We all remember musical chairs. It was a simple numbers game—there was no other way to look at it, unless you grew up spittin' game like me and always lined up behind the cute girl in class so that as soon as the music stopped you swooped right underneath her so her backside conveniently landed right in your lap—but that's neither here nor there. There weren't enough chairs to go around.
A baseball roster has only 25 spots on it, and the Detroit Tigers have a problem similar to the level of suaveness of Arthur Fonzarelli: something we call a surplus.
The Tigers just re-signed RHP Anibal Sanchez to a reported five-year, $80 million contract. There's a lot to like in Anibal's game, but shelling out $80 million on a guy without a "stellar" year to his credit is a lot like handing the role of Superman to Brandon Routh. Let's hope this was more of a Dave Dombrowski move than a Mike Illitch move.
The problem with the Sanchez signing may not lie in the numbers—since Illitch literally has as much care for his finances as Charles Montgomery Burns—but it does create a riddle of space and volume within the Tigers organization.
As mentioned, we have 25 spots, and more than 25 names with which to fill them. Let's look at the numbers, and see how this Sanchez signing may affect the overall landscape of the Tigers' Opening Day Roster.
What the Team Looks Like Today
If we drew up the 25-man roster today, here's what we would have:
The batting order: 1. Austin Jackson, 2. Torii Hunter, 3. Miguel Cabrera, 4. Prince Fielder, 5. Victor Martinez, 6. Andy Dirks, 7. Jhonny Peralta, 8. Alex Avila, 9. Omar Infante.
The starting rotation: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello.
The bullpen: Bruce Rondon, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Bryan Villareal, Al Alberquerque, Phil Coke, Drew Smyly.
The reserves: Ramon Cabrera (backup catcher), Quintin Berry (utility OF).
Here is where it gets tricky. We're already at 23 players are there a few names you already know are missing.
Don't forget that the Tigers just drafted two players from the Rule 5 draft: Kyle Lobstein and Jeff Kobernus. If you're not familiar with the rules regarding this draft, it's very simple: any player you draft must remain on your 25-man roster for the following year or he is forfeited. Basically, you can't send anyone you draft down the minors.
Another detail is that you actually do not have to draft, if you so choose. So, by following simple logic, the Tigers did draft these players and, therefore, must like them. They will be on the roster this season. And, what a coincidence, they round out the 25 men.
If you aren't familiar with either of these players, don't be ashamed. Lobstein is a LHP who will come out of the bullpen, and Kobernus is an infield version of Quintin Berry (speed for days, decent bat and good defense).
Now, let's see how this roster affects all those little rumors swirling around out there.
Rick Porcello Will be Traded
According to media reports, there are as many names about to replace Porcello's in the fifth rotation spot as there are actors who have portrayed Dr. Who (personally, I find it a shame Christopher Eccleston doesn't hurl the pill, but the Brits never did like "the baseball"). The question still begs: Is it worth it to trade Porcello? Let's watch the dominoes fall if that in fact were the case:
Consequence 1: Drew Smyly fills his spot.
Consequence 2: Tigers have to trade Porcello for a LH relief pitcher.
Consequence 3: Tigers farm system is even more depleted.
Alternative? Roll out the all-righty rotation with Porcello at No. 5. Smyly returns to the bullpen where he shined in the playoffs, and the Tigers have protection in terms of depth in case one of their aces (here's lookin' at you, Fister) succumbs to injury.
Let's also not forget the dreaded 2014 offseason. Both Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer become free agents at that time, and it's hard to believe that even Illitch (likely exiled to a full-bodied respirator a la Arthur Digby Sellers, Lebowski-style) will have the pockets to retain both of their services.
In the likely instance the Tigers lose one (most likely Scherzer to the Yankees), they will be counting on Sanchez and Fister filling the holes while Porcello and Smyly represent a bright future. Without one of them, I don't see another pitcher in the system ready to handle a role like that.
The Tigers Will Acquire an Established Closer
Herman Boone once handed the reins to the offense of the T.C. Williams football squad to a quarterback who had never played a down (at least in the movie), and look what happened? Sunshine rode them golden locks to the state title. It can happen. Youth can be a lighting rod.
Look around the league. Atlanta, the Yankees, Boston with Papelbon, Texas and Neftali Feliz. What do they have in common? Homegrown bullpens. If there is one subdivision of a baseball team that needs to be homegrown, it's a bullpen. Why do think teams are so quick to flip successful middle relievers for young prospects? Because they're a dime a dozen.
High-octane arms with a two pitches are not hard to come by for those who look for them in the draft.
Closers? Difference story. But you know what? It's time for the Tigers to sack up and roll the dice. Bruce Rondon needs to be the closer this year. Come out and say it, Dave. Make no doubt about it. Either that, or you send $15 million for a one-year deal for Rafael Soriano? C'mon.
Rondon is going to get his chance sooner or later. Might as well be now. If he blows it, that's why MLB invented a trade deadline. Make a move then. This is one of those rare occasions where the right move and the thrifty move are one and the same.
The Tigers Need an Upgrade at Shortstop
This one goes back to Rick Porcello. Dave Cameron wrote a very interesting piece on Kid Rick (found here) where he astutely outlines that if Porcello had a decent defense behind he would actually be a very valuable pitcher. Sorry, Jhonny Peralta, but that means you gotta go. Stephen Drew rumors have been swirling around forever, but nothing's happened.
Time to change that, Dave. Grab the defensive whiz and start saving some runs for Porcello—who could become the best fifth starter in baseball.
So, say Drew is added. Where does Peralta go? Send on the prospects! Where do the Tigers need the most prospects? In the infield. Hitting machine Nick Castellanos and Avisail "the Tool Man" Garcia are waiting in the wings in the outfield, and, with Austin Jackson, pretty much have the Tigers covered pole-to-pole for the foreseeable future. A project at 2B or 1B would be ideal since either FIelder or Cabrera will switch to DH once Martinez's contract is up after 2014.
Where in the World Will Brennan Boesch Land?
Boesch was likely the most notable name left off the 25-man roster above. Once a fan favorite for this ability to hit, he has now slipped into afterthought status due to a string of mediocre performances. The man is on his way out, it's just a matter of when or for what price. Personally, I can't say these words enough: MORE PROSPECTS!
There are rumors of Boesch to the Mariners for a LHP (Charlie Furbush doing his best Darth-Vader-return-to-the-light-side impersonation, anyone?), which I'm personally fine with. It may be best to trade him for Brendan Ryan and have Ryan he a platoon guy with both Drew and Infante in the middle. Ryan hit .234 against LHP last season and is considered the best defensive SS in the game. Any upgrade to the defensive side of the baseball should be a welcomed one.
Who Gets the Scraps
Unfortunately, a fan favorite of mine, Ramon Santiago, is another odd man out. He, along with Danny Worth, do not have a job come the beginning of April and need new homes. Ship them for prospects and hope we get lucky is all I can say. Poor Ramon.