After reading Chris Hannum’s superb Armchair GM article I was too excited not to do my own. My main concern with the Tigers this offseason is an upgrade to defense without losing any ground on offense. Yet first I wanted to address some thoughts to keep in mind before this gets going: First, we have no idea how badly Mike Illitch wants to win. Therefore, trimming payroll and fantasizing about a budget may have no weight in this discussion. As far as we as fans know, the last big unreached desire for Mike Illitch is to hoist a World Series trophy, so anything budget related might not hold too much water.
Secondly, it’s next to impossible for us to imagine what any free agent is thinking. What they’re looking for in a team, an environment, or in a paycheck are unknown to any of us save their family and their agents. Can we honestly say that so-and-so wouldn’t take a one-year deal? Can we say that they want multiple years for what they perceive to be their market value? We cannot on both accounts. After all, this is pure speculation with a dash of wishful thinking. Without further ado, here’s what I would do with the Tigers this offseason.
1) I like Jhonny Peralta. He was a great pickup by Dombrowski, his contract was affordable, his offense was solid, and he greatly improved his defense since his days in Cleveland. That being said, his range does the team no favors, he actually has had more success against right handed pitchers than lefties, and he’s basically a slightly above average player at one of the most crucial positions on a baseball team. Since the free agent market for shortstops is a wasteland of talent it seems like the best route to take is to trade. Acquiring Elvis Andrus is an absolute pipe dream, it seems like the best player available is the Orioles’ JJ Hardy.
October 1, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy (2) throws the ball to first against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
In terms of offense, Hardy gives us a similar skill set to Peralta (Peralta stats in parenthesis): ISO of .151 (.145), wOBA .290 (.301), WAR 2.8 (2.6), and a BB% of 5.3 the past two seasons (8.4). Before he came to Baltimore Hardy was much more patient hitter, and it seems he bought in to Baltimore’s Grip It and Rip It style. Against lefties, Hardy was much better with a BA/OBP/SLG line of .277/.333/.434 (.214/.309/.383), and in the past he’s been even better. Defensively, Hardy remains superior. They have a similar UZR (11.4 to JP’s 9.9), but that’s where the similarities end. Peralta had a DRS (defensive runs saved) of -1, whereas Hardy was 18. Peralta’s OOZ (a metric measuring how well a player can get to a hit ball out of their range) was 49, while Hardy’s was 109. Hardy is incredible, and would certainly ease Cabrera’s burden, to put it mildly.
Hardy is in an awkward position in Baltimore, where Manny Machado went from being the shortstop of the future to the shortstop of the present. Mark Reynolds won’t be shifting back across the diamond to play third, nor will Chris Davis. Essentially, they’ll be on the market for a third baseman who is reliable offensively and defensively, which is where Mr. Peralta comes in. He’s played third before, and his better instincts and abilities at short should enable him to play the hot corner better than anyone else on the Orioles’ roster. Baltimore’s pitchers are unreliable or unproven, so shipping over a name like Porcello or Smyly along with Peralta might be enough to get Hardy.
2) The World Series still haunts me. I can still see Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner pitching and see the Tigers’ batters flail weakly at every offering, completely dominated by southpaws. So, sticking with a trend, in terms of a backup catcher the Tigers should be thinking of someone who can combine effective defense with an ability to hit left handed pitching. Someone like Kelly Shoppach.
Gerald Laird sported an ISO of .098 this season. Shoppach’s was nearly .1 higher! Against lefties Laird was .204/.275/.347. Although he sported a .239/.301/.416 this season, for his career Shoppach has annihilated lefties to the tune of a .267/.358/.510 slash. Their walk rates are similar, with Laird at 7.3 and Shoppach at 6.5, as were their WAR’s (Laird .9, Shoppach 1.2). A huge difference is in strikeout rate, where Shoppach has a robust 36.3% this year while Laird had 11%. Defensively, Shoppach actually fares better: DRS of 3 (Laird – 5) and a rSB (how many runs a catcher contributes by throwing out baserunners and preventing steals in the first place) of 2 (Laird -3). Shoppach, as both a backup catcher and a right-handed pinch hitter, would be a vast upgrade over Laird.
3) The next part of the puzzle involves someone who can play multiple positions well and hit a bit. Basically, everything that Ryan Raburn was not, in addition to being a teammate beloved by his previous fanbases and teammates. For this I would hope the Tigers would try and acquire Ryan Roberts from the Rays.
Picked up for a minor leaguer by the Rays (who collect these types of players obsessively), Roberts can hit well in a part time role and play multiple positions (third, second, a little shortstop and some outfield). He was an integral part of the Diamondbacks run in 2011, solidifying third for them. His walk rate for his career is 10.2, his ISO is .149, and has positive UZR’s at third, second, and leftfield. This would be a solid trade due to the cost (probably a AA-player), the ability to come off the bench or fill in for injuries, and as a character boost – Roberts can get animated and vocal.
4) For bullpen help I think we can all vehemently agree that a team should never, EVER pay for saves. The fact that Free Press and Detroit News writers are calling for an “established closer” is like nails on a chalkboard (Matt Snyder’s piece hits the nail on the head).
One guy I do like is Mike Gonzalez, formerly of Washington. I’ve been a fan of his since his days in Pittsburgh, because he’s a left handed power pitcher who can eliminate left-handed batters. This past season he destroyed lefties to the tune of .179 BAA and a 2.45 ERA. Having him in the bullpen enables the Tigers to deploy Phil Coke without having to worry about him being the only southpaw, and he has (ugh) past closer experience. He could be had for 2-3 years for maybe 4-5 million.
I also love Houston’s current closer, Wilton Lopez. If anything, new Houston GM Jeff Luhnow has proven that he will make a deal for any of his players, as long as he gets multiple pieces in return. The 29-year old rocked an xFIP of 2.80 and a K/9 rate of 7.33, with an average fastball speed of 93.6. He’s survived playing for a terrible team in a hitter’s park in a division that featured Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, Andrew McCutchen, etc. And yes, he has that vaunted “experienced closer” tag. Under team control for a few more years, a package with extra outfielder Brennan Boesch might be just what the Astros are looking for.
5) Lastly, the Tigers definitely need to pick up an outfielder this offseason. The top target is, of course, Josh Hamilton, who may or may not be available for the low price of $175 million over seven years. Personally, I don’t think Illitch wants to drop that much for that long, but hey, I didn’t think he’d throw $200+ million at Prince. Michael Bourn would probably be the second-biggest outfielder available, and BJ Upton the third. Angel Pagan is getting a lot of attention recently, but he’s relatively young (31) and his talent was on full display at the World Series so he might be signed to an above-market value deal. That leaves either Shane Victorino or Melky Cabrera.
Melky Cabrera makes for an interesting case. Blackballed from the Giants, he’s a free agent this year with a scarlet “PED” across his chest. He could very well take a one-year deal somewhere just to prove himself, which he probably needs to do seeing as how his baseline abilities are in question. He plays good defense, has a solid walk rate and ISO, and generally portrays the skills the Tigers could really use right now – especially the switch-hitting. Unfortunately, it all boils down to the steroids.
I’d like to see the Tigers make an offer for Victorino. He’s a 32-year old switch hitter coming off one of his lousier seasons. He’s shown good patience, decent power, and plus speed offensively, and he can play all three outfield positions. Additionally, he’s been lauded for being a good, passionate teammate – a good clubhouse guy. With all those other bigger names ahead of him, a two or three year deal might be all that takes to get him on a team that has the best odds to win the World Series next year. It’s tough to think he’d take anything under $20 million, but maybe he’d take less than market value to come to a winner.
I had an additional piece making a case for Kirk Gibson or Brad Ausmus to manage the team, but that seems to be taken care of already. Regardless, here’s hoping for a productive offseason and juicy rumors.