Monday, December 17, 2012

Tigers Putting More Eggs in the Rotation Basket, Which is OK

The Tigers have so many of these introductory press conferences nowadays, they've turned to re-introducing guys.

The latest multi-millionaire to wear the Old English D---that's D, for Dollars---is Anibal Sanchez, whose timing is impeccable.

Seriously, Sanchez is to timing what Beethoven was to music; or what Berra was to malapropisms.

Sports agents have wet dreams about their clients doing what Gene Mato's did this summer and fall.

Sanchez, in the last year of his contract, was on a collision course with free agency when the Tigers acquired him from the Miami Marlins last July, along with infielder Omar Infante.

They call it Rent-a-Player---that acquisition who's a short timer, because everyone knows he's free to walk after the season. And often times, they do.

Only, Tigers owner Mike Ilitch doesn't rent. He buys. With Ilitch, it's more like Rent-to-Own.

Sanchez did his part, timing one of the best stretches of his career to coincide with his date with free agency. With every scoreless inning Sanchez threw, starting in August and not ending until the final out of the World Series, agent Mato's eyes must have filled with dollar signs, like in the cartoons.

When a reported bidding war for Sanchez's services ensued between the Tigers and the Cubs, it might have been tempting to let the pitcher sign with the North Siders and wish him well. After all, it was the Cubs, baseball's Bermuda Triangle. We'd have never heard from Sanchez again, much less having to worry about him coming back to haunt the Tigers.

But this is Mike Ilitch we're talking about. And he owns Yankees West.

Ilitch wasn't about to be outbid by the Chicago Freaking Cubs.

I think it's rather humorous to hear people wring their hands over big contracts, as if it's our money to spend. But there is genuine concern about Sanchez's 5-year, $80 million contract---if only because of the position he plays.

High profile, expensive free agent pitchers, as soon as the ink dries on their signature, become as unpredictable as tomorrow's weather. Their arms get fragile. They need a GPS to find home plate. They spend more time on the disabled list than eggs on a grocery list.

But if you're going to have an embarrassment of riches anywhere on your roster, then it may as well be in your starting rotation. You could do worse.

The Tigers can now trot out, weekly, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Sanchez, and a pitcher to be named later, who might as well be Dontrelle Willis. The critique is that they're all right-handed (except for Willis). But that's like saying the one thing wrong with Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady is that they all wear number 12.

In a business where teams struggle to even name four starting pitchers, the Tigers have four who could lead many rotations in baseball. The Tigers are so rich in starting pitchers that they actually have six of them.

Ricky Porcello, the oldest 23-year-old pitcher in baseball, will apparently battle it out with lefty Drew Smyly for the fifth spot in the rotation. But there should be no battle here. Keep the southpaw Smyly, whose ceiling is ridiculously high (witness what he did in Game 1 of the ALCS in Yankee Stadium, after the Tigers were waylaid by Jose Valverde in the ninth inning), and trade Porcello.

Porcello has made well over 100 starts. You won't pull the wool over any GM's eyes with him, because he literally is as good as his numbers say. There are no ifs, ands or buts about what Porcello is: a 175-inning guy who'll post a 4.50 ERA and be around .500. A young pitcher who runs out of gas in the sixth inning, often punctuated with the dreaded three-run homer served up.

Yet Porcello, at 23, is likely tempting to other baseball teams, because many will look at him and think he is still young enough to mold and further develop. Maybe we can be that team, other GMs will say, who can improve his stamina and turn him into a 200-inning guy.

For such thoughts, the Tigers could flip Porcello (perhaps in a package) for a veteran left fielder or shortstop, two areas where the team would like to upgrade, if possible.

As for Sanchez, agent Moto said today, "The good news is Anibal ended up where he always wanted to be." I wasn't at the presser, but I presume Moto said that with a straight face.

If Sanchez always wanted to be with Detroit, then why get into a bidding war with a team that hasn't won a World Series since Honus Wagner was refusing to be photographed for tobacco cards?

But that's nitpicking.

Just like worrying that the Tigers have too many right-handers in their rotation.

So trade Rick Porcello and problem solved.