When this season, we looked forward to good things (offensively) from a few Tigers that, as you are more than aware, have not delivered. The question we have to ask is: How well is Brennan Boesch going to have to hit from here on out to deserve a spot in right field in 2013? What are the options?
First – the situation. The Tigers have about $90 million in guaranteed money next year, they also have a lot of guys due potentially large arbitration raises. AJax. Fister. Scherzer. Avila. And the list goes on. They’ll lose Inge’s contract, Delmon Young‘s contract and Jose Valverde‘s contract – and those three guys are making more than $20 million right now – but even if they aren’t replaced the Tigers today payroll obligations aren’t likely to decrease. Boesch is another arb-eligible guy due a couple million dollar raise despite the stink. Raburn will be (unless I am grossly mistaken) third year arbitration eligible and due the minimum raise over his current $2 million-ish salary should they offer him a contract. A two million dollar corner outfielder is “cheap” a two million dollar reserve is fairly priced.
It is an unanswered question, particularly if the Tigers fail to make the ALDS (whether or not they qualify for the 1-game wild card play in), whether the Tigers can afford to add any significant salaries. Remember, they’re already stretching the budget to fit Prince Fielder into it. Given the number of arbitration cases, any other owner would be planning who to deal or who to non-tender. If Illitch is willing to add payroll, which implies digging himself further into the red, there will be tension over where to allocate that money. Closer and Right Field (assuming they are willing to stick with Andy Dirks in left) would be competing for the same scarce cash. We have four potential options: open the checkbook for a closer and a right fielder, only for a closer, only for a right fielder or keep the thing closed entirely.
I can’t answer which one the Tigers would or should choose – it’s entirely dependent on Ilitch’s willingness to lose money in the pursuit of a championship. But… here’s what our options look like for Right:
Plan A: stay the course entirely. That means offering Boesch a contract and plugging him in in RF like the White Sox have done with Adam Dunn. Could work. Would cost the team a couple of million more than this year, though.
Plan B: dump Boesch, and attempt to cobble something together using the existing roster. Boesch could be genuinely dumped, but he could probably also be traded for something with potential value down the line. If he’s gone the Tigers have Quintin Berry as well as Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos & Ben Guez to fight it out in spring training to be the representative from the right side as well as – conceivably – Ryan Raburn or Don Kelly.
Plan C: seek outside assistance. This is the option that I like more. That doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the smart thing to do. I would love to see the Tigers chase a free agent with a good outfield glove, for once. Michael Bourn could give the Tigers another great defender to cover Detroit’s second center field as well as a second leadoff hitter to set the table for Cabrera and Fielder. He’ll probably be a bit too expensive, as I imagine would Shane Victorino. Smarter options might be to consider Torii Hunter on a one-year deal or BJ Upton of the Rays. Both are righties, which works if we want to use Berry as a backup and improve the team’s weak attack against left-handed pitching. I would expect both to be enormous improvements over Boesch as defenders and provide something close to what we had expected from Boesch in 2012 offensively. Hunter is 36, but has been very good in right since the Angels moved him there. Upton is a “disappointment” as an all-around player largely because he set expectations so high. His career numbers at the plate mirror Delmon Young’s (though he strikes out and walks more) but he plays mediocre center field and steals bases. [YES, if Delmon could run like Berry everything would be fine] Move him to a corner, watch him get to everything and don’t expect him to lead off and I think most teams would be happy with what Upton can do. I would imagine he’s not going to get anything better than 3 years and $21 million, which could be a steal. Hunter might come for much less, maybe a 1-year deal for $5 million, despite being on pace to break 4 WAR for 2012. The market just has not looked favorably on guys over 35 since the end of juice-induced career revivals.
In Garcia and Castellanos, the Tigers may have guys they would like to see starting in right in 2014. I’m not positive that either will be what you want to see from your starting outfielder in 2014 as opposed to a Cameron Maybin or a GAbe Alvarez, but there is a case to be made for seeking a short-term solution for that reason alone. I don’t like the idea of giving right to Berry or letting rookies fight it out in spring training – I don’t think Garcia and Castellanos are ready to succeed as regulars up here and watching them clobber pitchers in spring training won’t convince me otherwise. I’m very much down on Boesch right now: a combination of everything he has been doing. Bad D. Too few walks. Too many strikeouts. It’s that he’s hitting too many flies and too few of the ones he hits go yard. Maybe he’s worth another chance, to let him show that he has gotten over whatever this is, before he gets dealt but I don’t want to rely on him in any key situation right now and I don’t want to rely on him for 2013. If I ran things, and was the one writing checks for millions, I’d probably offer him a contract – but I’d also try to pick up Torii Hunter to make 120 starts.