Jeff Baker is not exactly a Gold Glove defender. Nor is he a triple-slash offensive juggernaut. He is also not what you or I would call “a huge get,” but his arrival does indeed give cause for celebration: With the subtle acquisition of Baker, Dave Dombrowski has left the door slightly ajar for Ryan Raburn to see himself out.
Baker comes to Detroit as a player with moderate defensive abilities at several defensive positions, posting adequate UZR ratings at 3B, 1B, OF, and 2B (prior to 2012. Historically, yes, average. This season? Mostly negatives). Keep in mind that he has played for the Rockies and Cubs, the former being the ultimate hitters’ paradise and the latter being a pretty swell place to swing a bat in its own right. Plugging him into a pitchers’ park with high-k guys should help him there. Having him also play the outfield with Dirks, Berry, or Austin Jackson covering a lot of ground should also aid his defense.
His ability to come off the bench and hit lefties also bears notice: he has a .275/.309/.462 split this year, and for his career has a .304/.352/.516 line. Again, he’s played in two pretty good hitters’ parks, but batting eye is something that stays consistent no matter what park a player hits in. Overall, as a hitter, he’s decent: His walk rate is 5.6%, his .325 wOBA is slightly above average, and his 25.9% line drive rate is also comfortably above average. As a part-time player, Baker is a pretty good dude.
In addition to all of those tools, the best quality he brings to the Tigers is a simple one: He is not Ryan Raburn.
You all know his stats. You know that this season he hasn’t become the second-half dynamo he usually mutates into. You have also seen him in the field. Oh, lordy, have you seen him in the field. It’s practically a gift; no other human can so effortlessly botch a routine pop fly, no other reasonable professional baseball playing male can run around so haphazardly trying to field a grounder. Watching Ryan Raburn this season has been a difficult and trying experience for any rational Tigers fan.
Probably the most damning evidence against Raburn is the fact that he brings a big ol’ smelly -1.3 WAR to the table. Baker, on the other hand, produces a still stinky but otherwise tolerable -0.1 WAR. Basically, Baker was traded for to be what Raburn has failed so badly to be this season. All Baker has to do is start every now and again, come off the bench as a defensive replacement, take his spot in the lineup against lefties, and don’t cause mass outbreaks of muted rage in an entire fanbase.
Basically, this is the kind of low-key acquisition that Dombrowski loves pulling. This is almost reminiscent of the Wilson Betemit trade last year, where it seemed like he was just rading for a warm body to keep Inge off the field, but he turned out to be an integral part of a surging division-winner. Let’s hope history repeats itself in the case of Jeff Baker.