Are Ben Zobrist, Johnny Cueto and Yoenis Cespedes Fits for the Detroit Tigers?


With the World Series wrapped up, the offseason has officially begun for the Detroit Tigers. The Kansas City Royals claimed baseball’s championship by defeating the New York Mets. Two key contributors to the Royals’ success were Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto. Zobrist set the tone early for Kansas City, collecting three hits (two of which were doubles) and scoring a run in Game 1. He also scored three runs over the final two games of the series. On the mound, Cueto was dominant. The ace pitched a complete game while holding the Mets’ to a run on two hits in Game 2.

The duo was triumphant over Yoenis Cespedes and the Mets. While Cespedes struggled in the World Series (three hits, one RBI), he was one of the main reasons New York made it to the final round of the playoffs. The slugger mashed 17 home runs and drove in 44 runs in only 57 regular season games. Against the Dodgers, Cespedes connected on two home runs before hitting .286 against the Cubs.

Not only are all three players free agents, but all three were dealt at the trade deadline. That means the Detroit Tigers won’t lose a draft pick if they sign any the trio.

Here’s a look at if each is a fit with Detroit’s current personnel.

Ben Zobrist

The ultimate utility player, Zobrist can play just about every position on the diamond that doesn’t involve pitching or catching. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the former Tampa Bay Ray is a career .265 hitter who averages 17 home runs and 77 RBI per season. Overall, the infielder/outfielder has earned a pair of All Star appearances while garnering MVP votes in three seasons.

Oct 31, 2015; New York City, NY, USA Image via Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

If he signs with Detroit, Zobrist would likely slot in as the team’s primary left fielder ahead of Tyler Collins.

This will allow Collins to move the bench, where he has the potential to provide a significant boost to a part of the Tigers’ roster that often leaves much to be desired. With both Zobrist and Collins on the roster, Detroit could start the younger outfielder in left and shift Zobrist to another position to rest a starter.

Essentially, Zobrist is a mix Andrew Romine and Don Kelly, only with the ability to hit in the middle of the lineup. Zobrist would probably hit sixth for the Tigers, behind J.D. Martinez and Victor Martinez, and just ahead of Nick Castellanos.

The super-utility player won’t be cheap, but he’s also turning 35 next season. For a team with Detroit’s payroll, he won’t break the bank.

Johnny Cueto

Starting pitching has always been one of the Tigers’ strengths. However, last season it wasn’t. On the year, 13 different pitchers started a game for Detroit. Outside of Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris, none are locks to even be on the team’s roster next year—let alone in the starting rotation.

Adding a pitcher of Cueto’s caliber would certainly help stabilize a group that is filled with question marks, uncertainties and ugly ERAs.

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It would represent a switch back to previous Tiger teams that featured multiple frontline pitchers. In terms of quality and sheer stuff, a Cueto and Verlander paring fits right in with past rotation co-aces like David Price and Max Scherzer as well as Verlander and Scherzer.

While he’ll be 30 next season, Cueto is one of the league’s best starters. Entering this season, he had posted five straight seasons in which his ERA was under 2.90. That trend continued in 19 starts with Cincinnati this season, when he posted a 2.62 ERA. However, he went through a rough patch with the Royals in the regular season (4.76 ERA, 4-7 record) and finished the year with an ERA of 3.44.

Still, this is a pitcher who led the league in games started, innings pitched, batters faced and strikeouts in 2014. During that campaign he posted 20 wins and a 2.25 ERA while allowing the fewest hits per nine innings. Not a bad combination when a pitcher leads the league in batters faced and fewest hits allowed per nine innings.

It’s purely speculation, but given Cueto’s ability it wouldn’t be surprising to see him obtain a contract that eclipses $100 million.

Detroit didn’t pony up the big bucks for Price or Scherzer, so it will be interesting to see how interested in Cueto they are. The team certainly has a need.

Yoenis Cespedes

It seems like eons ago, but Yoenis Cespedes did in fact start the year with the Tigers.

The outfielder was flipped to the Mets at the trade deadline for promising prospects Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa. Cespedes went on a tear in the Big Apple, continuing a hot streak that started in Motown.

Jul 11, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Image via Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The slugger hit 18 home runs and posted a .293 batting average in 102 games for Detroit. He hit 17 home runs with the Mets—in only 57 games.

The good news for the Tigers (should they pursue him) is that Cespedes is unlikely to return to the Mets. A piece by Adam Rubin on states that “a team official told it is highly likely he signs elsewhere.”

If you’re a Detroit fan wanting Cespedes to return, the news gets better. A tweet sent in late July from USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale suggests that a reunion may be on the cards.

Like the other players on this list, Cespedes won’t be cheap. However, the Tigers have first-hand knowledge of what kind of an impact the outfielder can have. Also like Zobrist, Cespedes would slot in as the team’s left fielder and hit in the middle of the order.

Whether the Tigers sign Zobrist, Cueto or Cespedes remains to be seen, but all three would be greatly improve Detroit’s roster. It wouldn’t be cheap, but any of the three would be fits with the Tigers.