The Tigers have done very little in the early stages off the young off-season. They didn’t re-sign Anibal Sanchez during the five-day exclusive negotiation window, and they didn’t make a splash in the first 24 hours of the free agency period, but they did announce last week that they wouldn’t be bringing back Delmon Young, and that’s about as big of a move as they’ll make this offseason.
I mean, they’ll still likely sign a reliever and an outfielder, and it’s still possible that they’ll bring back Sanchez, but none of those moves would necessarily have as big of an impact to the club as simply giving all of Young’s plate appearances to Victor Martinez will likely have.
Young played almost exclusively at designated hitter for the Tigers in 2012, accumulating 608 plate appearances and racking up -0.7 WAR for his efforts. It wasn’t that he was a terrible hitter overall (though he was fairly bad), but he was completely horrible considering his one job was to hit. His 89 wRC+ would be quite good if he could play, say, shortstop, but he couldn’t even play the outfield so it provided zero value to the club (negative value, you could even say).
In 2011, Victor Martinez accumulated 595 plate appearances (mostly as the DH) and was credited for 2.9 wins above replacement (a 3.6 WAR increase over Young). Sure, Martinez got some credit there for playing 29 games at catcher, but even from a purely offensive standpoint, his .369 wOBA, compared to Young’s .305 mark, translates into a 33 run increase over 600 plate appearances. That still makes him roughly 3.3 wins better than Young, and, all else being equal last year, would/could have turned the Tigers into a 91 or 92 win team.
And those numbers likely don’t contain much context. We constantly watched Young flail away with runners in scoring position – there was never any change in approach – but Victor Martinez would be more likely to produce a run scoring sac-fly (or something other than a strikeout or GIDP). His contrasting ability to change his approach at the plate could result in a small handful of bonus runs over the course of a 162 game season.
Anibal Sanchez wouldn’t add 3.3 wins over Rick Porcello, and while a Victorio/Pagan type player could represent a similar boost over a Berry/Garcia (replacement level) platoon in the outfield, there are a number of other corner outfielders the Tigers could add that wouldn’t. And any boos in the outfield would likely come in a combination of offense and defense. The Martinez-Young swap will be a purely offensive gain – the area in which they struggled the most in the World Series.
It’s easy to take this move for granted because it wasn’t really any sort of move at all – they’re simply receiving one of their players back from the disable list – but it’s going to have as much real impact to the success of next year’s squad as any offseason move they make.