For all the complaints about the Tigers’ offense over the first few months of the season, it looks as if starting pitching may be atop the Tigers’ shopping list for the second year in a row. Last year, they pried Doug Fister away from Seattle, a move which, at least for 2011, turned out better than they ever could’ve imagined.
This year’s issues stem from Fister’s health issues and occasionally startling hittability, Max Scherzer’s infuriating inconsistency, Rick Porcello’s inability to put it all together, and Drew Smyly’s DL stints and rookie-ness. There’s definitely room to upgrade.
The good news for the Tigers is that, unlike the second base pool, the market for starting pitchers is a deep one. The Tigers will have options if they do choose to pursue a rotation upgrade, some of them very good ones. Let’s take a look…
Cole Hamels, Phillies
The obvious one. The Phillies aren’t selling yet, and they’re apparently inclined to offer Hamels a long-term contract. But if he turns them down and the Phils have another bad week, Hamels may well move.
Hamels, of course, is a free agent after the season and is going to get a ton of money from someone. He is probably a top ten starter in baseball. And he would certainly cost both Nick Castellanos and Jacob Turner and probably more – with no guarantee he’ll be a Tiger next year. Don’t expect this to happen – Texas has a better pool of prospects to send Philadelphia anyway.
Zack Greinke, Brewers
Like Hamels, Greinke is a free agent after this year, and like Hamels, Greinke’s team would like to keep him, but financial realities may limit those ambitions. Greinke has shown flashes of the pitcher who dominated the American League three years ago and has also had puzzling stretches of inconsistency – and like it or not, he still faces questions about his makeup. He’s skipping his next start in a bizarrely-timed move the Brewers say is meant to “recharge his batteries,” and his value isn’t exactly at an all-time high. Greinke has always been a favorite of mine, though, and I’d welcome him – but again, he’d still cost top prospects and there’s no guarantee that he’d return next year (although I think he’d be easier to sign than Hamels).
Ryan Dempster, Cubs
Yet another rental, but perhaps a more amenable one, as Dempster is 35. He’s also having a season way better than anyone could’ve expected, with a 1.86 ERA. It’s not sustainable, of course, and he’s already got one DL stint under his belt this year. That said, he’s certainly not a bad pitcher, but his value is at an all-time high and the Cubs are aggressively working to move him accordingly. He’d be an upgrade, but the likely regression scares me a bit. Also worth noting he has veto power over any deal.
Matt Garza, Cubs
The other Cubs pitcher. Garza’s a bit the reverse in that he’s given up a ton of homers (blame Wrigley). He’s also going to cost more because he’s 28 years old and under club control for another year. Garza has always been a favorite of mine, though he’s on his third organization (remember, the Twins hate pitchers who strike people out). We’ll see if the Cubs move him. The Tigers were linked to him last winter, with Jacob Turner at the heart of those discussions.
James Shields, Rays
In retrospect, perhaps the Rays should’ve moved Shields last year when he was having a brilliant season. Or maybe not – they could still get an impressive haul for him and he’s still got a couple years of club control left too – but he’s had his struggles this year, even though his K/BB is pretty stable from where it was last year. He’s a workhorse, though, and could certainly solidify the rotation. What the Rays’ asking price would be, however, remains to be seen.
Anibal Sanchez, Marlins
The Marlins aren’t your conventional sellers – they just invested a lot of money into their team and even if it still looks like they’re out of it come July 31, they’re still unlikely to blow it all up. Sanchez, a free agent after this year, could be a name the Marlins are willing to throw out there. Like Shields, his ERA is a bit high, but his peripherals are very similar to last season’s. Another guy I’ve always liked – but again, Miami might not even want to move him. He also has a history of shoulder injuries.
Wandy Rodriguez, Astros
Trade rumors are nothing new for 33-year-old Rodriguez, who has basically been tossed about every single July for the last few years. Rodriguez is putting together a solid season, but his contract remains a big stumbling block for any team looking to acquire him – he’s due $13 million next year and has a $13 million option for 2014 that becomes a player option if he’s dealt. It’s the reason I was not inclined to support a move for him last year, and the same reasons stand this year.
Those are the big names. There may be other pitchers shopped, but a lot of them really wouldn’t be big upgrades (just say no to Jason Vargas) or are so wildly inconsistent that they might implode (looking at you, Francisco Liriano). If the Tigers are going to go for a starter, it would be in their best interest to land a quality one – even if it isn’t one of the big time aces. They have no shortage of options.