As Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings draw closer, the Detroit Tigers find themselves with more needs than they can probably fill on the free agent market. In fact, they have filled two holes via trades in the early weeks of the offseason, dealing for closer Francisco Rodriguez and outfielder Cameron Maybin. The team still needs two starting pitchers, at least one more relief pitcher, and potentially another outfielder.
While everyone is out shopping on Black Friday, there is no reason for the Tigers to be left out of the fun. Here are some relatively inexpensive free agents who could help the Tigers in 2016.
David Price and Zack Greinke will be looking for big money contracts. Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann are forecast to get long term deals at $20 million (or more) per season. In the next tier, estimated at $10 to $15 million per season, there are a number of good starting pitchers who could slot into the Tigers’ rotation.
John Lackey ranks fourth on the list of free agent starting pitchers this winter with 3.6 fWAR in 2015. Only Price, Greinke, and Cueto were more valuable. Lackey ranks sixth on the list over the past two season with 6.0 WAR. He posted a 3.27 ERA and 3.67 FIP while averaging 208 innings per season over the two years. FanGraphs projects Lackey to get two years at $15 million per season, while MLB Trade Rumors has the 37-year-old righthander pegged at $50 million over three seasons. On a shorter contract, Lackey may provide more bang for the buck than the other starters in his salary range. He would cost a first round pick for most teams, but just a second round pick for Detroit.
J.A. Happ ranks fifth on the list of free agent starting pitchers this winter with 3.3 fWAR in 2015. His 3.63 ERA is bested by a 3.43 FIP in 31 starts between Seattle and Pittsburgh. Steamer projects Happ to produce 1.9 fWAR and a 3.80 ERA in 2016. The 33-year-old lefthander is forecast to earn $10 million per season by MLB Trade Rumors and $11 million by FanGraphs, each on a three year deal. He is free of draft pick compensation.
Doug Fister was profiled here as a potential one year bargain, estimated at $10 million. He is expected to prefer the shorter deal to rebuild his value. Injuries limited him to just 15 starts and 103 innings last summer, with an ERA of 4.19. Over the previous four seasons, he racked up 14.0 WAR, behind only Price, Greinke, and Zimmermann among current free agent starters. He posted a 3.12 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in those four seasons.
After acquiring Cameron Maybin, the Tigers have filled one outfield spot, and seem to be content with their current roster. It seems unlikely that the Tigers bring back Yoenis Cespedes, or spend a bundle on another outfielder. Long before Moneyball was written, deploying platoons has been one of the great ways that teams take advantage of market inefficiencies. Here are two right-handed hitters who could share time in left field with Maybin or Tyler Collins.
Ryan Raburn led all free agent corner outfielders with a .397 wOBA, hitting .301/.393/.543 in 201 plate appearances in 2015. He posted 1.9 WAR, ranking 10th on the list despite having fewer plate appearances than many others. The Cleveland Indians used Raburn against left-handed pitchers in 87 percent of his trips to the plate, but declined a $3 million team option for 2016, making him a free agent. If his price tag is in that range, he would make a decent platoon partner in left field.
Chris Young had a fine season for the New York Yankees, where he posted 1.2 fWAR while earning just $2.5 million. Young is four seasons removed from a pair of 4 WAR seasons with Arizona, but he rebounded in 2015 with a 109 wRC+, including a whopping 162 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. He hit 14 home runs in 356 plate appearances, with a .320 on-base percentage while slugging .453. He was also worth +2 defensive runs saved in left field.
With K-Rod on board as the team's closer, the Tigers’ interest in Joakim Soria has waned. Still, the lessons linger, of cheaping with Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny at $1 million apiece. With Joe Nathan and Soria gone, that’s $17 million in bullpen dollars saved, and plenty left after taking on Rodriguez’s salary. A couple of relief pitchers at a cost of $4-5 million per year is not only wise, but necessary.
Antonio Bastardo is a left-handed reliever who has an excellent strikeout rate, but walks over four batters per nine innings. He is experienced and effective in a setup role and is forecast to earn $15 million over three years by MLB Trade Rumors.
Shawn Kelley posted a 2.45 ERA, 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and 2.6 walks per nine in 51 1/3 innings for the San Diego Padres in 2015, behind Craig Kimbrel and Joaquin Benoit. Kelley's projected salary is $12 million for two seasons, but the salary may be lower over three years. At age 31, the righthander should have a few good seasons left in him.
Chad Qualls had his $3.5 million club option declined by the Houston Astros and is now available. The 37-year-old righthander posted a 4.38 ERA in 2015, but had a 3.52 FIP and a 1.11 WHIP while striking out nearly a batter per inning. He has worked at least 49 innings each of the past five seasons, and carries a career ERA of 3.80. On a one year deal, he could be a bargain.