With the offseason still in its infancy and only the most minor moves behind us, it’s time to start thinking about how the Tigers should approach the next couple of months in preparation for the 2013 season.
Let’s start with who we know will be back on the 2013 team.
Avila ( C ), Fielder (1B), Infante (2B), Peralta (SS), Cabrera (3B), Jackson (CF), and Martinez (DH) all have starting roles locked up assuming they stay healthy this offseason. Dirks (OF) will certainly be on the club, but his role is somewhat unclear. He’ll either be a starting corner outfielder, platoon outfielder, or bench player.
That locks up eight of the 13 expected position player slots with LF, RF, backup catcher, backup infielder, backup outfielder essentially filling out the remaining spots.
Let’s start with the easy part. The Tigers should, and will, either resign Gerald Laird or go with Bryan Holaday as Avila’s backup. If Laird wants to come back, he’ll be back, if he wants more playing time, the team will go with Holaday.
The backup infield slot should be pretty cut and dry as well. I expect that it’s a fight between Santiago and Worth. Santiago really struggled in 2012 and Worth is a better defense player and is younger. But Santiago is on a major league deal, so cutting the $2 million might not be in the plans. I’d take Worth, but because I think he’s better, but I can’t fault them if they stay with Santiago and shuttle Worth to Toledo again.
The outfield is where this gets interesting. Several in-organization candidates emerge for roster spots. Dirks will obviously get one of the four spots for outfielders. After him, the Tigers have Brennan Boesch, Quintin Berry, Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos, Ryan Raburn, and Don Kelly.
You can put together an outfielder from that group and Dirks, but you probably should add one more piece. Dirks in LF and adding a new RF through Free Agency or trade is probably the best option for the club. Garcia and Castellanos need more time in the minors and putting them on the opening day roster is probably a poor choice. They should be ready by late 2013 or early 2014 and it’s wrong to rush them instead of paying for a Free Agent.
Let’s give the LF job to Dirks and see RF help from outside. If we do that, we need to pick two bench guys. I would like to see it be Raburn and Kelly, although I think Boesch and Berry or Boesch and another Free Agent are more likely.
Here’s why I’d advocate for Raburn and Kelly, although I know most people won’t. Kelly brings great flexibility positionally, which is what I value in a 25th man. He can fill in at 1B and 3B late in blowouts and on the rare off day for the big guys. He’s also the best defender of the bunch (other than Garcia, but I’ve already sent him to Toledo). I like Raburn because he has shown the ability to go on tears and I’d like to give him one more shot at it.
To me, Berry is a pinch runner and I’m not interested in using a roster spot on someone who isn’t a useful defensive replacement or pinch hitter. Boesch is hard to read because he’s streaky, but he doesn’t add value to my version of the team because he isn’t a defensive replacement and isn’t much of a pinch hitter.
Kelly fits as a defender and Raburn fits as a righty to balance out Dirks if you need it. Both spots are of low importance because we shouldn’t need as many ABs from them with Martinez back. You can stash Berry and Boesch in AAA, but you can’t hide Raburn and Kelly. Keep them on the club and part ways when Garcia and Castellanos are ready.
So that leaves us with an outfield target. I’ve been clear in previous posts that Torii Hunter is the ideal fit for this team. He can play RF at a high level, had a good year at the plate, and can be a mentor to Austin Jackson. He’d fit perfectly at 2, 5, or 6 in the lineup depending on how you want to play it and he’s older, so you don’t need to offer him a lot of years.
A two year deal in the Beltran range would work, or even a little more AAV to make sure he signs. If we do that, my proposed lineup and bench looks like this:
Bench: Laird/ Holaday C, Santiago/Worth INF, Raburn OF, Kelly UTIL
Waiting: Boesch, Berry, Garcia, Castellanos
I like how that looks a lot. Your outfield defense is dramatically better than it was for most of 2012, which will help out the pitchers a lot.
An intriguing backup to Hunter is Melky Cabrera if you can buy low on him. Shane Victorino is another option. If I’m the Tigers, I don’t want to pay for someone like BJ Upton or Josh Hamilton because I have OF talent coming and I have a lot of payroll tied up in my stars already. I’m looking for a 2 year, $24-30 million corner outfielder to bridge the gap to 2014-2015.
With the position players set, we’ll tackle the pitching staff early next week. Sound off in the comments section or post questions/suggestions of other targets you’d like to see and I’ll try to get a mailbag column going.