The Detroit Tigers entered this offseason hoping to get younger and leaner while cutting their payroll for 2017. This is no easy task, to be sure. Fans griped when Cameron Maybin and his $9 million option were traded to the Los Angeles Angels, then griped more when they learned about pitching prospect Victor Alcantara. Now, without a proven center fielder on the roster, the Tigers might be relying on toolsy prospect JaCoby Jones more than we would like next season.
There might be another answer, though. The Washington Nationals non-tendered center fielder Ben Revere on Friday, making him a free agent. Revere had a disastrous 2016 season, hitting just .217/.260/.300 after arriving in a curious offseason trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s no surprise that Revere was non-tendered — the Nats already have his replacement and Revere was projected to earn $6.3 million in arbitration.
However, with a long history of success preceding Revere’s 2016 faceplant, could he be the buy-low candidate that fixes the Tigers’ center field woes in 2017?
Who is he?
Revere is a speedy outfielder who was originally drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2007. A former first round pick, Revere made his way to the big leagues rather quickly for a high school signee. He had a cup of coffee with the Twins in 2010 before hitting .267 with a .310 on-base percentage in 117 games in 2011. Revere played one more season in Minnesota before being traded to Philadelphia. He shined as a Phillie for two-plus seasons, producing a .331 on-base percentage and 3.6 WAR. That success continued in the second half of 2015 when he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects.
However, as mentioned above, Revere’s numbers tanked in 2016, leading to his non-tender. The 2017 season is his fourth and final season in arbitration — he was a Super Two player in 2014 — and he will be a free agent at the end of the year (assuming he only signs a one-year deal this offseason).
Why should we care?
As we know, the Tigers’ two biggest deficiencies are speed and defense. Revere brings both to the table, though he isn’t the elite defender you might think. Still, he has produced relatively solid numbers throughout his career. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) pegs Revere as a slightly below average defender, at -12 runs throughout his seven major league seasons. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) is more optimistic, at +12.7 runs. Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) has him at -9.6 runs. UZR/150 estimates that he has been worth +2.6 runs over every 150 games, which indicates he’s an average defender in center field. Given the relative volatility of these measures, average sounds about right.
Offensively, Revere isn’t a huge threat. He struggled in the leadoff spot for the Nationals last season, but thrived in the same role for most of his time with the Phillies. He gets on base at a decent clip for a hitter lower in the order — he is a career .285 hitter with a .320 on-base percentage — and adds to that value with incredible speed and instincts on the basepaths. Revere has stolen 190 bases since his first full season in 2011, the fourth-highest total in baseball during that span. He has been worth 31.7 baserunning runs (BsR) in that same stretch, the seventh-highest total among all MLB hitters. Whether he hits leadoff or down towards the bottom of the order, Revere is a menace when he gets on base consistently.
There’s also much less risk in signing Revere than just about any other center fielder on the market. Sure, he might flop again, but that is a worthwhile gamble on a one-year deal. Even if the Tigers have to overpay slightly for that one year — something close to his arbitration estimate should do it — they wouldn’t be stuck in a long-term deal if Revere falters again. The move would also give JaCoby Jones more time to hone his plate discipline and pitch recognition in the minors, two skills that are hard to develop on the fly in the majors.
Why should we stay away?
Revere has had a solid career, but his 2016 season is cause for concern. Revere hit just .217 in 103 games while posting the highest soft contact rate of his career. His plate discipline also fell by the wayside, as he swung at more pitches outside the strike zone and offered at fewer pitches within the zone. He still maintained his elite contact rate — he swung and missed on just 3.3 percent of pitches last season — but couldn’t do anything with it.
The other main drawback is Revere’s relatively low ceiling. Even if his batting average bounces back in 2017, he doesn’t draw enough walks to be a truly elite leadoff hitter. Revere’s highest on-base percentage was just .342, and was largely buoyed by a .306 batting average. He has drawn walks in just 4.5 percent of plate appearances throughout his career. He also doesn’t flash much power, with a paltry .057 ISO in 3,035 career plate appearances. This profile can still hold some value — he produced 2.6 WAR for the Twins in 2013 — but he’s unlikely to be a real upgrade over what Cameron Maybin produced last season.
Will he end up in Detroit?
This one is definitely possible. Revere will be a cheap pick-up for the right team, and he might be willing to gamble on the best fit in order to rebuild his value. The Tigers have a serious need in center field, and Revere could make other teams take notice with a strong season patrolling Comerica Park’s cavernous outfield. Jarrod Saltalamacchia signed on with the Tigers last offseason because he knew he would have the opportunity to play, and it’s hard to find a more appealing situation for Revere (in terms of locking up playing time) elsewhere in baseball right now.