Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Back on Jan. 24, the staff here at MCB answered a roundtable question regarding the one spot they would magically upgrade on the Detroit Tigers 2014 roster. Third base, the bullpen and catcher were among the top concerns for MCB writers.
Alex Avila looks to have a bounce back year after rejuvenating himself in the second half of 2013 after a horrendous first half. Avila is primed to bounce back to his 2012 above-average numbers for a catcher this season, according to various 2014 projections.
The bullpen will always be a concern, especially after taking chances on guys like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Coke. While the bullpen for the Tigers didn’t massively improve like some expected, their bullpen shouldn’t be detrimental to their success.
In the past three seasons, the Tigers bullpen ERA never ranked above 10th in the American League. The Tigers have two ALCS and one World Series appearances in those three years.
The combined WAR for the Tigers’ bullpen over the past three years was 9.7, which is eighth in the AL over than time period.
The Texas Rangers even finished with a 4.11 bullpen ERA (third-worst in the AL) in 2011, when they were one out away from a World Series championship.
The more concerning issue for the Tigers isn’t whether or not Nick Castellanos will be the starting third baseman come Opening Day. He will more than likely have that spot on the roster with a solid spring training. The concern is the insurance behind him.
Nick Castellanos. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Castellanos looks to be a strong player in the future and the organization believes in his ability to succeed as an everyday third baseman.
Nick Castellanos is a rookie coming into 2014 with great hype because of his chance to start after the Prince Fielder trade earlier in the offseason. But, what if he struggles? What if an injury occurs? The current back up at third base is Don Kelly, the ultimate utility man.
Don Kelly is the type of player that comes to the ballpark every day with his hard hat. He does his job to the best of his ability for his team, whether he starts or comes in for defense in the ninth inning.
With Don Kelly listed as the only backup to the rookie at third base, the Tigers should bring back a familiar face, Placido Polanco.
Polanco isn’t the player he was even two years ago as he has seen his batting average drop from .298 in 2010 with the Philadelphia Phillies to .260 in 2013 with the Miami Marlins. His OBP also has dropped 24 points since 2010.
In addition to his fallen average and OBP, his WAR has taken a hit as well. In 2010, Polanco’s WAR was 3.8 (fifth best season during his career). In 2013, it dropped all the way down to -0.2.
While this could because of the struggling team in Miami, a better answer would be that Polanco is aging like any other 38-year-old baseball player. But, at 38, is he better than the utility infielders the Tigers already have?
Don Kelly’s WAR over the past two seasons combined is -1.6 (yikes), and newly acquired utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi‘s WAR during that same time is -0.1.
Kelly was a favorite when Jim Leyland was the manager, but it already looks like Ausmus will be a much different manager than Leyland, making it difficult to see where Kelly fits in.
With the signing of Rajai Davis, the Tigers now have four outfielders who will garner most of the playing time out there.
Kelly has been the Tigers ultimate utility player the past four seasons, but hasn’t put up quality numbers to date (Remember his .186 batting average in 2012?).
Polanco shouldn’t start over Castellanos; that is his job to lose this spring training. With that said, competition brings out the best in players. Polanco can come into spring training and provide veteran leadership to a club that is familiar with the fan-favorite.
The presence of Polanco alone can help Castellanos feel like he has earned the right to start at third base, not just given it because of a trade.
Polanco can help Castellanos get adjusted to life in the big leagues as well, while also taking some pressure away from the young prospect.
This is not a calling for the Tigers to sign Polanco to be their starting third baseman in 2014; he just isn’t that player anymore. But, Polanco is a better option than Kelly to backup Castellanos, not only with his play on the field but with his tutoring as well.
Polanco can also provide stability on the bench for defense in late games and pinch hitting.
In 2013, Polanco signed with the Marlins to stay close to his family, which he said was great for everyone involved. A familiar team for Polanco and his family could also be great for everyone.
Dave Dombrowski and Leyland praised Polanco back in his days in Detroit, where he was one of the best second baseman in the AL during that time. Bringing back Polanco in 2014 doesn’t mean that the 2007 version of Polanco would be arriving.
Bringing back Polanco on a one year deal would be ideal for both sides as a longer commitment won’t be in the books for either camp. Last year, Polanco signed a one year, $2.75 million deal which definitely wasn’t a hometown discount.
With Kelly set to make $1 million in 2014, the cost for an upgrade at that spot wouldn’t be too drastic or maybe even no cost differential at all.
Polanco would provide stability behind Castellanos better than if Cabrera shifted over to third base. If that were to happen, Victor Martinez would be asked to move to first base and then their is a glaring hole at designated hitter. Also, the corner infield defense becomes even worse than in 2013, something the Tigers were not aiming for this offseason.
Bring back Placido. The fans would love to see Polanco back in the Old English D, and the team would find his presence, both on and off the field, extremely beneficial.