With only one week of spring scrimmages to go, Major League Baseball teams have to make some pressing decisions regarding the Opening Day personnel. The Detroit Tigers are no exception, as they made their first real noteworthy decision on Sunday, cutting reliever Mark Lowe.
The Tigers will eat up his $5.5M guaranteed salary for the 2017 season and it opens up a spot in the bullpen for a number of pitchers trying to crack the 25-man roster before Monday, April 3.
However, the release of Lowe does not bode well for another fellow veteran pitcher in Mike Pelfrey. The 33-year-old is coming off his first season with the Tigers, where he registered an ERA just north of 5.00 in 22 starts. And this spring, he has not shown any signs of improvement and has not guaranteed himself a spot with the club for 2017. Pelfrey, in six preseason outings (three starts), has allowed 12 earned runs on 18 hits in 13.2 IP, good for an ERA approaching 8.00.
His heightened struggles, piggybacking his struggling 2016 campaign, raises a fair question – Is Mike Pelfrey about to endure the same fate as Mark Lowe?
By almost all accounts, Lowe was relieved of his duties (pun intended) simply because he was not performing well. Going in, the team felt obligated to keep him on the roster more so than other pitchers because of his guaranteed contract. But by letting him go, they show their willingness to eat money for one season if it means fielding the best possible team come Opening Day.
Pelfrey is in the same boat as spring training winds down. He, Anibal Sanchez and Matt Boyd have all been in contention for the No. 5 spot in the Tigers’ rotation. Early on, the spot seemed like a lock for Boyd, who has a 2.49 ERA in 21.2 innings of work and it still could be his to lose entering Sunday.
As far as Sanchez is concerned, his overall spring numbers are not very pretty — an ERA a tick over 5.00 in just under 20 innings logged. However, that’s vastly improved over his last three starts. During said stretch, Sanchez has tossed 14 scoreless frames and allowed just two hits, one walk and punched out more than a batter per inning. The sudden resurgence has been the benefit of a tweak in his delivery mechanics.
The Tigers are probably very breathing a big sigh of relief after seeing this new-look Sanchez. After allowing 11 earned runs over just 5.2 IP in his first three starts, the team was faced with the real possibility of parting ways with the 33-year-old veteran that is making $16M guaranteed this season.
So with Boyd still pitching very well, and Sanchez seemingly turning things around, what does this mean for Mike Pelfrey? It could mean being shown the door and being unemployed come Opening Day. If the Tigers did not hesitate to cut a veteran reliever making $5.5M this season in Lowe, it’s not out of the ordinary to consider doing the same with a guy making a little bit more money (by baseball standards) and struggling far more.
Pelfrey’s only real option at this point is making the club as a stretch reliever. Sanchez’s recent resurgence has improved his chances of making the club in some purpose, whether it be as a starter or reliever, and further diminishing his chances of getting a Lowe blow from the Tigers. Boyd is in the same boat, with the possibility of starting in Triple-A Toledo.
But with Boyd only helping his cause, pitching the best and most consistent of the three, it’d be hard to imagine him not on the plane heading north to Chicago for Opening Day, whether it be as the No. 5 starter or in the bullpen as a stretch reliever. Sanchez too certainly given the Tigers something to consider. That leaves Pelfrey as the odd man out.
Some are going to suggest letting Lowe go would only help Pelfrey, with a spot open on the roster, when in reality it only hurts him. Don’t be shocked if news breaks of the Tigers cutting ties with Pelfrey some time in the next week.