August 24, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Corey Hart (1) singles in a run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Milwaukee Brewers won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

3 Cost-Effective Left Field Options for Detroit

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.

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Tags: Andy Dirks Corey Hart Detroit Tigers Franklin Gutierrez Rajai Davis

  • Matt Snyder

    I think you’re selling Dirks’ bat way short. He wasn’t great last year (while hurt), but his 91 wRC+ was still much closer to average than replacement level. Career, he’s a 104 wRC+ hitter vs. right-handed pitching (and owns a .745 OPS overall).

    Combine that all with his plus defense in left, and he’s basically a 2 WAR player.

    • gstoye44

      Fair enough – I’m just worried that his 2012 may be his best efforts, and if his baseline is below that I’d still be worried about his offense.

      If 2012 is his baseline I’d still like to at least pair him with Davis, who had a 137 wRC+ last year against lefties, and a .779 OPS for his career.

      Heck, that may be the best, cheapest solution, really.

      • StretchTB

        Well you nailed it on the head. Tigers close to signing Davis to a 2 year deal. Looks like we’re getting the Dirks / Davis pairing. I do love the speed this team is adding this year.

        • gstoye44

          Dude, this is going to be such an entertaining squad this year! They’re really going to take advantage of how big their park plays. I couldn’t be more excited.

          • StretchTB

            It’s been such a long time since we’ve had a team with legitimate speed on it, now we have 4 guys with 30+ steal potential in Jackson, Iglesias, Kinsler, and now Davis. (I know Jackson and Iglesias have never approached that mark, but they definitely have the speed for it, they just never got the go-ahead to steal.) I feel like this team is now built for the ballpark they play in. It is very exciting. This team will play completely different from the teams of the last couple years, but they have the potential and the talent to be just as good.

  • Joshua Giovannone

    I really like the idea of Hart. Huge possible upside that could come dirt cheap

    • gstoye44

      Seriously – with all the uproar over how the Tigers should break the bank (again) to sign Choo, a lot of these types of guys – like Hart, etc.- get lost in the shuffle, even though they’re a better fit.

      Also, Hart can MASH.

      • Joshua Giovannone

        He could also come in for Miggy if injuries happen this year. I know we have V-Mart but Corey Hart can put up near identical numbers.

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