The Tigers appear to be waving the white flag with a pair of longtime starters set to rake in sizable paydays this year. Right-hander Anibal Sanchez will open the season as a long reliever, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. Meanwhile, the team is shopping fellow righty Mike Pelfrey, and it’s willing to eat his $8MM salary, tweets Fenech.
Sanchez is entering what should be the last year of his contract, though the Tigers will still have to pay a $5MM buyout for 2018 if they don’t exercise his $16MM club option. In 2017, the 33-year-old will collect $16MM as part of the five-year, $80MM deal the Tigers awarded him in 2012. Sanchez had established himself as a terrific starter at that time, as he combined for a 3.75 ERA, 7.59 K/9, 3.31 BB/9 and a 44.5 percent ground-ball rate over 869 innings with the Marlins and Tigers. While his quality pitching continued through 2014, he has since posted a 5.42 ERA in 310 1/3 frames. A bloated home run-to-fly ball rate and drops in grounders, velocity and swinging strikes are among the prime culprits for Sanchez’s recent decline. To his credit, he did generate infield pop-ups at a 14.2 percent rate the past two years and log decent strikeout and walk rates of 7.92 and 2.96 per nine.
The bullpen isn’t totally foreign to Sanchez, who totaled nine of his 11 career relief appearances last season. Left-hander Matt Boyd, whom the Tigers acquired from the Blue Jays in 2015 as part of a deal centering on David Price, will take over for Sanchez and join Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Jordan Zimmermann in Detroit’s rotation. The 26-year-old Boyd owns a 5.64 ERA and 5.43 FIP in 154 2/3 big league innings, but his repertoire provides reason for hope, as FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan explained earlier this month.
As for Pelfrey, 33, his two-year, $16MM contract has been a head-scratcher since the Tigers signed him to it an offseason ago. Pelfrey was OK at times with the Mets and Twins from 2007-14, but the former top prospect has never been either a high-strikeout or low-walk hurler in the majors. He spent most of last season in the rotation (22 starts in 24 appearances) and registered a 5.07 ERA, 4.24 K/9 and 3.48 BB/9 in 119 innings. If he makes the Tigers this year, he’ll work from the bullpen. The Tigers ate reliever Mark Lowe’s $5.5MM over the weekend after a lousy 2016, though, so it’s possible they’ll also release Pelfrey if a taker isn’t found via trade.