2012 Top 10 Stories: #7 – Tigers Trade for Sanchez and Infante

Based on Number Eight in this completely subjective Top 10 list (The Black Hole at Second Base), Number Seven should come as no surprise: the Tigers move aggressively to fill the void at second base by reacquiring old friend Omar Infante and add a blue-chip starting pitcher, Anibal Sanchez, to bolster the rotation.

The July 23 trade with the Miami Marlins came at a steep price: top prospects pitcher Jacob Turner and catcher Rob Brantly, along with 6-ft. 8 -in. minor-league lefty Brian Flynn and a 2013 compensation draft. (The day before the trade, Turner pitched 5.1 innings against the White Sox in a 6-4 win that put the Tigers a game and a half ahead of Chicago, and showed potential trade partners that Turner was healthy and ready to perform in the big leagues.)

At the time, Infante was the headliner because of the Tigers’ glaring need for an everyday second baseman and, to a lesser degree, the fact he was returning to his original big-league franchise. Tigers fans had watched Infante mature into a solid big-league player in his three seasons with the Braves and season-and-a-half in Miami and seemed to welcome him back. From Jason Beck’s story on the deal:

“For us, from a second-base perspective, that was an area we definitely wanted to address,” Dombrowski said. “There’s not a lot of second basemen that are available. There’s not a lot of second basemen available particularly that are good players.”

In Infante’s case, Dombrowski said, “He’s a real solid player to us, one of the better second basemen in Major League Baseball.”

(snip)

“One thing for us, it’s good to have a bat that’s another threat to drive the ball into the gaps and steal a base,” Dombrowski said. “For us, it’s a plus.”

Sanchez, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity and a curiosity of sorts. After all, he’d pitched seven seasons in south Florida for more or less forgettable Marlins teams. (The only thing I knew about him was that in 2006 he’d thrown a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks.) But as Doug Fister struggled to return to form after two trips to the disabled list, it became clear in a hurry that Sanchez was just as big a piece of this trade as Omar Infante – and perhaps bigger.

“He’s been one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball,” Dombrowski said. “He feels great, he has quality stuff and he gives us a chance to have five established Major League starters.”

Early on, Sanchez surrendered five or more earned runs in three of his first four Tigers starts and looked shellshocked by American League. But soon he had found his rhythm and was providing Jim Leyland with quality starts in eight of his next nine outings. In fact, Sanchez registered a quality start in five consecutive starts Aug. 22 – Sept. 15, and finished 2-2 with a 1.89 ERA during that stretch. And on Sept. 25 he notched his finest outing in a Tigers uniform: a three-hit shutout against the Royals, striking out 10. His final line: 12 starts, a 4-6 record and a 3.74 ERA.

In the playoffs Sanchez he was superb. In three postseason starts he allowed just four runs and a 1.77 ERA, which certainly helped his free-agent asking price and helped bring him back to Detroit for five more seasons.

As for Infante, he brought to the Tigers exactly what they’d hoped: a solid player that stabilized a critical infield position and, on many nights, the number-two spot in the batting order.

All told, a big trade, a big payoff – and a big story.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

Tigers’ 2011 X Factor: Phil Coke

In Phil Coke’s three-year major-league career, he’s finished 31 games and he’s started just one — the Tigers’ final game of the 2010 season. That outing could best be described as abbreviated; he threw 1.2 innings, allowing five hits, a walk and two runs.

What conclusions can we draw from this micro-sample size? Less than nothing.

That’s part of the reason Tigers fans are interested to see how Coke performs in 2011 now that he’s a member of the rotation, slotted neatly behind Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. That’s not to say Coke has no experience as a starter. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Coming up through the Yankees’ system in the mid-2000s, he worked predominately as a starter. From 2005-08, Coke started 77 games.

At Double-A Trenton in 2008, he started 20 games and posted a 2.51 ERA to go with his 9-4 record. That earned him a call-up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre where he was turned into a reliever.

Go figure.

Year Age Team Lg Lev W L W-L% ERA G GS CG IP
2005 22 Charleston SALL A 8 11 .421 5.42 24 18 0 103.0
2006 23 2 Teams 2 Lgs A+-A 5 8 .385 3.19 27 20 1 127.0
2006 23 Charleston SALL A 0 1 .000 0.53 5 2 0 17.0
2006 23 Tampa FLOR A+ 5 7 .417 3.60 22 18 1 110.0
2007 24 Tampa FLOR A+ 7 3 .700 3.09 17 16 1 99.0
2008 25 2 Teams 2 Lgs AA-AAA 11 6 .647 2.79 37 21 1 135.2
2008 25 Trenton EL AA 9 4 .692 2.51 23 20 1 118.1
2008 25 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre IL AAA 2 2 .500 4.67 14 1 0 17.1
6 Seasons 31 29 .517 3.61 125 77 3 496.0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table | Generated 3/28/2011.

 

With his return to the rotation this spring, Coke posted a 3-2 record with a 2.49 ERA in 21.2 innings. Not shabby, but how will it play out over the long season? Lynn Henning today provided this assessment of Coke:

He looked good for much of the spring, but took some knocks late. The switch to starting is still in progress. If things don’t work out, he goes back to the bullpen, Andy Oliver moves in, and the Tigers probably strengthen their seventh-inning options. But they’ll give this experiment a full and necessary opportunity to work.

We’ll have to see what “a full and necessary opportunity” means. If Coke lasts as a starter, what’s the impact on the bullpen? Or, does it mean he’s more valuable in relief compared to the young arms the Tigers can summon to the rotation, such as Andy Oliver and/or Jacob Turner?

And it all hinges on Phil Coke. What do you think?