Paul Wezner, Executive Editor
The spring training battle that will go on amongst the starting pitchers vying for a slot in the rotation will be an interesting one, to say the least. Zach Miner I consider to be the fallback option at this point - the Tigers would have no qualms or concerns about putting him in the bullpen to work in potentially whatever role they need him to. So, it's likely we only see Miner if both Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis bomb in spring training. Because of their hard work this offseason, along with the presence of a new pitching coach, I expect there to be at least marginal improvement from both, meaning that they'll find a way to get one of them into the rotation. Who? At this point, my money is on Robertson. Dontrelle being in shape and working on any number of things can help, but unless he shows he can consistently find the strike zone (and color me skeptical on that one), it's tough to see him breaking camp in the rotation. Robertson on the other hand, with a few tweaks in his delivery and on his slider can likely show some improvement, especially when facing hitters that haven't seen live pitching in six months. I'm not convinced either will be ready to give the Tigers 200+ innings this season, but I think it's Robertson that gets the first crack at trying.
Mark Anderson, Managing Editor
The problem with picking the fifth starter right now, is that I'm not positive there's only a competition this spring for that spot in the rotation. There legitimately could be a battle for the final three spots in the rotation; a battle consisting of Armando Galarraga, Edwin Jackson, Zach Miner, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson. It may sound crazy, but that really appears to be the case from my vantage point. There are some in the organization that will acknowledge that Galarraga dramatically out-pitched his peripherals in 2008, and he may not be guranteed a spot. Jackson did the same in Tampa last year, and though the manner in which he was acquired seems to indicate he has an inside track, I wouldn't be so sure. Willis and Robertson are both looking to return to form after horrific 2008 campaigns, and Zach Miner just keeps chucking quality innings almost seemingly without notice. Let's work through this a bit. Jackson is out of options and now in an organization that favors cannon-armed pitchers; which likely gives him a strong edge for one of these three slots in this race. The Tigers seem willing to move Miner around to suit the needs of others, which leads me to question just how seriously they would consider him for the fifth starter's spot to open the sesaon. That leaves Galarraga, Willis, and Robertson as viable candidates for the final two rotation spots, and they all have options remaining; though Willis and Robertson would both have to accept optional assignments given their service time. If both are pitching well, throwing strikes, getting outs, and looking strong, I could see the Tigers opting to send Galarraga -- despite his stellar 2008 -- to the minors to open the season, knowing full well he will likely get a chance at some point during the season. If one of Willis or Robertson falters in any way this spring, Galarraga is in. I think it is a stretch to assume both Robertson and Willis can both come all the way back this spring, so Galarraga seems safe to me. Between Willis and Robertson, it comes down to upside in my mind. Even with his slider back, Robertson becomes an inning-eater type, while with his command back Willis can be as good as a number-two starter type. I'll go with the upside here and suppose that Willis can show enough this spring to earn the gig.
Jason Avery, Associate Editor, Amateur Baseball
I don't really know if I have a favorite for the last spot in the rotation, but I think right now, I'll go with Nate Robertson. Dontrelle Willis has to show me he is healthy both physically and mentally before I can really begin to believe he can contribute this year, and although he was horrible last year, there is at least a glimmer of hope that Robertson can at least become serviceable. Zach Miner and Rick Porcello are other candidates, but I think Miner will wind up winning a spot in the bullpen, and the team may want to give Porcello more seasoning in the minors. However, Porcello could force their hand with an outstanding spring. Of course, if Robertson and Willis both fall flat on their faces, the Tigers will have to look at other candidates, both inside and maybe outside the organization. Hopefully it won't come to the latter, but if no one steps forward, the Tigers may be forced to use that option.
Have your own opinion on the issue? Ready to talk about it? State your opinion on the Detroit Tigers Open Message Board and go head to head with the experts!