Detroit Tigers: 3 reasons CJ Cron should be re-signed for 2021
CJ Cron was signed to Detroit on a one-year deal, but extending him for another year would alleviate pressure in multiple areas
Fans and executives alike were aware the second that Miguel Cabrera inked his eight-year extension with the Tigers in 2014, his time in Detroit would likely finish in a designated hitter role. Cabrera has been an all-time great for Detroit, but he’s assumed the DH stable a little sooner than many had hoped, including himself, after getting diagnosed with a chronic knee injury in mid-2019–which has resulted in Detroit signing veteran power bat CJ Cron to the team on a one-year deal the following off-season.
Cron was due to inject some much-needed power into the middle of Detroit’s light-hitting line up until the season was delayed. Cron’s skill set, however, might not only be valuable to Detroit in 2020. Many of the reasons for signing Cron for 2020 will still exist in 2021.
Keeping Cabrera off the Field
Miguel Cabrera is well-known for his desire to play the field; and over the course of his career, he has done a nice enough job of doing so (well, at the first base position any way). But the reality is Cabrera is not going anywhere and neither is his injury. Why allow a hole, big or small, to enter and give hope to Cabrera that he might even find a game sparingly? Detroit needs a quality, reliable first base option; and Cron, who posted positive Defensive Runs Saved numbers over the past two seasons and has appeared in at least 100 games each season in his career outside of his rookie campaign, gives just that.
If Cron is a $6 million insurance policy that protects Miguel Cabrera from potentially ending the rest of his career by elbowing his way into first base and worsening an already-bad injury, it is worth every penny.
Lack of Minor League Options
Detroit has not worked to develop the first base option within; and understandably so. Miguel Cabrera has had the position locked down for some time, so spending valuable draft picks on a position that is a) already occupied and b) can be picked up inexpensively on the free agent market is not high on their list of priorities.
It might sound like an oxymoron after having just recommended having Cron to ease the pressure of Torkelson reaching the majors, but there is a difference between having a ready-made replacement waiting in Toledo versus rushing up and potentially bruising one of your top prospects in the name of a necessity that could have easily been avoided. Simply put, realistic options within are bare, so having Cron prevents players like Lugo or Goodrum from being forced out-of-position.
If Detroit does what everybody expects them to do in the MLB Draft, they will be adding hitting savant Spencer Torkelson to their farm system, filling their desperate need for an impact bat. Torkelson has been advertised as one of the more MLB-ready bats to come across draft boards in some time, so if Detroit does indeed take Torkelson, there will be immediate clamoring from the fan base to call him up in short order.
Although Torkelson seems to be level-headed and supremely talented, the pressure to immediately perform can be damaging, especially if Detroit finds a need for a first base bat on their MLB roster at any point in 2021. Keeping Cron for 2021 checks off the first base box for Detroit and thus allows the Tigers and GM Al Avila to take their typical, methodical pace bringing Torkelson through the system.
Lack of Free Agent Options
It is widely believed that any player at any position that might be on the tail-end of their respective careers can move to first base to lengthen their careers at an ‘easy position.’ But first base is a challenge and offers perhaps the most fielding attempts on the field outside of the catcher spot, so finding a sure-handed option is vital.
As for players that actually do have experience at the position, the options are quite limited. This is especially the case if options get picked up for Justin Smoak, Anthony Rizzo, Edwin Encarnacion, and Eric Thames. If that does indeed happen, the best available players outside of Cron are a pair of 37 year-olds: Yuli Guriell and Howie Kendrick.
Players in their late-30’s tend to have a steep drop off; and with the majority of those players signing on a one-year deal, it becomes difficult to predict when that free fall will happen. Opting for a 31 year-old Cron, who projects by ZiPS to have a very similar offensive year in 2021 as 2020, would be a much safer bet to both stay healthy and produce to his expectations.
CJ Cron has proven to be a low-risk option over the course of his career; and after stops at the analytics-friendly Twins and Rays, it is fair to say he would be a welcomed addition in 2021 as well as this season. But beyond the lack of options, there is actually reason to be bullish on Cron as a player:
Simply put, he’s hitting the ball harder on the wrong side of 30, which would play in a Tigers organization light on position players and especially light on power. Add to that his underrated defensive abilities and Cron might turn out to be a bargain over the next two seasons until the club becomes serious about competing again.