By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – After the news of impending Tommy John surgery for Detroit Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon, the team’s decision to trade away starter Doug Fister to move its best reliever, Drew Smyly, into the rotation is not looking so good.
Many fans were already unhappy with the Tigers’ decision to jettison Fister, the fourth starter in a strong group led by 2011 Cy Young winner, and MVP Justin Verlander, 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and American League ERA champion Anibal Sanchez. Fister recorded a 3.67 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.61 over 208.2 innings in 2013.
24-year-old Smyly, with a 2.37 ERA in 63 games as a reliever, had been a rare bright spot in a patchwork bullpen for the Tigers that hindered the team all year and ultimately proved to be its undoing in the American League Championship Series.
Detroit could use Smyly in the bullpen more than ever now. He and Joaquin Benoit were the best relievers for the Tigers in 2013, and neither will be back in that capacity. Smyly is in the rotation, and Benoit is in San Diego with the Padres.
Rondon was expected to be the setup man for Detroit in 2014, taking over the role from Benoit, who was solid in eighth innings and later performed similarly well in the closer spot after Jose Valverde got sent down to Triple-A Toledo.
The Tigers could have kept Fister in the rotation and left Smyly in the bullpen a little bit longer. Fister would likely would have continued to be a serviceable starter in 2014. With Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez also starting, Fister hardly would have needed to be perfect. Detroit had long talked of making Smyly a starter, but even if the team viewed him as an upgrade to Fister, it would appear an unnecessary upgrade based on the existing strength of the rotation.
In that area, Detroit was loaded already. Its bullpen has been weak. Leaving Smyly in the bullpen would have given the Tigers much-needed depth there – much-needed even before Rondon’s injury but especially so with Rondon out of the picture.
Detroit also parted ways with Benoit in the offseason. While the veteran was hardly infallible in the playoffs, he was the best reliever the Tigers had after Smyly. Detroit could certainly use Benoit now.
The caveat to all this, of course, is the old adage that hindsight is 20/20. Obviously, no one in the Tigers front office has a crystal ball, but it is always aggravating for fans to look back at their team’s moves and think, “If only … ” This could be one of those years, particularly if the bullpen looks as suspect as it did last season.