On Friday the Detroit Tigers filled the fifth and final spot in their starting rotation when they acquired Shane Greene from the New York Yankees in a three-team deal. The move erases the need for a spring training audition for the fifth spot by several young Detroit pitchers. Instead, the Tigers have eliminated one of the uncertainties they faced entering 2015.
Greene is a tall right-hander with a good fastball in the mid-90s. He’s coming off his rookie season with the Yanks, but at 26 he’s a month older than Rick Porcello, who will be starting his seventh big league season in a few months.
Greene was never a top prospect with the the Yankees, but by the time he was deemed ready for the majors, he had harnessed his stuff enough to impress several teams around the league, including the Tigers. In August, Greene shined in two starts against the Tigers, allowing just two earned runs in 15 innings. His fastball topped out at 97 MPH in the second start and he earned the respect of none other than Miguel Cabrera, who fanned twice against the righty.
Dombrowski thinks Greene can slot into the #5 spot nicely. “We feel very comfortable with the five guys that we think gives us a chance to win,” Dombrowski said on Saturday after the deal was announced officially.
But now that Greene is on the roster, what does that mean for the future of the Detroit rotation?
Normally if a team loses a Cy Young Award winner it’s a heavy blow to their chances. But the Tigers still have two other Cy Young winners in their rotation for 2015. Yes, we’ve almost certainly seen the last of Max Scherzer in a Tiger uniform. But Detroit still has a formidable quartet in front of Greene, in some cases regardless of what happened inn 2014.
Justin Verlander had a tough year in ’14, struggling to string together two good starts in succession, let alone a month of good pitching. But Verlander still has one of the best arms in the game and his competitive nature will spur him to want to rebound in the coming season. But Detroit fans have to be realistic – JV isn’t a powerhouse anymore. He has to pick his spots and at times he even looks very mortal. He’s not going to shut down opposing teams start after start like he did in 2011-12, but he’s a smart pitcher who takes the ball every fifth day and gives his team a chance.
The lone lefty in the rotation is David Price, the 2012 Cy Young winner. Price is closet to his prime than Verlander is and on occasion he can still look unhittable. There are only about 3-4 lefties in the game who are any better pr in his class. Price was uneven in his short stint with the Tigers this past season, but he’s very valuable because (1) he can go very deep in game and give the bullpen a rest, (2) he’s a pitcher not just a thrower, and (3) he’s proven he can pitch big games.
The oft-injured Anibal Sanchez is the #3 man in the Detroit rotation. In 2013 the fireballing right-hander led the American League in Earned Run Average but he followed that with a disappointing ’14 campaign that saw him make only 21 starts. At this point in their careers, Sanchez probably has the best natural stuff of any of the Detroit starting pitchers, but his slight build and stressful pitching delivery has been tough on his arm. Sanchez is a big question mark and in many ways he’s the key to this rotation: if he can make 32 starts and be effective it takes a lot of pressure off Verlander and Price.
In his sixth season, Rick Porcello emerged from the shadow of his more prominent staff-mates in 2014. The tall righty from Jersey pitched more innings and allowed fewer baserunners than ever before while tossing three shutouts, two of them back-to-back. But as fine as Porcello looked, he faded toward the end of the season under the weight of his heavy workload. In order for him to step up and become a top shelf starter he’ll have to work on his conditioning. His greatest asset is his ability to keep the ball on the ground and out of the seats. But it usually comes at a price – he gives up his share of hits. More than any other starter on the staff, Slick Rick needs great defense behind him.
With both Price and Porcello eligible for free agency after the ’15 season, Greene’s arrival solves some continuity problems for Dombrowski. Greene is under team control for another six seasons. Thanks to his megabucks deal, Verlander is a career Tiger. Sanchez is under contract for two more years. With Greene in tow, Dombrowski and the Tigers have at least 3/5 of a rotation set through 2016.
Greene comes at a price — the Tigers surrendered lefty Robbie Ray who was acquired last offseason in a deal for Doug Fister. In a sense, Fister was dealt for Greene. The Fister deal was not popular and it will probably go down as the worst trade in the Dombrowski Era. Fister had a fine season for the Nats, Ray was a dud, and now he’s in Arizona. But if Greene can end up being a Porcello-like back-of-the-rotation innings-eater for 5-6 years, it won;t look so bad.
The AL Central is the Tigers division to win again. They’ll be improved defensively, just as good offensively, and the bullpen can’t be any worse. Like it has the last four years when Detroit captured the AL Central flag, the rotation will be the critical factor. No other team in the division can match the Tigers’starting pitching #1 through #4. And #5 just got better.