Earlier this week, after finding out that Tigers DH Victor Martinez had torn his ACL, the collective base of Tiger fandom immediately starting coming up with people to plug in the DH spot. In fact, we are running a series on it here with two players already profiled. Chris Hannum and Garrett Craig have hinted at the point I am going to make, but have not taken it head on. While one solution is to tackle the issue of the missing offense – something Chris has addressed in his two posts – an alternate approach could be taken. We simply need to replace Victor’s overall contributions to the ballclub (at least statistically – it will be hard to replace his leadership). The Tigers could really go in several different directions in order to get back to pre-VMACL.
This offseason we have covered a plethora of ways the Tigers could improve their club. If you assume that they were happy with their club heading into Spring Training (a not altogether unrealistic assumption) then many of those options could return to the table. The obvious possible solution is to sign Yoenis Cespedes and move Delmon Young to DH as Chris suggested. I think that may be the preferred play of the Tigers, but they might have to look at options B-Z if that one fails to pan out. They could continue along that same path and sign a LFer moving Delmon to DH, but perhaps that LFer is less of a run producer and more of a run creator or run scorer, someone the Tigers could plug in at leadoff or the #2 spot in the order.
However, the Tigers options are not just limited to LF or DH. They could opt to make a play for a 2B who could be a complimentary piece to a lineup that does not lack in hitters who can drive runs in. They could, also look at 3B in a similar fashion. Options do exist at both positions, as we have covered here before, that could either create more runs for the Tigers, prevent runs from scoring while in the field, or do both. Once again, the Tigers don’t need to replace .330/.380/.470, they just need need to find someone who can help cover the 2.9 WAR they will be losing.
Another possible area to explore is pitching. If the Tigers are going to score fewer runs this season without Victor, then giving up less runs is obviously a way to cover that initial deficiency. While it is highly unlikely that they could make up that loss with any addition to the bullpen, an above average starting pitcher could certainly benefit them. Perhaps talks with the Cubs begin anew for Matt Garza. Adding Garza, or someone similar, to the rotation enabled the Tigers to beat the slots of the remaining 3 spots. Instead of having a #3 at #3, you now have a #2 as your 3rd man in the rotation. Where Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are currently about average in the 3 and 4 spots, if you move them down one and compare them to a new set of peers, the Tigers gain an advantage there (and depending on which version of Scherzer and Porcello we see, it could be a significant advantage).
Lastly, the Tigers can cover some of that lost production by simply reshuffling their lineups. While it won’t cover the entire gap, putting a guy like Alex Avila in the #2 spot instead of having him hit in the lower third, gives him one more AB a game and 4-5 more over a 4 game series. Similarly, moving Miguel Cabrera up to the #3 spot also gives him additional ABs over a 3 or 4 game set, enough to possibly swing the balance of one of those games in favor of the Tigers, creating a win out of what would have been a loss last year. Improvements by certain players, namely Austin Jackson, or fully productive season from Brennan Boesch and/or Ryan Raburn could help cover up that loss as well. After, baseball is a team sport that needs contributions from every hitter in the lineup.
So, while scanning twitter or your message boards of choice, keep in mind that while a trade for someone like Carlos Lee, as Lynn Henning has mentioned several times, may be an obvious move, it doesn’t mean it is the only move. An improvement or two at other places on the roster can fill the void that Victor ACL has caused the Detroit Tigers in 2012.