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Detroit Tigers Free Agent Target: Matt Diaz


March 15, 2012; Clearwater, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Matt Diaz (23) runs the bases after a solo home run in the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Besides the possibility of re-signing Anibal Sanchez, there are few (if any) sexy items still on the Detroit Tigers’ off-season wish list. They’re reportedly interested in a left-handed reliever, possibly a defensive upgrade at shortstop, and, of course, a right-handed hitting left field platoon mate for Andy Dirks. We haven’t heard many real rumors on the left-field front (though we’ve thrown out a few possibilities already), but a guy they could look at is Matt Diaz.

Diaz isn’t an ideal player — he’ll be 35 years old next year, he’s at least a smidgen (or more) below average defensively, and his bat is no longer everyday worthy (if it ever really was) — but he’s been able to hit left handed pitching over his career, and I think that’s the primary concern at this point. There aren’t many young, cheap, above-average hitting, quality defensive outfielders on the market for obvious reasons. The Tigers aren’t going to break the bank to land a guy that will only make 30-40 starts, and so they’re probably going to need to sacrifice either offense or defense to find their guy.

Diaz’s overall numbers aren’t eye-popping for a corner outfielder — his career OPS is a ho-hum .770 — but his platoon splits are massive. In approximately 1,000 career  plate appearances versus each pitcher handedness, he’s shown a platoon split of nearly .200 OPS points — .675 versus right-handed pitchers and .863 versus left-handed pitchers. That’s what you look for in a guy with marginal overall value, that he would excel in the one situation for which you need him.

His power numbers have been down in recent years — perhaps a sign of his age — but he had been dealing with some thumb issues (which required surgery and ended his season in August last year) and was still able to maintain an on-base percentage of .330. That’s not an overly outstanding OBP, but it was at least good enough to give him a wRC+ (against LHP) of 100 on the year.

If you’re going to go after a below average defender you’d like to know that you’re getting an above average hitter, but I’m not sure there’s a sure thing on the market that would be willing to enter into a platoon role. Diaz likely isn’t going to regain the thump he had in the the prime of his career with the Atlanta Braves when he put up double-digit home run totals as a half-time starter (and recording 2-2.5 WAR), but, if his thumb is healthy, he could put together a season with an OPS near .800. Something like his 2010 season when he was worth 0.5 WAR in about 250 plate appearances. I think that would work just fine.