In his recent Twitter chat with fans, Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski reiterated the fact that the team is still pursuing a right handed bat to platoon with Andy Dirks in left field. In the same chat he said the top priority for the team right now is “if we could find the correct right handed bat for the outfield.”
I’m not quite sure what “correct” is in this case, but I’ve assumed all along they were looking for a player who (1) is cheap, (2) could hit lefties at an above average clip regardless of his overall batting line, and (3) is at least average in the field. Some other things would be a bonus – like speed or the ability to play center field in a pinch – but I think Dombrowski understands that a platoon left fielder is going to be a deeply flawed player to begin with (otherwise he would be an expensive regular).
We’ve already named off a handful of players on these electronic pages, but we’ve come nowhere close to exhausting the entire list of possibilities. Another name to throw in the ring is the former member of the Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota Twins, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees, Darnell McDonald.
McDonald, who began the season in Boston, was designated for assignment twice last season. The Yankees claimed him off waivers in early July after the Red Sox DFA’d him to activate the injured Josh Beckett, but his tenure with the Yankees’ major league team lasted only four games. He was designated for assignment by New York later that same month and was assigned to their minor league system after clearing waivers. He was able to elect free agency after finishing the year in the minors.
The fact that he has played in eight organizations (five major league clubs) and was designated for assignment twice just last season tells us that he’s not a terribly good player, but he is perhaps the kind of not-very-good player that could be leveraged to the Tigers’ advantage.
Advantage number one: McDonald would have been a first year arbitration eligible player – he’s not yet made more than $500,000 in a season – so he would be an incredibly cheap option. I’m sure he could be had for less than a million dollars. It doesn’t really hurt to bring in a guy like that – so long as you’re somewhat certain he can do the job – because it wouldn’t kill you if you had to cut him in the end. They’d only be paying him to be a bit less than a quarter-win player and he’s been worth three times that much in his 797 career plate appearances. A half-win per season player isn’t a very good player, but he might be a decent player for the money.
Advantage number two: McDonald can “play all three outfield positions”, but he’s not going to draw value as an everyday center fielder. He could play it on occasion – like Quintin Berry – but he’s going to be below average at the position. On the other hand, his speed and decent-enough arm would make him a plus corner outfielder. His (small sample) UZR and DRS history suggest he’d be something like +6 runs (per season) in the corners if he played full time.
Advantage number three: Darnell McDonald is nobody’s great hitter – his career slash line is only .246/.312/.394 (a .705 OPS) – but he has the right type of platoon split in his favor. When facing left-handed pitching in his career, that slash line has jumped to .274/.342/.436 (.778 OPS). That line still isn’t going to light the world on fire, but it’s good enough to represent an above-average 109 wRC+.
McDonald isn’t a very good player in that you wouldn’t want him to be an everyday guy, but if his role is to start in left field against left-handed starting pitchers, then he looks more like an above average hitter and an above average fielder.
He’s not the type of player to get very excited about, but his skills appear to line up with the Tigers’ needs. He could very well be the type of player then end up signing to fill the role.
Bonus fact: McDonald was used as a pitcher by the Boston Red Sox twice in his career (presumably in emergency mop-up duty) and has a career 22.50 ERA in 2.0 innings pitched.