Here’s another guy recently non-tendered by the Washington Nationals, and as they say: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Jesus Flores is a right-handed, glove-first catcher. He doesn’t hit much, but what damage he does do is primarily done against left-handed pitching anyway. With the departure of Gerald Laird, the Tigers are again in need of a platoon partner for Alex Avila – a guy with his knees shouldn’t start too many games and if he can’t hit lefties anyway…? The Nationals let Flores go rather than pay him a salary in the $1 million range, but I’d assume it wouldn’t take more than $1 million for 1 year or $2 million for 2 to get him here. The free agent market for catchers is pretty thin, but even then… the guy did put up a .577 OPS last year.
In a sense, Flores would be what the Tigers had wanted in Laird – a guy who could hit lefties a little and hold runners down. Laird did some good things for the Tigers last year, but he did not do those things. His OPS against right-handed pitching was far better than expected at .828, but his OPS against left-handed pitching – .622 – was not. I’d chalk that up to small sample size more than anything else, but the fact remains. Flores is unlikely to reproduce Laird’s overall .710 OPS – but then I’d say so is Laird. Bill James‘ projection for Flores is a .239/.283/.372 line – which is fine for a reserve that plays genuinely good defense. While Laird used to play good D, his stats have been on the decline since his 30th birthday in that regard (shocker there). By DRS Laird was 5 runs below average last season, Flores was 2 runs above average. To a casual observer, it looked as though the Tigers had a fair number of pitchers that opposing teams liked to challenge on the basepaths. That leverages a catcher’s throwing arm and Laird did not come through.
I’m not going to say that Flores himself is a critical piece of the Tigers puzzle, but the Tigers do need to sign a guy like Flores and if they need a guy like Flores why not Flores? If the Tigers do nothing in this regard, we’re looking at rushing prospect James McCann to the bigs to platoon with Avila. McCann is also a righty known for good D, but he put up a .509 OPS in a half-season with Erie and was even worse in the AFL. This would not be acceptable – we could wind up with a hole in the lineup like the one Drew Butera put the Twins in when Mauer was hurt. Sadly, though replacement level batters are supposed to be abundant we can’t just assume that any given warm body is going to be able to hit at replacement level. Flores combines a bat known to be barely above replacement level with a glove significantly above replacement level – and that gives him actual value of a sort.