While most of the focus on the Detroit Tigers' offseason, including remarks made by general manager Al Avila, have focused on pitching, the Tigers also have pressing need for offense. After trading Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets in July, Detroit ranked dead last in the American League in runs scored after the All-Star break. Sure, injuries to Miguel Cabrera and the struggles of Victor Martinez played a part in the loss of run production, but let's make no mistake about the fact that the Tigers have a gaping hole in left field that needs to be addressed.
Cespedes smoked opposing pitchers to the tune of .293/.322/.506 with 18 home runs, 61 RBI, and 62 runs scored in four months of the baseball season, while leading the major leagues in defense among left fielders. Before him, Torii Hunter hit .286/.319/.446 with 17 homers, 83 RBI, and 71 runs scored in 2014. Losing that kind of production would blow a hole in any lineup.
While Cespedes figures to get a contract that is far too rich for the Tigers' budget and other free agents such as Jayson Heyward and Justin Upton figure to get contracts in the range of $20 million per year, there are other free agents on the market who could help the Tigers' lineup without blowing the budget. Gerardo Parra is one such player.
Who is he?
Parra is a 28-year-old outfielder from Venezuela who has spent seven seasons in the major leagues with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Milwaukee Brewers, and Baltimore Orioles. He bats left, throws left, and plays left field primarily, but has spent significant time in all three outfield positions. He finished eighth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2009 and has two Gold Glove awards on his mantle, which were earned in 2011 and 2013. While he set a career high with 14 home runs this past season, he has been more consistent at getting on base while batting first or second in the lineup.
Not surprisingly, Parra has hit right handed pitchers better than left handers, but is still serviceable enough to start against both. He has hit .321/.355/.568 in 200 career plate appearances when leading off a game.
Why should we care?
Parra is ranked as the No. 31 free agent by FanGraphs' crowd sourcing project and No. 32 on MLB Trade Rumors' top free agent list. He is forecast to make a median of $8 million per year for three seasons by FanGraphs, and $27 million for three years by MLB Trade Rumors. That's less than half the annual salary of what the more expensive free agent outfielders are projected to get.
Defensively, Parra ranks sixth among all major league outfielders over the past seven seasons with 65 defensive runs saved and seventh with a UZR of 43.4. He has won a Gold Glove in both left and right field, and would be a better offensive option in center field than Anthony Gose against a left-handed pitcher, although that's not saying much. Parra is also one of the younger free agents this winter at just 28 years old, and he won't cost draft pick compensation since he did not receive a qualifying offer.
Why should we stay away?
If your heart is set on replacing all of the production lost when Cespedes was traded to New York, you're not going to do that with Parra. Get ready to spend $18 to $20 million per year on an outfielder. Defensive metrics were not kind to Parra in 2015, as he recorded -10 DRS and -18.1 UZR, worst among major league outfielders. If you believe the negative swing of 50 runs saved over two years since 2013, Parra is going to be more like Torii Hunter, without the power. After being traded to the American League for the first time in his career, Parra did not adjust well, as his production plummeted with the Orioles.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The Tigers are going to prioritize pitching this winter, and they may not even pursue an outfielder until they know how much they have left to spend. It may be the case that a trade is worked out for the offensive players needed, or the club may wait out the market and see who is left on the shelves after Christmas. The defensive metrics in this case make little sense. Parra is more likely to be wearing a Tiger uniform than any of the high priced outfielders on the market, and the Mets are said to be interested in his services as well. If the prices being quoted above are accurate, the Tigers could do a lot worse.