Signing Victor Martinez to a four year contract extension solves one problem for the Tigers -- and maybe their biggest concern going into the offseason. Losing Martinez could have been a devastating blow to the offense. But there are still other holes to be plugged.
The acquisition of outfielder Anthony Gose gives the Tigers a legitimate center fielder who can run and play solid defense. But Gose should not be expected to fill the Tigers' needs as an everyday center fielder. However, Dave Dombrowski hinted at the idea of using Gose in this manner after the trade was finalized.
"We feel comfortable right now where we are," Dombrowski said of the makeup of the outfield. "We do have J.D. and Rajai out there in two of the spots. Gose gives us a legitimate center fielder. We also think a young guy like (Tyler) Collins is ready to play and I guess it's to be determined on (Steven) Moya to see how he continues to develop, but he's had a real good Arizona Fall League."
Dombrowski is being a bit cryptic, but this quote and another tweeted by Jason Beck indicate that he sees the Tigers' outfield as a finished product. This is not good.
Let's look at the Tigers outfield in 2014 and where Gose fits in.
The numbers used for Andy Dirks are from 2013 since he did not play in 2014. That was a down year for him offensively, but his second half was enough to make the team look forward to his return to the lineup all season in 2014. It never happened.
What do you have when you remove Hunter, Jackson, and Dirks from the picture? You have a very mediocre outfield. Gose can replace the defense of Andy Dirks, but doesn't replace his offensive production -- even in a down year for Dirks. And Gose does not begin to replace the lost offensive production of Hunter or Jackson in the lineup.
Meanwhile, Rajai Davis' platoon splits are staggering. Davis hit .356/.382/.557 for a .939 OPS against left-handed pitchers in 2014. That justifies his presence in the lineup, regardless of his defense. Conversely, Gose is a career .208/.246/.267 hitter against left-handers and .238/.329/.312 against right handers.
Against right-handers, Davis hit just .247/.290/.327. That's a problem for a corner outfielder, especially one who plays sub-par defense. It was a problem for the Tigers last year, and it needs to be addressed before 2015. Keeping Davis in a full-time role would be a big detriment.
The Tigers needed to upgrade their defense, and they have done that in center field. Up the middle, the Tigers now have Gold Glove nominees in Kinsler and Avila, the returning Jose Iglesias, and now a plus defender in Gose. That's a pretty solid group.
However, the Tigers need to address the loss of Torii Hunter's production in the lineup. Hunter should no be brought back to play in the outfield at this stage of his career, but his departure leaves the Tigers with a big hole in the lineup. The Tigers also lost Austin Jackson, their starting center fielder the past five seasons, and Andy Dirks, a left-handed outfielder who would be an ideal platoon partner for Davis in left field. Gose and Davis combined can replace one of them, but not both. And they don't replace the lost production of Hunter who hit .286/.319/.446 with 17 home runs and 83 RBI in 2014.
There is some reason to believe that Dombrowski is not done fixing the outfield, though. After the trade, Dombrowski released a statement about Gose's potential.
"We believe he has the chance to be an everyday center fielder," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said by phone late Wednesday night. "Now, he'll have to earn that type of spot. He's not going to be anointed that, but he gives us another guy to choose from and a guy we think highly of. ...
"Time will tell on that, but he does have a chance to do it."
A chance? Okay. We can live with that observation. Gose has a chance to be an adequate center fielder. Rajai Davis has to start against lefties, even if it's in center field, but in no reality does Rajai Davis have a chance to be an adequate outfielder against right-handed pitching.
What the Tigers still lack is a second corner outfielder who can hit right-handed pitching. They also need a replacement for Hunter near the top of the lineup. Dombrowski said at the beginning of the offseason that the team needed another left-handed bat, and someone to pair with Davis. That is still a huge need.
Tyler Collins projects to be a fourth outfielder. He can be solid defensively in the corners and has some upside at the plate. Steven Moya is a work in progress, and could continue to benefit from everyday plate appearances in the minor leagues. He has a chance to be a good player one day, but 2015 seems too early.
At this stage of the game, the Tigers need more than just a chance. They need a high probability that the players they put on the field can catch the ball and hit. Chances are that Gose will not hit, although he brings enough to the table with his speed and defense to give him the chance to play.
Rajai Davis was a fine addition to the Tigers last year. His overall production at the plate was solid, and he filled in for Austin Jackson after the trade for David Price. Against right handed pitchers -- roughly 70 percent of the plate appearances in a given season -- Davis is not adequate. He is what we thought he was: an ideal platoon player and pinch runner. The Tigers outfield still needs some work.