If Greene pitches like he did last season, there will be no reason to hold on to him. Even though he is under control, the immediate use of a closer is much less valuable than the potential of prospects who can help the team continue its rebuild. There are enough arms in the organization to fill out the bullpen later.
Of course, Greene may see a decline in his numbers as well. He suffered from a career-worst 12 percent walk rate in 2017, and his .265 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was significantly below is average, suggesting an upcoming regression. If he does falter a bit in the first half of 2018, the market may not be too compelling at the deadline. Luckily for the Tigers, they can simply let him work out the kinks and try to move him in 2019 instead.