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Free agent outfielders who could help the Tigers in 2016

The departure of Yoenis Cespedes leaves a big gap in the Tigers' lineup. Here are some free agent outfielders who could help to fill the void.

It's almost like you can already envision Yoenis Cespedes in a Tigers uniform
It's almost like you can already envision Yoenis Cespedes in a Tigers uniform
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After the Detroit Tigers traded Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets at the end of July, it is no coincidence that the two teams headed in opposite directions. Cespedes helped propel the Mets to a National League East Division title, while the Tigers sunk to the bottom of the standings.

A look at how the Tigers offense fared from the first half to the second half of the season is quite revealing. The Tigers ranked third in run production at the All-Star break, but were second-to-last afterward. A team that led the league in batting average in the first half of the season sunk to 10th in the second half. Across the board, offense was down without Cespedes.

When the Tigers traded Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox to get Cespedes before the 2015 season, they made a strategic decision. It seemed easier to acquire starting pitching than to get a bat that would replace Torii Hunter in the outfield. Cespedes provided all the offense the Tigers could have hoped for, as well as stellar defense in the outfield before being traded. He is now likely to command a multi-year contract north of $20 million per season, and Detroit is not likely to be among the teams in hot pursuit of his services.

General manager Al Avila, has made it clear that acquiring both starting and relief pitchers are going to be the top priorities during the offseason. Unless the payroll goes above the luxury tax threshold, the club will have about $40 million to spend on two starting pitchers, a couple of late inning relief pitchers, and the help that they need to replace Cepsedes and Rajai Davis in the outfield.

A custom chart showing the free agent corner outfielders has Cespedes at the top of the pack by most offensive and defensive measures. No other free agent left fielder comes close to his 35 home runs, 101 RBI, nor his 15 defensive runs saved (DRS). Rajai Davis is well down the list, but still ranks seventh of 20 free agent left fielders in WAR and in the middle of the pack defensively.

Yoenis Cespedes 676 35 105 7 .291 .328 .542 135 6.7
Jason Heyward 610 13 60 23 .293 .359 .439 121 6.0
Justin Upton 620 26 81 19 .251 .336 .454 120 3.6
Alex Gordon* 422 13 48 2 .271 .377 .432 122 2.8
Ben Zobrist 535 13 56 3 .276 .359 .450 123 2.1
Nori Aoki 392 5 26 14 .287 .353 .380 112 1.5
Gerardo Parra 589 14 51 14 .291 .328 .452 108 0.4
Alejandro De Aza 365 7 35 7 .262 .333 .422 104 1.2
Chris Young 356 14 42 3 .252 .320 .453 109 1.2
Chris Denorfia 231 3 18 0 .269 .319 .372 89 0.8

*Gordon has a $12.5 million player option for the 2016 season with the Royals, and while he has vowed to pick up that option, he could stand to make a lot more money on the free agent market. His status for free agency is still up in the air.

Cespedes, Justin Upton, and Alex Gordon are the only full-time left fielders potentially available this winter. Like many of the others on the list, Davis only played part time in left field, as his primary role was platooning in center field with Anthony Gose. Gerardo Parra took over in left field for the Baltimore Orioles after being acquired in July, and his defensive numbers have fallen victim to small sample syndrome. He is a two-time Gold Glove winner, however, and could bounce back in 2016.

Ben Zobrist is a true jack of all trades, a switch-hitter featuring some of the wildest swings from year to year in defensive metrics. Mainly, he is a solid middle infielder with some pop in his bat who plays well at any infield or outfield position. He would give any manager plenty of options. Upton is a former first overall draft pick who is finishing up a six year, $51 million contract that paid him $14.5 million in 2015. He will be pricier than most, but not as expensive as Cespedes. He has also been inconsistent but usually productive at the plate.

The bottom line here is that the Tigers very likely will not be able to replace the lost production of Cespedes, nor even that of Torii Hunter two years previous, in the lineup.  Al Avila may look to fill the void with a platoon similar to that deployed in center field for the 2015 season, but the club probably won't have the budget to replace the lost offensive production in left field, and will have to make it up elsewhere.

If the Tigers don't find a left fielder to their liking, they may look at some right fielders who could either be slotted into left field or bump J.D. Martinez back to the opposite corner, where he played most of the 2014 season. Jason Heyward is the most productive of the right field crop of free agents. At age 26, he is certain to receive a qualifying offer from St. Louis, which means he would cost the Tigers a second round draft pick.

Nori Aoki has a $5.5 million option for 2016 with the Giants, while former Tigers Torii Hunter and Ryan Raburn may also tempt free agency. Hunter may decide to retire and Raburn has a $3 million option with Cleveland. Marlon Byrd and Alex Rios are two other right fielders who will be free agents.

There are even fewer center fielders than left fielders on the free agent market this off season. The custom stat chart of free agent center fielders shows just seven players, including Davis and former Tiger Austin Jackson. Only four on the list played enough to accumulate over 300 at-bats. here are some center fielders who will be free agents this off season:

Dexter Fowler 690 17 46 20 .250 .346 .411 110 3.2
Colby Rasmus 485 25 61 2 .238 .314 .475 115 2.8
Austin Jackson 527 9 48 17 .267 .311 .385 94 2.3
Rajai Davis 370 8 30 18 .258 .306 .440 101 1.8
Denard Span 275 5 22 11 .301 .365 .431 120 1.4
Drew Stubbs 140 5 10 5 .195 .283 .382 66 -0.1

As poorly as Gose hits against left handed pitchers, with a line of just .192/.272/.274, there is a definite need for a right-handed batting platoon partner if not a full-time center fielder. Either Davis or Jackson would fit the bill. Jackson hit .281/.333/.437 with an OPS of .771 in 180 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers in 2015. Both players will first look for a full-time starting job, but in the event that they don't find it, the Tigers may have enough spare cash left after filling other needs to bring them back to Detroit.