Recently ESPN 96.1 posted a story that states that the Detroit Tigers may be making a very serious push to land former All-Star/Golden Glove Winner/Home Run Derby Demolisher Bobby Abreu. The piece says that Abreu opted out of his Phillies contract due to two separate AL teams in need of an OF/DH offering up contracts for his services, with those two teams being the Seattle Mariners and the Detroit Tigers.
Naturally, feedback for the story ranged from, “Uh…no thanks” to “DEAR GOD PLEASE NO,” but that’s all knee-jerk reactions and negativity overcoming analysis and facts. Unfortunately, my first reaction was, “Well…that’s certainly…interesting,” but upon further review I can confidently state that Bobby Abreu, 40 years old and out of the major leagues since 2012, would be a helpful signing to a team decimated by injuries.
First, let’s address the fact that yes, Abreu has been missing from the big leagues for an entire season. Nowadays everyone is looking at youth over experience, and Abreu’s last big league job made him seem like a dinosaur: He was acquired by the Dodgers after an 8-game stint Angels in 2012, and proceeded to play 5 games in AAA and 92 games in Los Angeles. Now, for a player pushing 40 to spend 97 games working in the outfield without a break as a DH, this can be a grueling proposition. Can you imagine what David Ortiz‘s numbers would look like if could only play first base? How Raul Ibanez would perform if he wasn’t allowed to DH? (Torii Hunter is exempt from this scenario because dude is either an alien or a freak of nature).
The impressive part about that stint gallivanting around California is that Abreu maintained a 14.4% walk rate in 2012, including a slash of .246/.362/.344 for the Dodgers as a consistent right fielder. His defense during that time of DH-less games wasn’t anything to write home about, as his UZR was -3.8 and he made 15 plays out of zone in 377.2 innings. Below average, sure, but again, the dude was 38 and couldn’t DH. Also, since I love videos of monster outfield throws, here’s a link to Abreu this spring icing an Astro at the plate.
Second, let’s focus on his current offensive capabilities.
The dude has been and continues to be an on-base powerhouse. He sports a career BB/% of 14.7 and a career OBP of .396. His last three active seasons he sported OBPs of .352, .353, and .350. Nice, but does find a way to get on base in the playoffs, normally where the Tigers seem to struggle? OH HECK YEAH: his postseason slash is ..284/.392/.418, which is bonkers. Heck, this spring he’s gotten on base at a .404 clip with the Phillies, and the Phillies are terrible. Abreu is also currently right just above league-average in Spd score, with a 4.7 in 2012.
He no longer possesses the ability to go 30-30, or even 20-20, but in a park like Comerica (where he has slashed .326/.426/.488 during his career) he can use the spacious outfield to load up on doubles and move runners around with opposite field singles.
Lastly, Abreu’s price would be a huge deciding factor: everyone and their mother’s mother currently knows that Mike Ilitch just bought Miguel Cabrera his own island in the Atlantic with this new extension, but that doesn’t kick in until 2016 so it’s a moot point. He signed on with the Phillies at the beginning of spring training to a minor-league deal, so one would assume that for a shot at the Tigers’ roster he would take a similar deal. That is essentially money that Scott Boras uses to wipe his greasy boogers with.
Now, I am and have been a very vocal proponent of acquiring Nate Schierholtz, but with Abreu you are getting an older player, yes, but also one who lives on first base, is faster than Schierholtz (and, surprisingly, Torii Hunter according to Fangraphs Spd measurements), and can pay both the outfield and DH against right-handed pitchers, who he absolutely demolishes. If you’re worried about him hogging all the DH or OF innings, just remember that Cabrera can play third, first, and DH, and that Victor Martinez can play first, DH, or catch – this lineup has more flexibility than people give it credit for. If Brad Ausmus is open-minded enough to rotate his players correctly, the worries shouldn’t come to fruition.
When a team like the Detroit Tigers encounters adversity of this magnitude, one has to figure that wizard-genius Dave Dombrowski would be open-minded towards any and all available solutions, and picking up Abreu cheaply exploits a market inefficiency on par with the Moneyball Oakland A’s of the early ’00′s. Abreu is precisely what the Tigers need right now, and heck, if he turns out to be a dud, what’s lost aside from a tiny contract and some playing time at the expense of Don Kelly?