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Ten free agents who could help the Tigers the most next season

Between signing Anibal Sanchez, signing another starting pitcher, or a corner outfielder, or a closer, here are the ten free agents that could provide the Tigers with the biggest upgrade in 2013.

The Giants' Melky Cabrera would be a big upgrade in the Tiger outfield
The Giants' Melky Cabrera would be a big upgrade in the Tiger outfield

Which free agent players would benefit the Tigers most?

Detroit Tigers’ General Manager Dave Dombrowski has made it known that the club will make every effort to keep starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez on the team. Dombrowski has also stated, unsurprisingly, that the Tigers would like to add a corner outfielder to the roster for the 2013 season. The free agent players that could help the Tigers most are Josh Hamilton and Melky Cabrera.

We know from experience that no player should be ruled out, and one can not assume that any player will cost too much money. No matter how likely or unlikely the Tigers are to pay the asking price of a given player, we will disregard the potential salary of these free agents and instead focus on which players would provide the biggest upgrade to the team.

We do know, however, that some players would cost the Tigers their first round draft selection in next June’s amateur player draft, and that has to be taken into consideration. For most of the very top free agents, giving up a draft pick would not be a deterrent to adding such a premium talent to the team, although it may make a difference between two players relatively close in value otherwise.

One must also consider which player(s) would provide the greatest improvement over the players that they currently have on the roster. I happen to be a big supporter of both Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly, whom I consider to be above the league average for a fourth or fifth starting pitcher. Adding a starting pitcher would bump one of those players from the rotation.

I would consider the right field position, and the sixth spot in the lineup to be the biggest hole to fill on the roster. 70% of the plate appearances in right field were made by Brennan Boesch, at below replacement level production. Upgrading right field, either by signing a right fielder or by moving Dirks to right and adding a left fielder, would give the team it’s greatest potential upgrade. Greater than the improvement of replacing Delmon Young with Victor Martinez at designated hitter and the fifth spot in the lineup.

I think it is also fair to assume that the Tigers will be adding a corner outfielder of some sort, whether or not they sign a free agent player from this list, or even from a much longer list. The Tigers will not begin the 2013 season with Andy Dirks in one corner and some combination of Brennan Boesch, Avisail Garcia, Quintin Berry, and/ or Ryan Raburn in the other. The free agent outfielders available include both some power bats that might bat sixth for the Tigers, and some defensive wizard with speed that could bat second.

All things considered, following is the list of the top ten free agents, in approximate order of how much they could improve the Tigers heading into the 2013 season.

1. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers
Hamilton is easily the biggest impact position player on the market this winter, and despite saying all the right things to the contrary, he appears to be done in Texas. The former MVP would cost the Tigers their first round draft pick, but would give the team an absolutely lethal batting order. Initial demands are for seven years at $ 25 million per year. A 32 year old with his history won’t get that, but he’ll get a lot of money for several years.

2. Melky Cabrera, OF, San Francisco Giants
How much did the use of performance enhancing drugs contribute to the other Cabrera’s major league leading .346 batting average or his .390 on base percentage, which is highest among available free agent players? How much did PED’s contribute to his .516 Slugging percentage, and his .387 wOBA, which is identical to that of Hamilton? We don't really know. Cabrera hit just eleven home runs and drove in 60 runs before his suspension. Perhaps his bat speed was aided by drugs, but I’d bet the other way, and take a chance on adding a supreme hitter to the top of the batting order that the team has craved, even is he is due for some regression.

3. Zack Greinke, RHP, Los AngelesAngels
Considered by some to be the top free agent on the market, the former Royals’ Cy Young winner will not cost a draft choice to sign and is the best starting pitcher available. Other than Sanchez, I would consider Greinke to be the only starting pitcher worth adding to the team, as the others don’t provide much of an upgrade over what the Tigers already have. Reality is that the Angels are very determined to bring Greinke back and the cost is very likely more than the Tigers want to pay.

4. Anibal Sanchez, RHP, Detroit Tigers
The Tigers got a taste of what it’s like to have four dominant pitchers in their rotation in September and October, and the results were impressive. After taking a few starts to adjust to the American League, Sanchez was indeed dominant, xxxxxx. Unfortunately, there isn’t another team that would not want to have Sanchez in their rotation, so the demand will be sky high, and he won’t cost the team that signs him a draft choice.

5. Torii Hunter, OF, Los Angeles Angels
The Angels did not make a qualifying offer to Hunter, so he will not cost a draft pick to sign. Hunter has just finished a five year contract in Orange County with a fine season, hitting over .300 with 16 homers, 92 RBI, while playing stellar defense in right field. At 37, Hunter should not be given a lengthy contract, but a two or three year deal might make him the perfect fit for Detroit, and he could bat second or sixth while playing any outfield position. One word of caution, Hunter's BABIP registered .382 in 2012, some 82 points higher than his career average. Some regression can be expected, but he's still an all around solid ball player.

6. Michael Bourn, OF, Atlanta Braves
One of very few center fielders that may be a better lead off man and better defensively than Austin Jackson. But hey, if the Giants can have three center fielders and the Tigers can have two first basemen and some would argue multiple designated hitters, they can find room for Bourn. He would add immense value atop the lineup and lead directly to a big increase in run production. With speed to burn and the highest WAR among all free agents, Bourn will cost a first round pick and is likely to receive a lucrative multi year deal from a team that needs a center fielder

7. Angel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants
If you can’t beat em, sign em! Tiger fans saw the value that Pagan provided in the World Series. He hits for average from both sides of the plate, but is especially good against right handed pitching. He would provide a big upgrade defensively and would not cost a draft pick to sign.

8. Nick Swisher, OF, New York Yankees
Ohio State, blech. Yankees, ugghh. Giving the Yankees a first round draft pick. Oyyy! But a switch hitter with a .363 OBP, .364 wOBA, 24 homers, and 93 RBI would help any team. No doubt Swisher will be expensive and will land a multi year contract.

9. B J Upton, OF, Tampa Bay Rays Cody Ross, OF, Boston Red Sox. Okay, I did have Upton in this slot until I pored over his numbers. He hasn’t hit over .250 since 2008, and his OBP dropped below .300 last season. No thanks. Rob’s profile of Cody Ross and the comments that followed have convinced me that he’d be a better fit. Upton would cost the first pick and Ross would not. Upton would require many years for a lot more money than Ross. The former Tiger hits left handers much better, but is adequate against right handers and would produce some runs hitting sixth, while also providing a good glove in any outfield position. He makes the list.

10. Shane Victorino, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

The 'flyin Hawaiian' had what he hopes was an off season, rather than the beginning of a decline. After being dealt from the Phillies to the Dodgers in mid season, LA has said they’d be interested in keeping Victorino, but the way they’re throwing money around, he might not satisfy their expensive taste. Even in a down year, the 33 year old Victorino got on base at a .324 pace and stole 39 bases while playing solid defense in center and left field. He’s a classic top of the order hitter that would be a menace to opposing pitchers when he’s on base with Cabrera, Fielder, and Martinez at the plate.

Honorable Mention:

Rafael Soriano, RHP, New York Yankees: He wants how much? And a first round pick? Pass

Marco Scutaro, IF, San Francisco Giants: He plays second base!

Ryan Ludwick, OF, Cincinnati Reds: Another former Tiger with some pop in his bat. Another upgrade if the price is right.

Scott Hairston, OF, New York Mets: A right handed bat that the Tigers looked at in July.

Grant Balfour, RHP, Oakland A’s: The Oakland closer has been up and down, but his stock is up after an impressive post season run. Let’s see what relievers slip through the cracks.

Top Free Agent Outfielders

* notes players that require first round draft pick compensation

Josh Hamilton* .285 .354 .577 .931
.387 43 128 7 4.4
Melky Cabrera .346 .390 .516 .906 .387 11 84 13 4.6
Torii Hunter .313 .365 .451 .816 .356 16 92 9 5.3
Michael Bourn* .274 .348 .391 .739 .326 9 57 42 6.4
Angel Pagan .288 .338 .440 .778 .334 8 56 29 4.8
Nick Swisher* .272 .364 .473 .837 .363 24 93 2 3.9
Cody Ross .267 .326 .481 .807 .345 22 81 2 2.4
Shane Victorino .255 .321 .383 .704 .310 11 55 39 3.3
Ryan Ludwick .275 .346 .531 .877 .373 26 80 0 2.8
Scott Hairston .263 .299 .504 .803 .342 20 57 8 2.0
Ichiro Suzuki .283 .307 .390 .697 .300
9 55 29 2.7
B J Upton* .246 .298 .454 .792 .323 28 78 31 3.3