Typically, I like having organizational roster projections by this point in the year. This year, however, it has been difficult to get going on these projections. A few factors are playing into this delay. First, the Tigers have so many question marks among the pitchers. While in recent years, the roles have been pretty much defined, that is not the case this year. Several pitchers are returning from injuries, ineffectiveness or both, and it is hard to project which twelve will be on the roster. Second, the free agent market has left me believe there still may be more moves to be made. However, it appears as if Brandon Lyon will be the last move to affect the Tigers at the Major League level (If Ruddy Lugo gets a call, this team is in trouble).
To start, I wanted to look at the starting pitchers in Big League camp. Rather than start with the seven who are presumed to be in competition for a starting job, I will look at every player who could be a starting pitcher this year. This is to ensure that nobody is being left behind. In alphabetical order:
Kyle Bloom: Not thought of as a starting candidate, but has been predominantly a starter in the minors. It was widely reported that he took some major steps in the right direction in 2008, and it showed in his split statistics. Bloom is a long shot, but a strong spring could land him in the bullpen. If he impresses the Tigers, they will likely do what they can to keep him on the roster this year.
Jeremy Bonderman: All of the articles on Bonderman are glowing. (Which articles this time of year aren't glowing?) If he has indeed regained his velocity, he is halfway to returning to the pitcher he was in 2006 and the first half of 2007. The other half, of course, is the command of his fastball. He needs to get ahead of the count in order to fully utilize that slider. I've got Bonderman pencilled into the rotation. This will be the case until there is some bad news in his recovery. Many pitchers have recoverred fully from his condition.
Eddie Bonine: Now on a spring invite after being sent outright to Toledo last week, Bonine is also a long shot. Of primary concern for Bonine will be ensuring that he returns from his torn lat injury without hurting himself in other ways. Two recent torn lat recoveries have not ended well. Ben Sheets tore his lat muscle in August, 2005 and got off to a slow start in 2006, missing some time with shoulder tendinitis. Also, Chad Cordero was diagnosed with a torn lat last year, but ended up with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Hopefully Bonine can recover and take some steps forward this year. If he does, he may be a more formidable emergency option over the summer.
Alfredo Figaro: Figaro is listed in the name of completeness. He's probably not a serious candidate, but he's a starting pitcher (for now) and will be in camp. During the Skelton rants, I took my fair share of shots at Figaro, so we'll keep those to a minimum now. Even for the bullpen, Figaro is a long shot at this point.
Armando Galarraga: Buster Olney, last week, said Galarraga is a candidate for the rotation. Either Olney is way ahead of the curve and realizes how lucky some of Galarraga's numbers were or he is clueless as to the role that Galarraga played on this team last year. Given some of his Baseball Tonight stints that I have seen, I'd lean toward the latter. Galarraga, despite being one of the few candidates with options, will have to blow up this spring to avoid the rotation. He's not a lock, but he's not in competition.
Count me as one who is not at all excited to see Galarraga's name on Venezuela's provisional World Baseball Classic roster. A pitcher with a history of elbow problems coming off a career high in innings needs to be under his team's care in Spring Training.
Edwin Jackson: I still believe this is a darkhorse closer candidate. This runs contrary to everything that Leyland and Dombrowski have said about him since the trade. It just seemed that a hard throwing pitcher with iffy numbers and control issues could do well in relief. If all of the candidates recover, I wouldn't rule that out. As it stands now, Jackson is slated for the rotation, and I'll have him pencilled in, ignoring my speculative side.
Jon Kibler: The Tigers' 2008 Minor League pitcher of the year was rewarded with this invite, but it's very hard to see him on the team this year. I'd imagine a strong spring would merely lead to Kibler skipping Lakeland this year.
Chris Lambert: Did not impress scouts in Toledo. Despite the fine season last year, he's got his work cut out to crack the rotation. The troubling cup of coffee with the big club is made better by a ton of unearned runs which would have made his ERA even worse with a different official scorer. I'll include Lambert with the bullpen candidates.
Zach Miner: Miner has been somewhat forgotten since the Edwin Jackson acquisition. I like Miner a lot better as a starter, but Jim Leyland disagrees. Miner is certainly a candidate, but his status probably depends on the recoveries of Bonderman, Robertson, and Willis.
Fu-Te Ni: The import from Chinese Taipai, Ni's a bit of an unknown. I include him with the starters just in case, but it seems like everything points to him heading to the pen. It will be interesting if he chooses to represent his country in the World Baseball Classic or try to make an impression on the Tigers' brass.
Ryan Perry: Included for completion. I don't think he's a candidate for the rotation. It appears as if Perry is destined for relief and could move quickly. I'll have him with the reliever candidates. A lot depends on this spring.
Rick Porcello: There's some talk that he could crack the team. I'd think a lot would have to go wrong in order for there to be a spot for him right off the bat, however.
Nate Robertson: Recovering from an off year, this is a huge spring for Robertson. I get the feeling improved defense from Curtis Granderson and the shortstop position could go a long way for him. All of the fluff pieces talk about Nate getting in shape. Hopefully that translates.
Justin Verlander: Probably the only lock* in the rotation. I'd go into a discussion about how much his numbers would have looked if he had better teammates last year, but this would take a while. It's true, though, that his offense, defense, and bullpens failed him on numerous occassions. That 11-17 4.84 line should probably look more like 17-11 3.84. Then again, if you are reading this blog, you probably know how flawed W-L ERA is when evaluating pitchers.
*When you are dealing with people throwing baseball overhand at 90+ mph, there is no such thing as a pure lock. Injuries happen.
Dontrelle Willis: The fluff pieces on Willis are in full force. I won't buy it until he can go a few Spring Training innings without a walk or wild pitch. I don't see him cracking the rotation as things stand right now. Luckily, these projections are fluid enough that we can adjust for that later in the spring.
In alphabetical order (I hate arguments over rotation numbers. They don't matter!), here is the projected rotation as of February 9:
Robertson's spot is probably the most tenuous. He's helped by his contract and the fact that he stunk in relief last year. This means Zach Miner is projected to be headed to the pen for the time being. As for Willis, we'll move him with the relief candidates, but he could be headed to the minor leagues. Bear in mind that my projection is that Willis will not regain his control and will not be in a position to refuse his assignment. If he pitches well this spring, he has a rotation spot.