In the wake of the news of Victor Martinez‘ ACL injury, Lynn Henning of the Detroit News gave us a brief rundown of potential free agent replacements making the argument that the team simply does not have an in-house replacement waiting. I don’t think that’s quite true – the default option on the roster right now is Delmon Young.
Obviously, if the Tigers were to sign Yoenis Cespedes or another outfielder we would imagine that the outfield overflow would mean playing one of those guys at DH and as the probable worst defender Young would be first in line. I would argue that given the Tigers present 40-man roster, those conditions already exist. Perhaps I have more faith in Ryan Raburn than the average Tigers fan (I know that I have more than some of our readers at the least) but while I think he’s a legitimate major leaguer I like him much better as an outfielder than flashing his atrocious glove at the second sack. While he’s prone to the occasional gaffe in left, Raburn has pretty good range and a decent arm and winds up being an above average outfielder overall. Raburn could be easily replaced in his role as the weak side of the second base platoon by Danny Worth, who is a much better defender and looks to do a decent job of hitting lefties. I have been making this case since October. Raburn (.779 career OPS, .729 last year) and Young (.749 career OPS, .695 last year) are comparably mediocre hitters and since the Tigers elected to offer Young arbitration and failed to move him this offseason, moving Raburn from second to left would have left Young with a $6.5 million contract and without a position.
Until now, that is. I’ve made the case before that replacing Raburn with Worth at second is, if anything, a net positive as Raburns good bat for the position is spoiled by his bad glove. Replacing Young’s -1 win on defense with Raburn’s average glove gives the Tigers 1 whole win. Not too shabby. Of course, as far as actually replacing Martinez’ production this solution leaves something to be desired. Young might, potentially, match Martinez power. He certainly didn’t last year overall – with a slugging percentage under .400 – but he did in his short time as a Tiger in August, September and October. He certainly might slug .470 or better next season, presuming he continues to develop in some way as a hitter that is likely the direction such development will take. What he’ll never be able to do is match Martinez’ ability to get on base – he simply isn’t patient enough. He also hits right-handed, so replacing Martinez with him makes an existing weakness of the Tigers lineup more pronounced.
In an optimistic scenario, Young might wind up with production somewhere in between his career averages and his 2010 peak and in some sense ‘earn’ the money he’ll be making. That production would still wind up a little more than one win below what we had expected from Martinez, so even if things go right this makes the Tigers just a little bit worse. Of course, in a pessimistic scenario Young doesn’t hit much better than he did in his career worst 2011 in which case he’s nothing more than a replacement level batter as a DH. I would prefer to hope for the former.