Elias Rankings & Tigers Infield Strategy


Barring injury, the Tigers now seem set at second and third for the remainder of the season – without doing anything to break the bank (aside from Carlos Guillen’s contract, but I digress…). Guillen and Wilson Betemit are hardly Cano and Rodriguez, but they should give Detroit somewhere around league-average production at the two weakest lineup positions and that should be enough to give the Tigers one of the better lineups in all of baseball.

Trade buzz has moved away from those two gaping holes and towards addressing the Tigers other flaws, with major additions like a Kuroda, Shields, Guthrie, etc… With or without any changes to the bullpen or rotation, the Tigers now look to have an excellent chance to run away with the division – particularly if Scherzer and Porcello can continue to pitch like something other than a fifth starter. The picture will look very different this offseason, whatever may happen in the next week, with Guillen, Betemit & reserve Ramon Santiago as potential free agents. So what should the Tigers do?

The Tigers two best (arguably) position prospects both play third base, but neither is likely to be ready to see the big leagues in 2012, Inge may still be kicking around in Toledo – and he may make an appearance in Lakeland in the spring – but given how he performed this year you wouldn’t expect Dombrowski to count on anything at all from him in 2012. They have three in-house candidates to play second in Danny Worth, Ryan Raburn and Will Rhymes – but if they had faith in any of the three Guillen wouldn’t be starting now.

The folks at MLBtraderumors are kind enough to publish reverse-engineered midseason updates on Elias free agent rankings, and these might give some food for thought for Tigers strategy this offseason. Despite missing (a lot of) time, Carlos Guillen projects as a type-B free agent already. He isn’t a borderline B, and assuming he stays healthy it seems pretty unlikely that he could drop below. Betemit, based on his numbers from 2010 and the first half of this year, still projects as an uncompensated free agent but this may not stand. The numbers that go into the ranking (plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, home runs, runs batted in, fielding percentage and total chances on defense) are normalized and transformed along the way (to get that single percentile-type index), so it’s difficult to say exactly what Betemit would need to accomplish to hit type B without knowing the precise formula, only 3 of the components are rate-based so it may be that Betemit can move up from around 55 to 60 simply by virtue of playing every day.

In my mind, this puts Detroit in a little bit better position than they had been in in previous hot stove seasons: Guillen and Betemit likely wouldn’t be awarded vastly more than they deserve in arbitration, and the Tigers would probably like to have either one for at least one more season but not be devastated if they should go elsewhere. This was not the case for players like Jhonny Peralta, Placido Polanco, etc… If a player winds up a low-grade type A, the calculation changes – so perhaps we shouldn’t hope for too much from Carlos Guillen. A team signing a type-B forfeits nothing, so the designation itself shouldn’t do much if anything to sway either player’s signing decisions. If a loophole this major exists in major league baseball’s player development and acquisition process, it’s time the Tigers abuse that loophole with the same force and finesse as teams like Boston have.