As has been said ad nauseam, there’s still a lot of offseason left, and Dave Dombrowski doesn’t quit dealing. That being said, the Tigers are in a precarious position, wherein as of now they are going to be relying on Andy Dirks to be a solid all-around, everyday left fielder. That is, to put it succinctly, pretty freaking scary.
Dirks has proven himself to be more than just an adequate defender with his recognition of both a Gold Glove and a Fielding Bible award: his 9.4 UZR in left ranked third in the majors (with at least 800 innings), and his RngR ranked second (10.3). Unfortunately his bat is replacement level at best, and with his ability to only hit .260 against righties he no longer seems to be that great a platoon.
The Tigers have essentially left themselves in a position where they may not be able to get a quality, experienced outfielder via trade, having since shipped away Doug Fister and Prince Fielder. Sure, they have some extra bullpen arms available, but I doubt an Al Albequerque could acquire a Chris Denorfia (3.9 WAR, exceptional defense in San Diego) or Adam Eaton (promising LF speedster from Arizona). That leaves Dave Dombrowski perusing an underwhelming free agent market outside of Shin-Soo Choo. So who is available, who is cheap, and who would fit in patrolling the spacious Comerica Park left field?
1) Corey Hart – Milwaukee converted him to a first baseman – where he excelled – in 2012, but he ended up missing the entire 2013 season after having major surgery to both knees. Before he was shifted to first base, Hart played well in both right field and center field for the Brewers. His UZR/150 was in the positive for his last seasons in left, center, and right, and he was able to make many plays out of zone (66, 69, 29 Ooz) in RF from 2010-2012. One has to speculate that the reason his speed on the basepaths (he was once a highly capable thief) and in the outfield deteriorated was caused by his knees, which have since been repaired. Of note is that he was still able to be an impact bat his entire pro career despite myriad of injuries.
Detroit Contract Proposal: A player coming off of major surgery to both knees isn’t exactly the type of player most teams will be tripping over themselves to sign – if anything teams will wait Hart out and watch his price drop the closer to Spring Training it gets. The Brewers, who have resurrected talks for first baseman Ike Davis, are known to still be interested in Hart, and using Nelson Cruz’s asking price (a 3-year pact), we can only hope Dombrowski offers Hart a 2-year deal $16m contract with third year option.
2) Rajai Davis – The main thing to realize about Davis is that he continues to derive his value as a baseball player through his legs: Last year, at 32 years old, Davis stole 45 bases in 108 games…as a part-time player. He is an exceedingly fantastic and aggressive baserunner whose speed doesn’t seem to be flagging (Spd score from 2010-13: 6.9, 9.0, 7.4, 7.9), and whose caught-stealing dropped dramatically from 13 to 6 over 2012 and 2013. He has a little bit of pop (career .109 ISO), but can definitely use a spacious ballpark to his advantage. As a defender he grades out as average, with his ability to make plays out of zone offsetting his below-average arm.
Detroit Contract Proposal: He’s coming off a $2.5m deal with Toronto, so a 2-year deal for around $4m should be pretty good, especially considering he can fill in at all three outfield positions.
3) Franklin Gutierrez – Once upon a time, Gutierrez was one of the best center-fielders in baseball. After being acquired by Seattle in 2008 he showed decent extra-base power, could steal, and his defense was otherworldly. However, injuries have decidedly done a number on him in recent years, sapping his power and his speed, which in turn has greatly impacted his defense. But a strange thing has happened over the past two seasons, where he has played about a quarter of a full slate each: his power has been returning. In 2012 he had an ISO of .160 and a wRC+ of 105, and in 2013 it was .255 and 111. Granted, these are a small sample size, but it’s quite intriguing.
Detroit Contract Proposal: With every team being fully aware of his nagging injury history he doesn’t have much leverage in the market, so contract offers will be short and sweet. Detroit can take advantage of this and offer him a 1-year, $2.5m deal, and an option for a second year. This serves as a low-risk, audition-type of deal, where if he can’t stay healthy then he’s easily dismissed. However, being moved to left field could help Gutierrez rediscover his inner Gold Glove, and being paired next to Austin Jackson should definitely ease his load.