Pitching Staff Still Needs Upgrade

This past offseason, the Tigers went out and made a number of upgrades to their offense, signing 3 starters (2 of them, All Stars) as well as trading for one more. The Tigers didn't neglect their pitching staff either, adding a starter (Jason Johnson) and a reliever (Al Levine). However, even with the additions, the pitching staff still appears to need an upgrade or two to help the ballclub compete this season.

Neither the Tiger rotation or the bullpen appears to be set despite offseason upgrades. As far as the rotation, Jason Johnson was added to help stabilize the group at the top, but the number five spot is still up in the air and the rest of the group still appears to be higher up in the rotation than a team would like. Right now the fifth spot appears to be up in the air between RHP's Gary Knotts and Esteban Yan and LHP Nate Robertson. Knotts and Robertson (both acquired for Mark Redman from Florida in the 2002 offseason) have started for the Tigers with inconsistent results, while Yan hasn't started for any major league squad for a few years.

The problem? There aren't many upgrades available. Rumors persist that the Anaheim Angels are looking to move a starter, however, either their asking price has been too high or these rumors are unfounded as there appears to be very little movement on their part. Ramon Ortiz or Jarrod Washburn would look great in a Tiger uniform, but it is hard to see either coming at a price the Tigers can afford at this point in time. While an upgrade is desired, the Tigers might just have to sit back and hope that one of the three in competition can step up and take hold of the spot. As far as other upgrades, the Tigers will probably have to wait for the likes of Kenny Baugh and Rob Henkel to push their way into the majors before any major changes will happen with the rotation.

A bullpen that features a trio of veteran middle relievers (one a lefty) and a former 30-game closer should be looking pretty solid, right? Unfortunately, not for the Tigers. Thusfar, newcomer Al Levine hasn't been outstanding, and lefty Jamie Walker hasn't had great effectiveness. And that former closer? Well that'd be Matt Anderson, who was impressive when he could throw 100 MPH, but is now getting rocked with his fastball sitting at 91-92 MPH. Add to that the fact that the Tigers have taken three members of their 'pen last year out of the group (Chris Spurling is out for the year with Tommy John surgery, Wil Ledezma and Matt Roney will return to the minors to work on becoming starters once again after their rule-5 season has passed), and the bullpen is extremely unsettled. Fernando Rodney was expected to take over the closer's role, but has yet to step up and prove his talent can get major league hitters out.

So what can the Tigers do? Well, closer Ugeuth Urbina is still available, but is commanding a big contract that the Tigers don't seem willing to hand over, especially for a position that isn't at the top of the Tiger list of needs. Free agents are still available in middle relief, but there's never a guarantee these players will be upgrades over the Tigers current group.

This essentially leaves the Tigers in a position where they might have to pony up and either overpay for someone like Urbina, or give up a bit more to add an Ortiz, or simply accept the fact that the pitching staff will be the weakness of the ballclub. It remains to be seen which way the Tigers will go, but without an upgrade, Tiger fans could be in store for a lot of high scoring games this summer.

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