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Rajai Davis fits the Tigers' needs

The Tigers signed Rajai Davis rather than a big-name free agent outfielder. This is the right move for Detroit.

Rajai Davis slides into third in Boston on July 4, 2011
Rajai Davis slides into third in Boston on July 4, 2011
Jim Rogash

Dave Dombrowski struck again. While everybody was watching the magician's right hand waving at Shin-Soo Choo, his left hand was greeting Rajai Davis. This move could help the Tigers in many ways:

1. The Tigers found an above-average left fielder at reasonable cost. Davis bats right-handed and has a career .294 batting average, .354 on-base percentage, and .425 slugging percentage against southpaws. Left-handed hitting Andy Dirks has a small platoon advantage against right-handed pitchers, hitting .278 /.333 /.418 for his career. Dirks should get the majority of the plate appearances, so how about .285 / .340 / .420 for the Tigers' left fielder Dirks-Davis? That looks like Torii Hunter's expected 2014 production, and for well under $10 million as opposed to the $14 million that Hunter will earn. And a free agent with that expectation would command even more in this year's free agent market.

2. Rajai Davis provides the Tigers with a pinch runner. He has 268 stolen bases in eight seasons, and does not appear to be slowing down with age. Detroit had three runners caught stealing in the ALDS without one success. Boston's Quintin Berry stole three bases in the postseason and was never caught. When the Tigers are tied or down by one run in the 2014 playoffs, expect to see Davis pinch run.

3. Rajai Davis continues the defensive upgrade. The numbers do not point to him being able to maximize his speed, but he is no doubt better than Tui.

4. The Tigers appear to be sticking with Andy Dirks while he has value. If they were to give up on him he could well end up in Houston or Minnesota and have another year like 2012. Dirks is not Clete Thomas.

5. Don Kelly slides one notch down the depth chart. He is great as a good luck charm and team mascot, but not so much in the starting lineup.

6. The Tigers are less likely to sign a free agent to a long contract that they will regret in a few years. Somebody is going to sign Nelson Cruz for big money. And two years from now they will be stuck.

7. This leaves room for the Nick Castellanos experiment at third base to end. Nick has more value at third base if he can field capably. But if he needs to return to the outfield, he could replace Hunter in a year or Davis if age catches up with him. If they were to sign Choo, The outfield is set, barring injury.

8. His full name is Rajai Lavae Davis. There are opportunities lurking here.

9. Last year the Tigers threw a bunch of right-handed hitters at the wall and Tui was the one that stuck. They were very fortunate to get production out of him before he turned into a pumpkin. That kind of luck will not likely happen again. If they took this approach for 2014, Dirks' platoon partner could well be a black hole, much as Tui became in the second half of 2013.

10. With this signing, the Tigers offense and defense can be expected to combine for the same value as in 2013. Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, and Jhonny Peralta are not trivial losses. But Ian Kinsler's bat and glove, Jose Iglesias' glove, Nick Castellanos bat, and Rajai Davis' bat, legs, and glove can do the job. With the uncertainty of Iglesias and Castellanos given their youth, it is comforting that Rajai Davis has a track record.

11. Rajai Davis does not cost a first-round draft pick, unlike the big-name free agents.

On paper this looks like a good move, as opposed to trading Fister for Robbie Ray. So given Dave Dombrowski's history, Davis could end up hitting .220 while Robbie Ray becomes the lock-down lefty reliever for the 2014 playoffs.