The Tigers starting outfield for 2015, if 2015 started today, would be Rajai Davis, Anthony Gose, and J.D. Martinez. Together with the backups and such, they are slated for 4.8 WAR as a unit according to Steamer with a .312 wOBA. Throw in a park factor and the Tigers OF might hit 5% worse than the MLB average for all position players. Which wouldn’t be good. It would be one of the worst hitting outfielders of the decade and, so basically, Anthony Gose better be Willie Mays in centerfield.
Dave Dombrowski has hinted that the Tigers are looking around but are comfortable with who they have out there. Hopefully, that’s just good bargaining strategy because this is a clear weakness for the team and a place to upgrade.
They could target someone like Peter Bourjos, who features a great glove and a better-than-Gose bat, pushing Gose and Davis into a platoon. They can hunt bigger game and go after Melky Cabrera. They can sign Nick Markakis or Ichiro. They can target Yoenis Cespedes, now that they don’t need a CF exclusively. Matt Joyce is probably available. Ben Zobrist might be.
The Dodgers have too many outfielders. The Nationals might. The Red Sox certainly do. They should have ponied up for Heyward.
These suggestions have one big thing in common: None of these players are great, save maybe for Zobrist. This is a collection of average-ish to below average-ish players. Why should the Tigers target them?
Because the Tigers best case scenario right now isn’t pretty. You need four or five outfielders to get you through a season and the Tigers best outfielder is a guy who may or may not be able to maintain his breakout season. At best, J.D. Martinez could be a 3-4 win player but he’s probably more like a 2-2.5 win player. Davis is a platoon player getting too much playing time and Gose is a defensive replacement who is line up for 600 PA. Tyler Collins and Steven Moya have a future in Detroit, but neither is likely ready for prime time.
They need to do something. That something might be adding in an okay player to soak up 300 PA or take 500 PA and shrink the amount allotted to Davis and Gose. Adding +1 WAR anywhere nets you a win. It doesn’t have to feature a sexy name.
But there are two more options I want to dangle. It’s late November and there’s no news, so forgive me if these are are a bit off the wall. Let’s just kick them around.
A Big Trade?
The Reds are reportedly shopping Jay Bruce. Maybe that’s just rumor mill nonsense, but it makes a decent amount of sense for a club that needs to retool. He’s due $25.5 million over the next two years (with a club option), so he’s eating up a chunk of salary in Cincinnati and he’s coming off a very bad year. His power just vanished. The projections think it’s coming back and it seems like there were some injury issues last year that could have been a direct cause.
He’s no star in RF defensively, but he’s an upgrade from Hunter and no worse than Davis. Bruce could slug it out behind the Martinezes, camp out in RF and do so at a very reasonable price. They’ll have to send some talent to the Reds, but there are very few players in the system that aren’t expendable, if any. There’s actually a decent fit here if you’re buying a bounce back. Doesn’t have to be a star, just has to be solid.
An Early Switch?
There are going to be a couple people who will be upset at this suggestion, but the Tigers have a corner outfielder already on the payroll and just don’t know it: Nick Castellanos. He was dreadful at 3B in 2014 and while I suspect he will get a little better going forward, he’s never going to be an asset over there.
Move Castellanos to a corner OF spot and sign Chase Headley. He won’t cost Sandoval or Ramirez money but if you put his defense next to Iglesias and Kinsler, the Tigers would basically never let a ball roll to the outfield. To say nothing of Headley’s entirely above average bat. He’ll cost a few years and a dozen plus million per, but he’s be a very nice upgrade over what they have on the roster now.
Likely? No. Helpful, very.
I don’t really expect the team to make a big splash but they need to locate some improvements. At the minimum they need some depth and insurance in the outfield because they’re playing with fire as it is. There are some interesting trade options, culminating with Bruce, but they could also get creative and send Castellanos back out to the grass.
There’s not a perfect solution and letting Dirks go on waivers makes it all look a lot more confusing. I’m not certain what the best track is, but they have to do something. There’s plenty of time, but this can’t be the Opening Day group.