Rumor has it that with the Angels roster logjam the team is looking to trade Bobby Abreu and finding little interest. That lack of interest – in general – makes sense. Abreu will be 38 in a couple of weeks and hasn’t been a good defensive outfielder since he was 30, though he was still on top of his game as recently as 2009 (his first in LA) his numbers the past two years show a noticeable dropoff in production to levels you would like from a middle infielder but certainly not from a guy who is basically a DH.
Last year, Abreu was good for only 0.4 wins above replacement overall – due in part to a power outage and in part to wasting outs on the basepaths and playing some spectacularly poor defense on those rare occasions when he was allowed to wear a glove. And, of course, due to the high bar faced by designated hitters and corner outfielders as we calculate replacement level metrics. That isn’t to say that he can’t contribute anything to a team – just that he’s clearly not worth the $9 million he’s going to be paid to the Angels or anybody else. In his prime, Abreu was a walking machine that also maintained a high BABIP, plus power, and stole a lot of bases. In 2010 he seemed to lose his BABIP tool for good and in 2011 appeared to join it. He is undoubtedly at least a step slower than he once was, but he still has the nose for the stolen base and still walks like a champ. In 2010 and 2011 Abreu kept an OBP of .354 (down from his career .397 but still pretty darn good) and stole 45 bases.
Which brings me to this: why Abreu would be a good fit in Detroit. I mentioned a while back that I believed that the most important spot in the Tigers lineup was going to be Delmon Young at #5 – since Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder would mean that the Tigers’ #5 hitter would have more RBI opportunities than any Tigers hitter at any time in history. I still believe that – but the Tigers #2 hitter would come a close second setting the table for Cabrera and Fielder. Right now that #2 hitter is free-swinger Brennan Boesch mainly because the Tigers have no good top of the order options. Boesch managed a .341 OBP last year – which would be adequate for the role this year – but only a .320 OBP in his rookie year. Boesch’s tools and minor-league performance suggested an all-or-nothing, low OBP / high SLG type of hitter and we’re left sort of hoping that he actually can continue to be the kind of hitter that makes frequent contact and sprays line drives. If the Tigers wind up with a #2 hitter with a .300 OBP and 20+ homers, none of us would be shocked but the team would be worse for it.
Abreu would be a natural fit for #2, a table-setter that isn’t trying to drive himself in and has enough speed to take the extra base or break up a double play. He would replace – for the most part – the Dirks/Kelly/Thomas portion of the batting order (which could be occupied by Boesch) while spending time as the DH that Young, Fielder and Cabrera don’t want to be. Abreu has always had huge L-R splits and while he was more than good enough to play every day in the past, those days seem to be just that – in the past. As the strong side of a platoon – however – Abreu’s vs. R numbers seem more than good enough to justify playing time. Against lefties, Abreu could sit with Young or Cabrera taking a turn at DH and Brandon Inge taking a few hacks.
I certainly doubt that this deal will happen, but I think it would be good for both the Tigers and Abreu if it did. The price should be low – the Angels would likely have to pay a chunk of his salary and accept only a lower-tier prospect in exchange. The Tigers single most pressing need – a left-handed table-setter to follow Jackson – would finally be filled. Abreu is also chasing a number of minor milestones in 2012 (the year that might very well be his last in the bigs): 1500 runs, 2500 hits, 300 home runs and 400 stealsOf course, Abreu himself has previously expressed his extreme disinterest in playing in Detroit – though 38-year-old players often wind up agreeing to things they would have previously considered out of the question. After all, Detroit might be chilly and far-from-home (in addition to the bad reputation the city can’t shake) but he’d be hopping from a team with a 15% chance of making the playoffs to one with a 70% chance and playing in a big park with a lot of grass giving him a CoPa BABIP almost 50 points higher than his career average.