Earlier today, we looked at the Tigers' chances of landing Yoenis Cespedes. Now, it's time for a more reasonable option. Daniel Nava was a part-time player in 2014 and might be out of a job now that Hanley Ramirez has been added to the outfield mix. Would he be a good fit with the Tigers?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Many fans did not hear of Nava until his breakout season with the 2013 World Series champions, but the California native is no spring chicken. Nava, who will be 32 on Opening Day next year, did not even make his MLB debut until he was 27 years old. He spent two full seasons in the Red Sox farm system after signing with them as a free agent in 2008, then bounced between Triple-A and the majors from 2010 to 2012. In 2013, Nava took advantage of some injuries throughout the outfield by hitting .303/.385/.445 with 12 home runs and 66 RBI in 536 plate appearances. He took a step back offensively in 2014, but a spectacular defensive season helped him accumulate a career high 2.6 WAR.
Why should we care?
Nava wasn't an offensive force in 2014, but he still hit .270 with a .346 on-base percentage. That latter stat would have ranked fourth among qualified Tigers hitters in 2014 and was well above anything Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, or Austin Jackson could muster at the top of the Tigers' lineup. Oh, and did I mention that it was Nava's lowest on-base percentage of his career? A career 9.7 walk rate has helped Nava get on base at a .362 clip in his career, something the Tigers' lineup could desperately use.
Unlike Cespedes, Shane Victorino, or Allen Craig, Nava is on a team-friendly contract that would fit within the Tigers' limited budget. He still has three years of club control remaining, and is estimated to make $1.9 million in 2015, his first season of arbitration eligibility. Nava could be a cheaper alternative to either Jackie Bradley or Mookie Betts given his age and lack of prospect shine, but a lack of growing pains would also fit nicely into the Tigers' win-now mentality.
Why should we stay away?
With Anthony Gose, Tyler Collins, and (potentially) Xavier Avery in the mix for at-bats, another left-handed outfielder isn't exactly at the top of the Tigers' list of needs. Nava, in particular, isn't the best fit given his poor platoon splits (despite being a switch-hitter). He is a career .209/.287/.298 hitter against left-handed pitching, and his .399 OPS against lefties in 2014 was downright abysmal. With Rajai Davis and J.D. Martinez covering two spots, the Tigers would still need another outfielder to fill the void against lefties.
There are also questions about Nava's glove. Defensive metrics loved him in 2014, but equally hated him in 2013 and were entirely indifferent in 2012. These metrics aren't particularly reliable to begin with, and his smallish outfield samples aren't helping. He seems to have improved -- and Boston's increased willingness to use him in Fenway Park's spacious right field speaks volumes -- but a lot of his value in 2014 was tied to his glove. Meanwhile, he had a 128 wRC+ in 2013 and wasn't even a two win outfielder. If he is a league average defender or worse, the Tigers may only be getting a one win outfielder if they acquire him.
Will he end up in Detroit?
One thing working in Nava's favor with the Red Sox brass is the fact that he hits left-handed. Of their current outfielders, only Nava and Jackie Bradley are left-handed, and Bradley is likely either trade bait or spending most of 2015 in the minors. The Sox would be better off trading a few of their bigger name outfielders and keeping Nava in a backup role, but the demand for those more expensive players is questionable. If the Sox take a liking to one of the Tigers' minor league starters, a deal could happen.