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Mailbag: Is Victor Martinez the Tigers' best option at designated hitter?

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What is the Tigers' best strategy for filling the DH spot? How can we tell if Brad Ausmus is doing a good job? These questions and more in this week's mailbag.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Last week's inaugural mailbag was a resounding success, and we have some great questions on tap for this week. Remember, you can contact us on Facebook, via Twitter, or by emailing bybtigers@gmail.com!

I’m becoming less and less of a fan of having a designated Designated Hitter. Unless V-Mart is available for less money than we are all expecting, I’d rather use that DH spot as a way to keep good hitting position players involved even if there isn't a spot for them on the field. I could see the DH changing from day-to-day and be guys like JD-Mart, Davis/Dirks, McCann, or Cabrera. Then, some of that V-Mart money can go to cost-controlled position players who hit reasonably well at catcher, first base, and third base. The active carousel from night-to-night, injuries, and late game replacements for defense, hitting, or base running should ensure that everyone gets plenty of action throughout the year.

I hate seeing that much money go to a guy who doesn't plan on seeing the field often — especially on a team that struggles finding depth. Thoughts?

Dan

I get the desire to use the designated hitter slot as a rotating position to keep guys fresh without losing their bat for the given day, but it almost never works. The only teams that successfully rotated its DH on a semi-daily basis in 2014 were the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, and they basically just alternated between two guys. The Orioles got career years out of both Nelson Cruz and Delmon Young, while the Blue Jays have Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind -- a pair of first basemen, by trade -- at their disposal. When you think about it, the Jays' method is just a less effective version of Martinez and Miguel Cabrera at first base.

If the Tigers are going to commit money to a DH long term, their mentality should be Martinez or bust. Billy Butler's decline over his last two seasons is concerning at best, while Kendrys Morales was downright awful last year. If we assume for a moment that the Tigers don't re-sign Martinez -- I think they will -- then Torii Hunter might be one to fit the "flexible DH" mold. He can play the occasional game in the outfield without being a huge detriment, but would still be viewed as the team's primary DH. It gives the team a bit more payroll flexibility than re-signing Martinez does, which can be used elsewhere.

However, here's where the real debate starts. Let's assume that making Torii the de facto DH in 2015 saves somewhere between $5-10 million than having Victor in the fold. Does spending that money elsewhere improve the team as much as having Martinez hitting fourth would? I'm not so sure. Cost-controlled players are cultivated through the farm system, not by robbing Peter to pay Paul through free agency. If the Tigers are going to spend money to improve their team this offseason, you might as well go out and get the top guy, especially when he's basically begging to be back in 2015.

Do you think there's any way to isolate the effects of coaching on the Tigers' biggest weaknesses this year? Namely bullpen pitching, defense and base running?

While none of us expected them to be the Royals in these departments, we certainly didn't expect the talent they had to be THIS bad. Two things come to mind in particular: veteran guys making stupid base running mistakes that I can't recall seeing much of in the past, and the obvious implosion of Nathan and Soria who had demonstrated a history of recent dominance.

We hear of coaching staffs having positive effects on other teams. Do you think we should consider that they're having negative effects here?

Noah

If there is one facet of the game where we have any hope of quantifying a manager's actual impact, it's likely the bullpen. This is because the manager has greater control over the bullpen than other aspects of a given nine inning game. Sure, he's the one filling out the lineup card, but there are plenty of data showing that lineup construction accounts for a minuscule difference in run expectancy at the start of a game. Baserunning? Same thing. We saw plenty of goofs this season from a team trying to find its identity, but part of that is because this still isn't a very fast team. Meanwhile, the Tigers ranked among the best teams in the league in taking an extra base when available, which is one of the best measures of a team's true baserunning ability.

Also...

...things were kind of the same in 2013.

Bullpens, though. If we're going to quantify a manager's impact on a bullpen, one stat you could look at is the percentage of inherited runners that are left stranded on base. There are a lot of factors in play here, but a manager putting his players in position to succeed is part of the equation. The Tigers were the second worst team in the AL in this facet last season. Is this Ausmus' fault because he put his pitchers in bad positions? Or was it simply a matter of having a bad bullpen? That's the million dollar question.

I can't even begin to pretend whether I know if Tomas is major league ready, but scouting reports suggest that he will probably debut in the high minors, depending on where he lands. If the Tigers were to sign him, odds are he would spend some time in Toledo first, but a lot of that depends on what the rest of the roster looks like on Opening Day.

For those that haven't done their homework on Tomas, the quick-and-dirty comparison is that Tomas is a younger, slower version of Yoenis Cespedes. Tomas has "fringy to below average" speed and will likely play left field in the major leagues. He doesn't have Cespedes' arm strength either, but that's not what scouts are dreaming on. The reason for all the hype is Tomas' power, which has already been slapped with multiple 70 grades. His hit tool and plate discipline are the major concerns, but his bat speed and swing are quick enough to make things work down the road.

Tomas is also just 24 years old, younger than every recent big name Cuban defector not named Yasiel Puig. Tomas will likely get a big contract thanks to the successes of his countrymen, but the difference is that this contract will cover the prime years of his career. The $100 million price tag floating around the internet seems high, but remember that Rusney Castillo got $72 million, well above what anyone projected he would command.

Whatever he gets, Tomas is a huge gamble, especially considering he is less polished than Cespedes, Puig, and Jose Abreu were when they came to the states. Should the Tigers pursue him? The idea is enticing, but he would have to be an absolute franchise changer at that price. Remember: Cespedes got $40 million, while Puig got $42 million. Tomas is projected to get around double that amount. I'd save the cash and shore up more pressing areas.

Don't the Tigers need to sign a free agent starting pitcher to replace Max Scherzer, if he leaves?

Pat

I hate to say it, but the prospect of Max Scherzer leaving seems more like a "when" than an "if." He balked at the $144 million offer he got last season, then went out and proved his worth with another excellent season. I'm as high on Scherzer as anyone -- he has been an elite, ace-caliber pitcher since May 2012 -- but giving him seven or eight years and upwards of $180-200 million is too much.

With that out of the way, I don't think the Tigers need to sign anyone to replace him, but I would feel a lot better if they did. Former fearless leader Kurt Mensching lauded the idea of signing James Shields in his News column this week, which seems fun. Shields is a great pitcher and he seems like he will age fairly well. He has been incredibly consistent and doesn't walk anyone, and having him in the fold would be nice insurance against both David Price and Rick Porcello leaving after 2015. Of course, you could also avoid worrying about Shields' inevitable decline and just give his money to Porcello straightaway. It makes the rotation weaker for 2015, but saves a bit of money for elsewhere and still ensures that you're not replacing 40 percent of your rotation next year.

If the Tigers were to sign someone, I'd like to see a low cost option on a one year deal. Names like Carlos Villanueva and Scott Baker aren't sexy, but with four horses atop the rotation, all the Tigers need is someone to eat innings and provide the occasional quality start. I trust the front office to determine whether Kyle Lobstein or Robbie Ray is up to that challenge, but having another guy in the mix wouldn't hurt.

Let's tackle the latter question here. I alluded to the idea in the previous section, but it took me a little while to come up with a clear-cut preference in this scenario. It's tough, though. There is no additional draft pick in either situation: the pick you would forfeit for signing Shields would be gained when Porcello walks in 2015. Signing Shields would give the Tigers a monstrous rotation, but would hamstring the team from making other improvements throughout this offseason. Extending Porcello carries a lot of inherent risk, as his 2014 season isn't exactly the most sustainable thing on paper.

Enough stalling, though: I'd sign Porcello. He has been just as durable as Shields so far -- just not as effective -- and this next contract is extending him through the prime of his career. His last two years have been the best of his career, unless you're partial to his BABIP-fueled rookie season. He hardly walks anyone, he generates plenty of ground balls, and he finally seems to be putting everything together.

Plus, there are repercussions to consider. Shields would make the 2015 rotation beyond awesome, but the holes elsewhere on the roster were the Tigers' downfall this year. Extending Porcello -- even if you do it now and pay him what you would have hypothetically paid Shields -- is still $10-15 million cheaper in 2015 than signing Shields. This gives you money to extend Martinez or Hunter and find bullpen help. Can Kyle Lobstein and Robbie Ray handle the load? I have my doubts, but they're not as strong as the doubts clouding our bullpen.

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