After a busy Winter Meetings in which the Detroit Tigers fixed their bullpen and filled other dire needs, the 25-man roster is all but set. Their prospects aren't being traded for top-tier talent, and there may be a bullpen battle or two involved, but this team, as constructed, is probably close to the iteration we will see on Opening Day.
The problem? It still feels... unfinished.
While many fans are still clamoring for a big outfield signing like Alex Gordon or Yoenis Cespedes, general manager Al Avila, who lies about as well as a six-year-old being asked about a broken window, refuted any connection to the two star left fielders.
Instead, their bar is set a bit lower. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports that the Tigers are one of four teams interested in utility player Sean Rodriguez, who has appeared at every defensive position (except catcher) in his eight-year career. Rodriguez played six different positions while hitting .246/.281/.362 for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season.
Who is he?
Drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the third round of the 2003 amateur draft, it took five long years before Rodriguez made it to the major leagues. His call-up finally came on April 19, 2008... and then he was optioned back to the minor leagues after one game. He was eventually recalled, and played in 71 games for the Angels in 2008 and 2009 before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in the deal that sent then-Rays ace Scott Kazmir out west.
Rodriguez fared well under manager Joe Maddon, hitting .251/.308/.397 while playing all eight defensive positions during the 2010 season. He compiled 2.0 WAR that season, and another 2.1 WAR in 2011. His offensive numbers eventually dropped off, but Rodriguez was worth 5.8 WAR in five seasons with Tampa, hitting .228/.300/.278 in 553 games. He was traded to the Pirates in December 2014 for a minor league pitcher named Buddy Borden.
Why should we care?
Rodriguez's overall offensive numbers aren't pretty, and the .232 ISO he posted with the Rays in 2014 isn't ever coming back again. That said, Rodriguez has much better numbers against left-handed pitching. He hits for more power against lefties (a .155 ISO compared to .135 against righties), and has walked at a near 10 percent clip. A career .246/.336/.400 hitter against southpaws, he would be an inexpensive option as the short side of a platoon.
Rodriguez's defensive versatility is also useful, if a bit redundant with the current roster. He has played at least 10 games at every defensive position (except catcher) in his career, and has appeared everywhere except center field since 2014. Advanced defensive metrics aren't very reliable in this case given the small innings samples, but there are no red flags lying in what he has done so far.
Why should we stay away?
Umm... besides that
Defensive versatility is nice (and probably cheap), but Rodriguez doesn't fill a need on this roster the way a more offensively-inclined player would. The Tigers are still hurting for a bit of pop in left field, especially against left-handed pitching, and Rodriguez's numbers aren't exactly awe-inspiring. Plus, the days of Don Kelly replacing Stone-Handed Corner Outfielder X are over. Cameron Maybin, Anthony Gose, and J.D. Martinez are all better defenders, and the infield is well set defensively as well. Rodriguez is useful if you need a Swiss Army Knife, but the Tigers should be looking at a sledgehammer.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Rodriguez might not be the best fit for their roster, but unless owner Mike Ilitch opens up the checkbook to sign a big-time outfielder, this might be the most likely conclusion. The Tigers have long been enamored with the "super utility player," and Avila has been very forthcoming in where he has focused his efforts so far this offseason. Rodriguez checks off the "plays infield and outfield" box, and offers a bit more offensive production against left-handed pitching, but they would do better to shop around more first.