Detroit Tigers: Darrell Evans, The First Big Bat Free Agent Signing
The Detroit Tigers did not spend big often under Jim Campbell. But they were looking for a left-handed bat and found one in December of 1983 in Darrell Evans.
The Tigers under Jim Campbell built teams through the farm system. It was a method that worked that resulted in a World Series championship in 1968 and was working with a young nucleus of talent that was getting better each season under manager Sparky Anderson with successful drafts from 1974 till about 1977.
Still, the Tigers need another bat in the lineup that could provide the power. In 1983, the Tigers at home, right-handed batters hit .273/.336/.443 with 64 home runs but left-handed batters only hit .255 with 19 home runs. While Kirk Gibson and Lou Whitaker as left-handed bats were fine, the Tigers number one pick from 1980 first baseman Mike Laga was not living up to the hype.
Laga had some impressive numbers with a 31 home run season in Double-A Birmingham in 1982 then followed up with 34 home run season in Triple-A Evansville in 1983. Still, when he got the call-up, he struggled so, Detroit sought other short-term alternatives. Between 1980 and 1983, Detroit fans would see Richie Hebner and Enos Cabell at first base and Cabell would go on to sign with Houston. So new GM Bill Lajoie had to go elsewhere to seek the power bat for the short, right-field porch of Tiger Stadium.
Enter Darrell Evans. His All-Star season in 1983 for the San Francisco Giants where he hit 30 home runs, drove in 82, a great walk rate of 13.3% and wRC+ of 148 helped him become one of the most sought after free agents in 1983. He would post his third-best season in terms of bWAR of his career at that time with a 4.0, all at the age of 36. He even played 36 games at 3rd base that season but his main position was first base.
Evans signed on December 17th, 1983 to a three-year deal. Evans choose the Tigers over the New York Yankees, who were offering him more money. Per the SABR profile on Evans, he chose the Tigers on the chance they could win now.
". “I want a World Series ring on my finger,” he said. “I’ve played 15 years, but have never gone to spring training thinking I was on a team with a shot to win it all. Now I am.”"
Sparky referenced his days as the manager of the Reds when he spoke to the Associated Press about his ability.
"“He never swings at bad pitches. That was the one thing I liked about him. And he’ll walk 80 to 100 times a year”."
The left-handed power for the right-field short porch of Tiger Stadium was the perfect opportunity for Evans to display his power. And that he did, hitting 141 home runs in five seasons including leading the league in home runs with 40 in 1985.
His 1987 season at the age of 40 of hitting 34 home runs, driving 99 was critical for the Tigers to clinch the AL East. His value showed, posting a bWAR of 4.9. He and his fellow platoon partner Dave Bergman held down DH and 1B with a few games at third base to give Tom Brookins a few innings off.
Darrell Evans was the first successful big money spend for the Detroit Tigers and it was clearly money well spent.