Phil Coke has had plenty of opportunities to have an impact for the Detroit Tigers, but that hasn’t been enough for him to solidify his position as a member of the bullpen in 2014. The Tigers gave him a $1.9 million, one-year contract in the offseason, making it seem as if they were prepared to stick it out with him this year. But if he doesn’t show signs of improvement in spring training, they should consider going another route.
Coke really only has one job — to get the occasional left-handed hitter out after the starter comes out of the game. He’s not the type of reliever they can count on to eat up a couple of innings when they need long relief or a candidate for setup man. He is a lefty-lefty matchup reliever with a niche skill-set.
Coke is not a versatile option out of the bullpen, so if he isn’t successful against lefties early in the season they should consider other options. The Tigers are already short on southpaws in the bullpen after losing their best left-handed reliever from last season, Drew Smyly, to the starting rotation. Coke definitely plays a niche position, which is one of the only reasons the Tigers gave him a deal again this year.
The Tigers added Ian Krol to the bullpen as well, but he’s not a sure thing. He logged 27 innings in his first season in MLB last year with the Washington Nationals and showed promise. Krol is more likely to earn a spot in the bullpen at this point than Coke, but chances are the Tigers will still feel the need to keep Coke in the mix as well.
Coke tallied his second fewest amount of innings since his rookie season last year. There were calls for him to be designated for assignment last season, but the Tigers stuck it out with him and trusted him to get the job done.
He’s not off to the greatest start this spring either. Coke gave up six hits and three runs in one inning against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday. The Cards were able to square up on many of his pitches which is starting to feel like the norm with him.
There are plenty of guys like Coke who can still bring value to the bullpen, but they have to be very good at the one thing they do to be a contributor.