Tigers should address their bullpen and shortstop situations

Phil Coke has struggled early in 2014.

Phil Coke has struggled early in 2014.

The Detroit Tigers are off to a decent start (thanks in large part to Victor Martinez’s clutch hitting), but there are several pretty obvious things that should be on the club’s urgent to-do list:

First, find out how to resurrect Joe Nathan’s dead arm. Nathan says it’s nothing to worry about, and the cure is just to keep pitching. But until the arm goes live again, perhaps he should be pitching only in blowouts or low pressure situations. You’d think a save opportunity with a three-run lead is one such spot, but in Los Angeles it sure wasn’t. The temporary fix was evident in the tenth inning in the same game at Dodger Stadium — matchup strategy using Joba Chamberlain and Al Albuquerque against righties and Ian Krol, who looks superb so far, against righties. This is not a huge concern, and may already be addressed. Nathan will regain his form, unless he’s hit the skids due to old age — which would be a monumental problem.

Second: kick the Coke habit. Isn’t it time to get rid of Phil Coke? As in: ASAP. He’s become a joke. His ERA-plus with the Tigers is 95, for his overall career it’s 100. He is the very definition of mediocre. Yes, he had a good spring training, but that doesn’t count. He’s now on the wrong side of 30, making $1.9 million, and he’s hurting the team. His WAR is, year in and year out, essentially zero. He’s steadily gone from being a replacement-level player with some promise of a higher ceiling to being a guy who’s been given so many chances to succeed that his failures exceed his strikeouts. He has absolutely no value. Why is he on the team?

Perhaps Dave Dombrowski doesn’t want to admit that Coke’s piece in the 2009 Curtis Granderson deal was useless, like Daniel Schlereth. It doesn’t matter: the Tigers still got Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson for Grandy and Edwin Jackson, so it was a plus deal.

Krol seems good, but the Tigers need to find a more reliable second lefty for the bullpen. I’m sure one can be found. At this point, anyone is more reliable than Coke. Grab an arm now and wave goodbye to Phil.

Finally, the Tigers need to sign Stephen Drew, before another team nabs him. This is another obvious move. No matter how they have performed in the opening weeks (and that’s been rather mixed), Alex Gonzalez and Andrew Romine should not be playing shortstop on a championship-caliber club. Amazingly, in mid-April, Drew is still out there. But he won’t be for long. Back in March, sources reported that Drew would sign a one-year, $14 million deal with Detroit, but then agent Scott Boras claimed he had a mysterious three-year, $39 million offer on the table. It’s a familiar Boras negotiating ploy and was pretty transparent. Drew is a competent defender and a decent hitter: an average two-win player in his eight-year MLB career with lifetime marks of .264/.329/.435. His bat would add some life to the bottom of the order, and he is certainly a surer bet then what the Tigers have now.

Gonzalez is probably done as a major leaguer. His defense, which was always his only strong point, is suspect now. Romine could be a decent backup utility man, with a lefty stick, a little speed, and ability to bunt. But his average, on-base, and slugging are all sub-.300. The two of them together can’t hold down one of the most important positions on the field. Right now the Tigers are playing “hoping-to-get-by” at short. That’s not good enough.

Maybe it will take more than a one-year deal to get Drew. So why don’t the Tigers offer him a two-year contract? In 2015, he could be a nice backup at second, short, and third (he’s never played anything but shortstop, but obviously he could handle those other, easier positions). Jose Iglesias may need some help after sitting out a year, and Drew’s bat would be a plus no matter how he’s used. Give Drew his $13 mil for two years, and solve the Tigers’ biggest problem. Dombrowski had better act fast. The Blue Jays, Mets, and Yankees are all reportedly at least mildly interested in Drew.

The team needs a shortstop and another reliable lefty in the pen. Right now. And then, assuming Nathan is OK, they should be ready for the long haul.

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About Michael Betzold

Author of Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story and other books, former Detroit Free Press reporter Michael Betzold always wore #4 to honor his first hero, the "Sunday Punch," Charlie "Paw Paw" Maxwell.