Like the 2015 Detroit Tigers, the Boston Red Sox finished last in the team’s division in 2012. However, in 2013 the Red Sox won the World Series thanks to a group of key free agent signings. This group included closer Koji Uehara, shortstop Stephan Drew, first baseman Mike Napoli, catcher David Ross and outfielders Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino.
Could the Tigers be following a similar path by targeting secondary free agents?
According to a tweet from ESPN’s Buster Olney the Tigers are, “targeting good second-tier free agents.”
This would certainly make sense given the Tigers offseason outlook. In an article published by Anthony Fenech in the Detroit Free Press, general manager Al Avila is quoted as saying the Tigers will work with “a highly competitive payroll.” In other words, Detroit isn’t going to sign all three of Greinke, David Price and Jason Heyward. Going after “good second-tier free agents” allows for a greater volume of signings and brings more talent to the team.
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Boston certainly benefited from the influx of talent that was brought in before the 2013 season. The quintet of Uehara, Drew, Ross, Gomes and Victorino added to a core that already included the likes of Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Clay Buchholz. That team went on to win the World Series.
Uehara was particularly indispensable for the Sox. The reliever converted 21 saves while striking out 101 batters in 74.1 innings. Over those 74.1 innings, the former Texas Ranger allowed only 33 hits and posted a sparkling 1.09 ERA. He also had a 3.6 WAR.
Jul 29, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; A multiple exposure as Boston Red Sox pitcher Koji Uehara (19) delivers a pitch during the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Former Arizona shortstop Stephen Drew hit .253 with 13 home runs and 67 RBI in 124 games while providing solid defense for Boston. His WAR wasn’t as high as Uehara’s, but a WAR of 3.0 certainly isn’t bad for a less-heralded free agent.
After joining from Texas in free agency, Napoli drove in a career-high 92 runs with the Red Sox. He hit .259 while slugging 23 home runs in one of the best seasons of his career. The power-hitting first baseman added significant length to a lineup that also featured the likes of Pedroia, Ortiz and Victorino. Napoli also posted a 4.0 WAR in 2013.
Ross and Gomes combined WAR was only 1.8, but the duo provided leadership and bench production for a team that thrived on platoons and pinch hitting. Ross, the veteran catcher, hit .216 with 10 RBI in 36 games while Gomes mashed 13 homers and drove in 52 runs in 116 contests.
Rounding out the list is Victorino, who may have had the biggest impact of all. The outfielder posted an impressive 6.1 WAR in his first season in Boston (only Pedroia had a higher WAR among Red Sox positon players). Victorino hit .294, hit 15 home runs, stole 21 bases and drove in 61 runs.
All told, the six players added a combined 18.5 WAR to the Red Sox, not to mention a World Series title.
Like the Red Sox before those signings, Detroit has a list of needs. Pitching and left field figure to be atop that list. Re-signing Price and Yoenis Cespedes seems like a long-shot financially. However, Joakim Soria could return. Darren O’Day would make another smart signing in the bullpen while Mike Leake, Scott Kazmir, Nori Aoki and Gerardo Parra could solve a number of issues for the Tigers.
Those five players combined for a 12.8 WAR last season. That number could have been much higher if Leake, Kazmir and Parra didn’t struggle after being dealt at the trade deadline.
If the team is able to spend on a five or six quality free agents to add to an already impressive core, the Tigers could achieve great things next season.