On November 3, the first trade of the Detroit Tigers’ offseason saw center fielder Cameron Maybin shipped off to the Los Angeles Angels. With the promise of substantial shakeups still coming, left fielder Justin Upton — with his heavy $22.12 million salary — and right fielder JD Martinez could both be high-value trade chips for general manager Al Avila in the coming months.
Bearing that in mind, it seems worthwhile to investigate available free agent options the Tigers might consider using for the 2017 season to bring power batting into the lineup at a single year rental price. Avila seems focused on bringing in younger players and cheaper contracts, but there are certainly options on the market that could fill holes in the Tigers outfield for a reasonable price.
The 2017 season may be a pre-building year, with big offseason moves designed to bulk up the Tigers roster. A few big-name free agents could prove to be just the ticket to keep fans interested and to steer the ship towards a young and inexpensive new look when the Tigers potentially lose J.D. Martinez to free agency.
Taking a look at some of the available options hitting the market, there are some interesting possibilities.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list of all free agent outfielders. For the full list, check out MLB Trade Rumors.
If Avila wants to keep the team young, we can immediately scratch options like Carlos Beltran, Rajai Davis, and Jose Bautista, all of whom are in their mid-to-late 30s. Davis is one option who might be able to beat the age concerns, having the best stolen base record in the AL for 2016 with 43 steals, while being caught only six times. That kind of aggressive base running is something the Tigers are sorely lacking, especially now that Cameron Maybin is gone. No one on the list is under the age of 30 (Saunders will be 30 before the start of the 2017 season).
Mark Trumbo, at 30, is easily the most appealing option on the list. His 108 RBIs and 47 home runs are the kind of meaty offensive numbers the Tigers could really use, especially if they end up sacrificing power hitters like J.D. Martinez or even Miguel Cabrera to cut back on payroll. His $9.15 million contract is a hard pill to swallow, but might be worth it for the power he provides. However, sticking him in the outfield would make an already bad defense even worse.
Cost is a big issue with most free agent contracts. Most will want multi-year contracts, having declined options from their home teams, like Bautista, and won’t settle for one or two year offers. Ian Desmond was a late off-season sign for the Texas Rangers and took a salary hit from his previous $11 million per year with the Washington Nationals. He should see a significant raise in 2017, but he did have great numbers with the Rangers in 2016 and could be a good fit in the Tigers batting order.
Less expensive options like Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders or former Athletics and Indians slugger Brandon Moss are appealing in that they’re players who have been in the AL for awhile and are familiar with the clubs the Tigers would frequently be facing. Their cost is low enough to keep the payroll lean, if they could be picked up for shorter term contracts.
Besides Davis, there are several familiar faces Tigers fans might be interested to see return to Comerica Park next season. Austin Jackson was beloved during his time with the Tigers, and though his numbers in 2016 took a hit thanks to a meniscus tear in his left knee that required surgery, he should be back to full health in time for Opening Day. Whether such an injury could lead to potential future time on the disabled list — something the Tigers can ill afford — remains to be seen. Ryan Raburn is another name Detroit fans will know. Though not as well loved as Davis or Jackson, Raburn was with the team for seven seasons, including the World Series 2012 team. He’s primarily a utility player, and unlikely to be an ideal fit as a permanent outfielder, but he has been known to pitch a few innings when duty calls.
The free agent market this season is rich with options, many of whom will be seeking contracts well beyond what the Tigers are willing to pay. Don’t expect to see Jose Bautista or Colby Rasmus donning an old English D in the new year. But there are certainly interesting possibilities that could fill the Tigers needs for power as well as empty spaces in the outfield. Should Upton or J.D. Martinez join Maybin on the trade market, seeing Trumbo or Desmond take their place in the lineup could make for an exciting baseball season. Likewise, getting Davis or Jackson back could help soften the blow of some of the inevitably painful moves that Al Avila will make in the offseason.