Detroit — Maybe there is a way for the Tigers to get some value, some use, out of Anibal Sanchez and/or Mike Pelfrey next season. Maybe there was a lesson to be learned from the way Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona used his bullpen in the postseason.
Or, maybe I’m just whistling Dixie.
Hear me out.
If the Tigers had their way, they would move both Sanchez and Pelfrey and clear $24.8 million off the books for next season ($16.8 million for Sanchez alone). But the odds of finding a trade partner for either are slim, without the Tigers picking up a large portion of the salary. And eating salary runs counter to the mission of shrinking the payroll.
As of this moment, the rotation for next season is set — Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd. Obviously, if the Tigers trade Verlander, Sanchez would probably be moved into the rotation — though he would be contested by Pelfrey and Buck Farmer.
But for the sake of this discussion, Verlander is the ace of the staff in 2017 and the Tigers have $24.8 million invested in two aging pitchers who will come to spring training without a defined role on the staff.
Could the Tigers take a page out of the Indians’ model here? No, not the Andrew Miller model. Nobody is suggesting the Tigers use Francisco Rodriguez or Bruce Rondon for six-to-eight outs a night.
By the way, don’t look for Miller to be doing that in the regular season, either. It’s one thing to get extended work in a seven-game series with built-in off days. If they tried to use him like that during the regular season, he’d be spent by the All-Star break.
What we’re talking about here is how Francona used Zach McAllister, Mike Clevinger, Cody Anderson and Ryan Merritt. Those guys came through the system as starting pitchers, but were used, and used effectively, as multiple-inning relievers. And not just for mop-up duty.
The days of starting pitchers going into or beyond the seventh inning are just about over. Hitters are doing too much damage the third and fourth time through the order. Given the relative youth of the Tigers’ projected rotation next season, the bullpen may have had to cover the final four and possibly five innings on a more regular basis, regardless.
Instead of using a parade of relievers for an inning each, wouldn’t it be practical to have a guy who could provide two or three quality innings every third day? An old-school, fireman-type reliever in the mold of Sparky Lyle who could provide 100 or so innings out of the bullpen.
I would suggest that either Sanchez or Pelfrey could succeed in that role. Their struggles most times came during the second and third time through the order. Sanchez last season gave up 21 of his 30 home runs against hitters he’d faced the second or third time. Opponents’ OPS against Pelfrey was over 1.0 the second and third time through the order.
But for six-to-nine outs every third day, when they don’t have to worry about pacing themselves for six innings? That could work, couldn’t it?
“I think definitely it could work,” said David Chadd, Tigers assistant general manager. “Both Sanchez and Mike create some versatility for us — as starters or long men. But I don’t think anyone knows until we get to spring training and we try to sort out the roster.”
The thing is, if the Tigers were to commit to that, Sanchez and Pelfrey would have to be told before spring training. Even though they’ve been starters, they would have to train differently to handle that type of workload.
“The World Series created a little different atmosphere,” Chadd said. “I don’t think there is any way those guys (Miller and the Cubs’ Aroldis Chapman) could get through the year throwing that much — in my opinion. When you talk about Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage and those guys, they were trained to do that.
“These guys today are trained to throw an inning and get three outs. You can extend them in the World Series. You do whatever you can to win at that point. But if you did that over the course of 162 games, those guys’ arms would fall off before the World Series.”
Right. So the likes of K-Rod, Rondon, Justin Wilson and Shane Greene remain primarily one-inning guys.
Alex Wilson, one of the most versatile and valuable pitchers in the Tigers’ pen, can provide multiple innings. But with his history of shoulder and arm trouble, it might not be wise to extend him out to 100 innings.
It would be a stretch to think left-handers Kyle Ryan and Blaine Hardy could be effective out to 100 innings, though both were starters in the minor leagues.
The point is this: If the Tigers can’t move either Sanchez or Pelfrey, they have to find a way to get some productive use out of them — at least one of the two. A modified, multi-inning fireman-type role might be the best option.