Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 12/16/11

Regarding the Detroit Tigers still unknown 5th starter, you likely fall into one of three camps:

  1. Give it to a rookie
  2. Let a fill-in plug the gap until a rookie is ready
  3. Sign or trade for a veteran

In this article (click here) written about a month ago, I discussed some of the Tigers’ options. Little has changed since then, other than a thinner market being available to the Tigers if they are interested in going the free agent route.

Let’s break it down:

Option 1: Run with a rookie

2006 and 2009 were very good years for the Tigers. One reason for the success within each season was that the Tigers brought a rookie with them from spring training to be a member of the 5-man starting rotation.

Jacob Turner

In 2006, Justin Verlander won 17 games for the Tigers and Rick Porcello grabbed 14 of his own in 2009. The 2 would-be rookies who are closest to being ready are Drew Smyly and Jacob Turner.

Smyly dominated high-A Lakeland and AA Erie last year, earning the 22-year old the organization’s minor league Pitcher of the Year award. He isn’t as young as Turner, having pitched in college, but hasn’t touched the Major Leagues yet like the aforementioned 20-year old #1 prospect did in 2011.

One chip in Smyly’s favor is that he is a lefty, something the Tigers would love to add to their rotation mix, which is currently stocked with 4 right-handers.

Meanwhile, Turner was moved through the organizational ranks last year and even managed three shaky starts for the Tigers. Clearly, he is the higher-rated prospect, but perhaps not the most Major League ready of the two.

Turner managed a 3.44 ERA and 1.16 WHIP between AA Erie and AAA Toledo in 2011. He fanned 110 in 131 innings of work. Smyly had a 2.07 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 130 K’s in 126 innings. To further argue Smyly’s case, he posted a 1.18 ERA in his 8 double-A starts, the same league in which Turner posted a 3.48 ERA covering 17 starts.

So assume for the sake of moving forward that the Tigers go with Smyly as their 5th starter out of camp, what’s the worst that could happen? Is he going to merely manage 1 win in the season’s first half like Phil Coke did as a starter last year? Unlikely. Is he going to throw up a 5.30 ERA and the worst strikeout to walk ratio among qualifying starters like Brad Penny did? Doubtful. And don’t forget, the Tigers won the AL Central with Coke and Penny’s exploits.

If Smyly does struggle, he will probably have done enough to provide the natural bridge to Turner being declared ready. Half a season of Smyly and half a season of Turner can’t do a whole lot worse than Penny did in 2011. And that’s only if Smyly struggles. If he doesn’t, Turner gets another year of much-needed seasoning.

Worst of all, if neither prove ready, the trade deadline is never that far away, and fresh off of plucking Doug Fister at last year’s deadline, GM Dave Dombrowski can certainly be trusted to pull off the right move if necessary.

Option 2: Fringe gap-fillers

The Tigers have a few guys that could start the season as the 5th starter and theoretically give way to Turner or Smyly when they become ready, or a big name at the trade deadline.

Both Duane Below and Adam Wilk got a long look with the Tigers last year, both are lefties, and both are capable enough to get the Tigers to the trade deadline or rookie readiness in reasonable fashion.

Below had a 4.34 ERA in 14 appearances with the big club in 2011, including 2 starts. Wilk, a starter by trade, worked in 5 games as a reliever for the Tigers and posted a 5.40 ERA in a very small sample size. Both pitchers throw with strong command, which makes them ideal candidates to be gap-fillers, if that’s the direction management decides to go.

Option 3: Pull in a free agent or trade acquisition

The free agent list is relatively weak. In fact, it’s almost non-existent when you consider that the Tigers would almost assuredly be targeting a lefty. Already in new homes or back with their old teams are Erik Bedard, Bruce Chen, Chris Capuano, and Mark Buehrle. That basically leaves veterans Jeff Francis and Joe Saunders.

Gio Gonzalez

Francis is not exactly what the Tigers are looking for and I certainly hope that Saunders isn’t either. Neither does much to keep opposing bats away from squaring up their weak repertoires and both would essentially be looked at as left-handed versions of Brad Penny. Pass.

The Tigers’ name continues to swirl in and around the Gio Gonzalez trade rumors. The problem is that Oakland is asking for Turner, #2 prospect Nick Castellanos, and perhaps more. The Tigers might be willing to concede Turner, but certainly not both.

As the days turn into weeks and A’s GM Billy Beane becomes more intent on trading the All-Star lefty, look for the price to drop. If he is willing to lower his asking amount to just Turner, the Tigers might be inclined to accept.

Trading unproven minor league prospects for a proven Major League commodity is generally a wise move. Nobody seems too upset these days that the Tigers dumped Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin on the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and a lefty not to be mentioned herein.

Results trump promise, especially when those results are a budding star that is only 26-years old, won 16 games, and struck out 197 hitters just a season ago.

If the Tigers parted ways with Turner, they certainly wouldn’t be sacrificing their future. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Doug Fister are all under team control for the foreseeable future. Toss in a Gio Gonzalez and the Tigers would truly have one of the youngest, most dynamic rotations in the game. This rumor won’t die until Gio finds a new home or is pulled from the market.

Whatever direction the Tigers decide to move in, the risk appears to be relatively low, and the upside of the team remains uncompromised. As anxious as Tiger fans are to see the rotation complete, Dave Dombrowski is sitting in a fairly comfortable chair right now.

Please follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe or subscribe to our Detroit Tigers Feed

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