On Thursday, November 10th, free agency begins. Let’s start with addressing the Detroit Tigers starting rotation.
Over 130 players hit the free agent market this morning, with more to come once player or team options are elected. For example, Detroit Tigers second basemen Jonathan Schoop exercised his player option to return to the ballclub last week. No matter what numbers you look at for the Tigers in 2022, they need both offense and arms
Speaking of numbers, here are three numbers for you. The first one is 17. That is the number of different starting pitchers the Detroit Tigers used in 2022. The second one is four, as the number of starters who made their major league debut for the Tigers (Alex Faedo, Garrett Hill, Beau Brieske and Joey Wentz). The last one is 6.66, which was the strikeout rate per nine innings (K/9) by the starting rotation. That ranked last in the league.
Injuries to the rotation did not help, but outside of Tarik Skubal at 8.95 K/9, Detroit lacked strikeout pitchers. As far as the 2023 rotation looks, outside of Eduardo Rodriguez and Wentz, it really depends on health. Both Brieske and Matt Manning were shut down to injury concerns. Spencer Turnbull will return to the starting rotation, but there are still spots to fill.
The new front office team has shown it will look everywhere to fill needs. In Scott Harris’s time with the Giants, San Francisco looked to free agency to fill the spots missing in the rotation. Carlos Rodon, Alex Cobb, and Jakob Junis were among the names signed this past off-season.
If you are thinking about the starters in the minor league system, there are a few names to consider. The first one is Wilmer Flores, who was voted Detroit Tigers Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. Then there’s Reese Olson, who set a new record for most strikeouts in one season for Double-A Erie. But, he also carries some reliever risk to his profile. Beyond that, the likes of Ty Madden and Dylan Smith could see more time in Erie.
Who is out there for the Detroit Tigers to consider?
Mutual Option: (data source: Spotrac.com)
|RHP Mike Minor
|RHP Zach Eflin
|LHP Drew Smyly
|RHP Chris Archer
|RHP Zach Davies
Per MLB.com, a mutual option is an optional year at the end of a contract. In order for the optional year to become guaranteed, both parties must agree to exercise the option. Mutual options are very rarely exercised. Archer, Minor, and Smyly are all over the age of 30, which is fine, but they’ve also had many injury issues. Eflin actually went to the same high school as Riley Greene (Paul J. Hagerty High School, Ovideo, FL). He was drafted by the Padres in the 1st round in the 2012 before being traded to the Dodgers for a day, and then moved to the Phillies for Jimmy Rollins.
Eflin can throw a cutter, sinker, four-seamer, slider, changeup and a curve, according to Baseball Savant. He put up 2.0 WAR in 2021, and was able to generate whiff rates of 31.5% on his four-seam fastball and 35.8% on his curveball. In 2022, the curve generated a whiff rate of 43.5%, good for a -3 run value. He has had stints on the injured list due to knee surgeries, but when healthy, Eflin can be effective. His career K/9 is just over 7.5, and his career BB/9 is under 2.2. That’s a top-20 walk rate among all pitchers (minimum 650 IP) since 2016. If Eflin is available, based on the pitches he throws, he could be a good back of the rotation starter for pitching coach Chris Fetter to work with.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
|RHP Michael Lorenzen
|LHP Carlos Rodon
|RHP Joe Ross
|LHP Sean Manaea
|LHP Tyler Anderson
|RHP Mike Clevinger
|LHP José Quintana
|RHP Chris Bassitt
There are a total of 47 unrestricted free agents hitting the market, according to Spotrac.com. But for the sake of time and reality, I listed a few names who would be good fits for the rotation. Granted, Carlos Rodon is on this list, and he does have some connection so Scott Harris from San Francisco. While stranger things have happened, there are plenty of other teams that could potentially bid higher for his services.
Joe Ross, while intriguing based on his track record, had his second Tommy John surgery in June. He’s an arm Detroit could see in a showcase at some point, when he is ready to throw. Clevinger’s numbers in 2022 were some of the worst in his career. He posted an FIP of 4.98 and struck out just 7.2 per 9. He battled through a triceps and knee injury, which could be the cause for the ugly numbers. But for his career, his K/9 is 9.51. There is enough history to suggest he can still be effective.
More arms from the Gaslamp Quarter
Sean Manaea also struggled last season, especially toward the end of year, as he posted 6.44 ERA in the second half. He is effective against lefties, as they hit just .187 against him last season. Lastly, he is a dependable innings-eater. His 158 innings last season would have led the Tigers.
Another arm to consider is RHP Drew Rucinski. He has been pitching in Korea for the NC Dinos. He has thrown more than 175 innings in each of his last four seasons, so durability is not an issue. Keith Law’s Top 50 MLB free agents article at The Athletic ($) has Rucinski ranked 33rd. Here’s what he said in his write-up:
He went to Korea after , however, and has reinvented himself, getting stronger, throwing harder, and adding a splitter, to the point where he might be able to come back to MLB as a starter. Rucinski was at 92-94 mph in relief before going to Korea, but over there has been more 94-96, with a cutter in the low 90s that’s probably his best pitch and an above-average curveball that might also miss some bats here. He’s coming off his best season to date, where he walked just 4.1 percent of batters and struck out almost a quarter, and in four years in the KBO he hasn’t missed a start, taking the ball 121 times in total and never throwing less than 177 innings in any season.
Lastly, left-hander Jose Quintana had a bounceback season, posting 3.5 WAR, his best since an All-Star performance for the White Sox in 2016. He could be a good candidate for the back end of the rotation.
The Hot Stove season will get officially started on Tuesday, when the GM meetings kick off in Las Vegas. With a new staff in place for the Tigers, fans should be in for an interesting off-season.
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(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)