News broke late Monday that the Tigers and Rajai Davis were close to a deal and the news was confirmed Tuesday morning on what appears to be a 2 year, $10 million pact. Davis is very good player to have on your roster at that price. At $5 million per season, you’re asking for, at most, a win above replacement per year and Davis can offer that if utilized correctly.
Davis’ big carrying tool is his speed. He’s one of the best baserunners in the league:
You can see that in only limited playing time over his career he’s routinely stealing more than 30 a season and is adding between 0.5 and 1.0 wins with his overall baserunning game. He’s a career 87 wRC+ hitter, but he gets on base enough for his speed to play. There is very little power, but value is value. The Tigers could use some element of speed on their roster.
Davis hits lefties well and can’t touch righties, so a platoon with Dirks seems likely. Davis should be able to handle himself against left-handers this year and should add plenty of value on the bases in order to earn his $5 million salary. In that sense, this is a good move. Davis is a useful player on a good deal.
But the issue is the opportunity cost of signing Davis. At this point, the Tigers have essentially filled all 13 of their position player slots, all five of their starting rotation slots, and have just a couple of bullpen spots left up in the air. That isn’t a bad thing in itself, but the Tigers are wrapping up the offseason with a downgraded roster. Davis isn’t a bad addition, but adding Davis prevents them from adding someone like Choo who would make them better. It seemingly decreases the odds of a trade as well.
The Tigers downgraded their rotation from Fister to Smyly, and we should also expect a little regression from Sanchez and Scherzer. They swapped Infante to Kinsler (pretty even), Peralta for Iglesias (slight downgrade), and Fielder for Castellanos (downgrade). In the bullpen, they’ve traded Smyly and Benoit for Nathan and Krol (downgrade). The other spots are up in the air, but even if you think I’m being harsh, the team certainly didn’t get better. It’s fine to rework the roster, but now they’re out of places to upgrade. And Dirks hardly needs a platoon partner, either (99 wRC+ vs LHP, 104 wRC+ vs RHP career).
In a vacuum, this move is a good one. Davis is a nice player who will bring you $5 million or better in value, but putting him on the roster blocks a move down the road that could bring more value to the team. The Tigers are at a place in which paying $20 million for 3 wins is probably a better baseball move than paying $5 million for one win. It’s not the value play, but if the Tigers are going to push their chips in and go for it, you need to be in with everything.
People keep waiting for the big move on the horizon in which the Tigers add a star outfielder. I don’t think that move is coming. Dave Dombrowski will leave Orlando with Rajai Davis and a little work to do in the bullpen – and that’s probably going to be it. The Tigers offseason plan has been a strange mix of smart and foolish. Somehow, signing Davis is both.