The Curtis Granderson trade hasn’t fully sunk in yet. It still feels like Ajax the Great is still the team’s No. 2 prospect. It feel like we’ll still be wondering if IPK can break camp in the bullpen. But most of all, it feels like Phil Coke will still play a part in relief. It’s part of the odd nature of the off-season. We grow so used to these players over seven months and over 170 games, and in a matter of 20 hours everything changes.
Coke’s inclusion in the Granderson trade seemed like a token gesture. A “yeah we’re clearly getting the better player, so here’s a major league bullpen arm to make you feel better about yourself” throw-in. He’ll help them out, for sure, especially with a weak bullpen that will lose its top two pitchers. But will he really add more than a half win above replacement? Judging from his 2008, I doubt it. But the Tigers will want to get the greatest possible value from him.
Might that be in the rotation? Coke hasn’t pitched in that role since July 25, 2008, but it appears the Tigers might see if he can stick in that role. “There is a chance, by all means,” said GM Dave Dombrowski of Coke’s chances to be a starter. “I’d not be surprised if he had that opportunity.” Chris from iYankees thinks that it could add immense value to Detroit in the trade. “If Coke becomes a decent left-handed starter for the Tigers behind current ace Justin Verlander and future ace Max Scherzer, then the trade package they received earlier this week will be viewed as an even more valuable haul.” Problem is, it almost certainly won’t happen.
During the Winter Meetings I talked to Chad Jennings about Coke. He loved what he saw in relief in late 2008, but recalled an instance earlier in the year where Coke failed horribly as a starter. That was on June 3, when he allowed eight hits over three innings. Clearly, no one should judge a starter based on one start, but it’s just another bit of evidence in a long string suggest that Coke’s optimal place is in the bullpen.
Never one of the Yankees big-time prospects, Coke ambled around the minors, finally finding success in A+ ball in 2006, and continuing it the next year. By age 25, with Trenton, he definitely hit a groove, and maybe that was a product of his maturing a bit late. But, by most accounts, he just doesn’t have the stuff to be a major league starter. Even out of the bullpen in 2009, we saw his weaknesses exposed. His slider is his secondary pitch, and I hate to think what major league hitters would do to a third pitch.
I personally liked Phil Coke and thought that he was a good option out of the pen at certain points in the season. There were stretches of games where he’d throw 75, 80 percent strikes and retire everyone he faced. But there were also stretches where he hung his slider and allowed a ton of homers. I can’t imagine him improving on that situation in the rotation. Starters are more valuable than relievers, and teams should explore rotation options for their best pitchers. I just don’t think it’s a realistic possibility for Coke.