After two and a half years of expectations, hope, patience, and frustration the Tigers have finally cut bait with Dontrelle Willis as he has been designated for assignment to make room for Max Scherzer. Is this decision a move towards less tolerance for failure, or just a matter of “enough is enough”?
It may seem curious to ask the question about less tolerance for failure given Dontrelle’s track record. There have been season long DL stints for knees and anxiety. There has been additional coaching and stays down at A ball to get him out of the spot light. There was the decision to bring him north this season despite the fact he hadn’t out-pitched his competitors in spring training. Through it all the Tigers stuck with him and his large contract, until last night.
I think it’s fair to say the Tigers gave Willis every chance. While I don’t disagree with the move at all, the timing itself is a little surprising. After two seasons of implosions, Willis has an ERA, a FIP, and an xFIP that are all under 5.00. Not great or even good, but at least on the brink of serviceable. Given the contract it is disappointing to say the least, but he’s getting paid regardless.
Willis has at times looked good and at times looked out of sorts. Sometimes within the same game, sometimes even within the same inning. But the fact he looked good at times exceeded my expectations. His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2003 and his walk rate is the best of his Tigers career (a still miserable 6 BB per 9).
So my question is, what exactly were the Tigers hoping for out of Willis this season? Dombrowski’s comments on the matter are rather gray, and I doubt we’re getting the whole story. Given his entire career arc, I think Willis is pitching as well as could have reasonably been expected.
Here’s where I make a logical leap. I hope you can join me because it may be encouraging. Given the Willis DFA, the Sizemore and Scherzer demotions, and the commitment to Brennan Boesch is it out of line to think that the organization is looking to be more swift in swapping out underperformers and maximizing talent on the 25 man roster?
There are still gaping holes at catcher and Adam Everett has been awful as well. With the catcher situation there isn’t an upgrade readily available. With Everett he’s receiving less and less playing time (he and Santiago have evenly split SS duties) and my guess is the Tigers are keeping Everett around to hedge their bets in case Carlos Guillen can’t stick at second and Scott Sizemore can’t fully find his hitting stroke. Throw in Danny Worth and Everett’s leash may be shortening as well.
The Tigers have made a payroll commitment to “go for it” this year and they have some terrific players to build around. But there are also enough question marks that the team has very little margin for error relative to the Minnesota Twins.
It isn’t time for rash decisions, but the team has to move swiftly if they have chances for quick upgrades. For now that means dipping into their minor league talent pool and they’ve done a nice job of extending the 25 man roster for several weeks now.