The Tigers made another minor move a few days back, signing first baseman Brad Eldred to a minor-league deal. Ordinarily this wouldn’t really be ‘news’ but coming so soon after the announcement of Victor Martinez’ injury one has to figure that the two are related. So who is this Brad Eldred, you ask?
Eldred is a large, right-handed pure-power hitter who has averaged 39 home runs per 162-games over his minor league career. That’s no small sample either, the 31-year-old Eldred has been kicking around the minor leagues since 2002. With a career minor league OPS of .875, he looks like the classic case of a guy with some genuine tools who was never quite good enough to make it at the extremely competitive first base position. A second baseman with an .875 minor league OPS probably has a major league bat, a hulking guy who can’t even field first particularly well is probably doomed to chase a job as a pinch hitter at the most.
His best minor league seasons came when he was young in 2003 and 2004 and earned him a trial run in Pittsburgh. He didn’t hit quite well enough to stick and wasn’t the same monster at the plate after his return to the minors (and injury) in 2005. Maybe he was never that good, maybe failure in the bigs messed with his head, we’ll never know. Ever since he’s been getting a lot of AAA at-bats all around the league and has earned a grand total of two more cups of coffee – totaling 30 major league games. Though he only has 282 major league plate appearances to his name, if you project his totals to a 162-game season you see a bit of what we might expect from Mr. Eldred: 29 home runs, but with 196 strikeouts to only 30 walks. Perhaps he could do a little better than that – according to his ‘Davenport Translation‘ Eldred’s career line in the minor leagues translates to 32 homers, 38 walks and 173 strikeouts for a .236/.291/.446 slash line over a full major league season.
So what does all that mean? One thing it means is that the Tigers have extraordinarily little going on within the organization as far as 1B/DH types go. Strieby may be on his way out of the organization. Eldred is the kind of replacement level masher that you kind of want to have in the organization just so you have somebody you can call up if your 1B or DH winds up missing a couple of weeks with back spasms. You could do worse, and if you wound up playing Ramon Santiago at first for any length of time your would do worse. You could potentially do worse by playing him as your regular DH – a .737 OPS at that position would be below average, for sure, but probably still above replacement level. Delmon Young had only a .695 OPS last year and has tallied a mere .749 over his career. Ryan Raburn’s 2011 OPS was only 2011. Among those other veterans mentioned in connection with the Tigers (I’ll ignore Juan Pierre for the moment) Hideki Matsui’s OPS was .696, Johnny Damon’s was .743 and Raul Ibanez’ was .707 (.577 outside of that Philly bandbox). Guys, even aging, positionless guys, that can do significantly better than a .737 OPS don’t grow on trees and they don’t come cheap. If nothing else pans out, we’ve got Eldred waiting. Still, if we see a whole season of Eldred and a down-to-the-wire duel between him and Austin Jackson for the league lead in strikeouts, that obviously remains a big downgrade from Victor Martinez.