Phil Coke comes out of the bullpen to start the Detroit Tigers' final game of the season Sunday in Baltimore. And as manager Jim Leyland currently sees it, Coke will be doing so on a regular basis next year. The need for a left-hander in Detroit's starting rotation mandates the move.
"I've told Coke I'm 99.9 percent sure of it," said Leyland. "But I'm not going to discuss it any more than that."
This is something the Tigers have been considering ever since Coke was acquired last year from the New York Yankees. But it's somewhat surprising to hear Leyland be so emphatic about it. (General manager Dave Dombrowski is scheduled to speak with the media on Sunday, and it will be interesting to see if he's as definitive on the possibility.)
Leyland has made such proclamations before. Remember last year, when Ryan Raburn was going to be the starting left fielder? Then Carlos Guillen complained, and suddenly he was the left fielder? Months later, neither was really in the mix once the Tigers signed Johnny Damon. So this shouldn't be written into stone.
But maybe Leyland is just preaching in the church of what's happening now. Though he didn't add this qualifier, perhaps Leyland means Coke will be a starter as the roster is currently constructed. Of course, we know there's going to be quite an overhaul with contracts running out and available money to spend.
However, Leyland also likes to get his players mentally prepared for any eventuality. The guess here is that he's telling Coke to be ready for either starting or relieving next season. The role is subject to what the Tigers do in the offseason.
Coke has never started in his three major league seasons. But he did make 77 starts over six years in the Yankees' minor league system.
Would this really be the best move for the Tigers, however? Is it worth weakening the bullpen to help out the starting rotation? (And the bullpen isn't in great shape, as Detroit has already announced they'll be looking for free agent relievers this winter.) Would it simply be more cost-effective to spend free agent dollars on relief pitching than starting pitching? And why announce this move before the team even officially begins the offseason?