The Detroit Tigers posted a 64-98 record in 2017, their worst mark since 2003 where they went 43-119. A huge part of their struggles throughout the season were attributed to their shaky pitching staff.
The Tigers posted a 5.36 ERA last season, the worst in baseball. So adding pitching depth is a necessity. However, now that the Tigers have committed to rebuilding, it is unlikely that any major signings will occur this offseason.
The bullpen has been the Achilles’ heel of the team in recent years. With the team rebuilding, they will most likely look to fix the bullpen from within.
Although pitcher Joe Jimenez struggled at the major league level, posting a 12.32 ERA in 2017, his minor league numbers are too good to deny his ability to pitch. Jimenez dominated the minors with a 1.56 ERA and a 12.96 K/9. Look for him to be used more in the 2018 season.
Also, look out for lefty Jairo Labourt, who posted a 2.17 ERA over all three levels of the minors. Labourt, who saw time in the bigs as a September call-up, should be a part of the Opening Day roster in 2017.
The Tigers’ real concern should be their starting pitching rotation.
The Tigers used eight different starting pitchers in the month of September alone, and posted a 6.62 ERA, the worst in baseball for that month. What they have now is obviously not working.
Righties Michael Fulmer and Jordan Zimmermann as well as lefties Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd will likely occupy the first four spots of the pitching rotation. But with Anibal Sanchez departing for free agency, there is at least one spot left to be filled.
The Tigers don’t have many guys in their own organization to fill the spot. Their top four prospects–Franklin Perez, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Beau Burrows–are all pitchers, but none have pitched at a higher level than Class AA. With most of them at least a season or two away from becoming a part of the major league staff, the Tigers will resort to other options to buy some time for their prospects to develop.
The Tigers should look to add rebound candidates to help gap the bridge. Signing struggling veterans for short contracts would be ideal for this team. If the players do rebound, they can be flipped at the trade deadline for more prospects.
Jeremy Hellickson: The 2011 American League Rookie of the Year got rocked playing in Camden Yards this past season, posting a 6.97 ERA after being traded from the Philadelphia Phillies the Baltimore Orioles. On the bright side, he posted a respectable 1.28 WHIP and managed to make 30 starts for the second season in a row. Hellickson is a durable pitcher with the ability to pitch deep into games. A move to a more pitcher-friendly environment like Comerica Park could do wonders for him.
Clay Buchholz: Once a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Boston Red Sox, the two-time All-Star has been battling injuries over the past few seasons. Buchholz posted a respectable 3.96 ERA over parts of nine seasons for the Red Sox. He made two starts in 2017 before he tore his flexor muscle in his right forearm, ending his season. If he can stay healthy in 2018, he will be an effective starter.
Trevor Cahill: At one point in his career, Cahill was one of the top young starters in baseball. At age 22, he pitched in 18 games and posted a 2.97 ERA. After struggling in a starting role, he transitioned into the bullpen with the Atlanta Braves and really blossomed in that role after being traded the Chicago Cubs later that season. Acquired by the San Diego Padres in 2017, Cahill made 11 starts in which he posted a 3.69 ERA and averaged 10.62 strikeouts per nine innings. He later lost his role as a starter after being traded to the Kansas City Royals mid-season. Cahill has proved he can be effective in both the bullpen and in the rotation and could be useful to the thin Detroit pitching staff.
Scott Feldman: The 34-year-old starter posted the highest strikeout rate of his career, averaging 7.52 per nine innings. Feldman has been a reliable back-end starter throughout his career, owning a career 4.42 ERA. Feldman’s season ended early in 2017 due to a knee injury in August that required surgery. However, barring any setbacks, he will be ready for Opening Day in 2018. He could be a reliable veteran in a young starting rotation.
Doug Fister: The former Tiger had some of the best seasons of his career in Detroit. Although Fister is not the same pitcher he once was, he can still be a reliable starter. He has started at least 25 games in six of his last eight seasons. He posted a career-worst 4.88 ERA last season with the Red Sox. Returning to Detroit could remind him of the pitcher he used to be.