Although they upgraded their offense and bullpen earlier in the off-season, the Tigers still have a few weaknesses. Chief among them is the starting rotation. While Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer represent a quality one-two punch, the rest of the rotation remains a question. The Tigers helped strengthen the crew today by signing Brad Penny to a one-year, $3 million deal that could become $6 million if he reaches certain milestones. The move means the Tigers will be a bit stronger at the back end of the rotation.
Before signing Penny the Tigers had Verlander, Scherzer, Rick Porcello, Phil Coke, and Armando Galarraga penciled into the rotation. Those last two certainly don’t scream of a contender’s rotation. Coke’s career never really took off until he moved to the bullpen in 2008, and since then has started just one game — and even that was just 1.2 innings on the last day of the 2010 season. Galarraga, perfect game aside, has been mediocre to poor since his quality showing in 2008. The Tigers basically needed a better pitcher for one of those two spots, despite GM Dave Dombrowski’s stated contentment.
When put into this context, the Penny signing makes plenty of sense for the Tigers. His career numbers — 4.11 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 4.19 xFIP — suggest at least a No. 3 starter. Chances are that he’s not quite that good at this point in his career, especially in the AL, but even if he’s a tick worse than his career numbers in 2011 he still passes the test. Does he have more experience than Coke and is he better than Galarraga? If yes, proceed.
Any pitcher who signs for $3 million plus incentives in mid-January is going to have downsides. Penny has missed significant time in two of the last three seasons, and managed just nine starts last year before an oblique strain ended his season. The one healthy season came mostly in the AL, but he got hit hard while pitching for the Red Sox, a 5.61 ERA and 4.49 FIP. He managed just over 5.1 innings per start then.
At this point in the off-season we won’t see too many moves that inspire tons of excitement. Every remaining player has enough downsides to temper our reactions. Still, it’s easy to see how the Penny signing improves the Tigers. Unless his second experience in the AL is similar to his first, he’ll slot nicely into the fourth slot in the rotation and give the Tigers some flexibility at the end. That gives them some depth, since they can fall back on Coke, Galarraga, or even Andy Oliver when something goes wrong. Since something is virtually guaranteed to go wrong, bringing in some mid-rotation depth always helps.
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