It was inevitable, really. After a whirlwind offseason in which the Detroit Tigers remodeled their bullpen, bolstered their rotation, and added a shot of bench depth, they were still staring at a sizable hole in left field. It was all anyone (our writers included) wanted to talk about when the Tigers came up, and all anyone would focus on when upgrades like Jordan Zimmermann and Francisco Rodriguez were mentioned.
Now, we are once again left praising various deities that Mike Ilitch owns this team.
The Tigers broke the bank once again on Monday evening, agreeing in principle to a six-year, $132.75 million contract with outfielder Justin Upton. The move displaces some combination of Cameron Maybin, Anthony Gose, and Tyler Collins -- the first two will likely split time in center field, while Collins gets another ticket to Toledo -- and adds a three-time All-Star to a lineup that already includes Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Ian Kinsler.
There are concerns, and the internet will tell you all about them over the next few days. Upton is right-handed leaving the Tigers with an almost entirely right-handed lineup. Opt-out clauses place all of the risk on the team offering the contract, and $132 million is a lot of money. Free agents don't age well, especially those reliant on power like Upton.
This move had to happen, though. The Maybin/Gose/Collins left field conglomerate required the rosiest of glasses (or fullest of drink glasses) to accept, even as visions of diving catches danced in our heads. None of the three incumbents projects to be an average offensive player, and each has a significant weakness or two that will likely materialize with enough playing time.
Enter Upton, a career .271/.352/.473 hitter who hasn't dipped below the 120 wRC+ barrier in the past three seasons. His batting average has fallen off at times, including a .251 mark in 2015, but his walk and power numbers more than make up for it. Upton has hit 26 home runs or more in five of the past seven years, and he has walked in 10.3 percent of his career plate appearances. He even has a bit of quickness in his game, with 115 career stolen bases.
Upton also helps lengthen a lineup that was badly hurt by the loss of Yoenis Cespedes at last season's trade deadline. When healthy, the Miguel Cabrera-Victor Martinez-J.D. Martinez trio is as fearsome as it gets. However, injuries and holes on either side of that triumvirate can make the lineup look more shallow than it appears on paper. The Upton signing adds length to the batting order, and allows manager Brad Ausmus the flexibility to do something unconventional, such as move Nick Castellanos, or even Cabrera, to the second spot (whether he has the daring to do so is another topic altogether).
This move reaffirms something we have known for a long time: owner Mike Ilitch is all in for a championship, and he will spare no expense to see a November parade down Woodward Avenue before he passes away. In his eyes, adding another $100+ million contract to the roster isn't a calculated risk, it's an insurance policy. Another big money move was bound to happen, it just took longer than we expected to materialize. Let's hope it eventually pays off for the Tigers.