With the winter MLB Hot Stove warming up, and rumor circulating that the Detroit Tigers may not be as ready to clean house as previously believed, it’s a good time to look at a potential solution for the gap in center field that could help propel the Tigers towards contention again in 2017.
Rajai Davis is fun to watch. He’s enthusiastic, charming, and absolutely shines from within the TV screen. The star qualities that are difficult to define and impossible to recruit for are part of what makes Rajai such a sensational addition to any team he’s a member of. When he was a part of the Tigers organization, he was a buoyant personality in the clubhouse and a fan favorite on the field.
Beyond merely his energy and magnetism, though, Rajai Davis is very good at baseball. He’s the kind of player who can get things done at bat and in the field, which is precisely what the Tigers should be on the hunt for during the winter meetings.
Who is he?
Rajai Davis is one of those players who has been shifted around outfields and bounced from team to team for as long as he’s been in the majors. He started his career in 2006 with the Pirates and quickly found himself moving from Pittsburgh to San Francisco. He stayed by the Bay, spending three seasons with Oakland before coming back East to play for Toronto. He spent two seasons with the Tigers before he went to the Cleveland Indians as a free agent, showing hero-level antics during their World Series run. He’s a career .267/.314/.387 hitter who has played a significant number of games in both left field and center field.
Why should we care?
He had a great year in the Indians outfield in 2016. He had the third highest number of double plays turned as a center fielder. His general fielding stats show average numbers, with a DRS of -3 and a UZR of +1. That said, those stats were miles above the numbers posted by Cameron Maybin, who had a DRS of -11 and a UZR of -6.9 in 2016, and even Dexter Fowler’s numbers were terrible by contrast. Rajai Davis outshone J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton as far as outfield defensive stats went, making him an ideal choice to fill the missing spot in center. He also had 43 stolen bases in 2016 and was caught stealing only six times. That kind of aggressive, heads-up base running is something the Tigers could really use.
He’s also likely to be a relative bargain. He earned $5.25 million in 2016 and $5 million the two previous seasons with the Tigers. If he’d be willing to take a one or two year deal for less than $8 million a year, the Tigers should bite.
Why should we stay away?
Davis is already 36, which means he’s already got one foot in the grave as far as years left in baseball goes. The older a player gets the more at risk they are for injury, and the Tigers can’t afford to lose any of their outfield players in the coming season. 2016 was a nightmare with both Maybin and J.D. Martinez spending lengthy stays on the disabled list, forcing the Tigers to make do with triple-A talent and utility players, certainly not an ideal solution for a team hoping to contend. Injuries are not a new concern for Davis, who missed time with the Tigers in 2015 for groin injuries as well as a finger injury that resulted in Davis starting to use his signature oven mitt while running bases. He also missed a substantial number of games in 2011 with the Blue Jays due to an ankle injury.
Will he end up in Detroit?
It’s not as unlikely as it might have seemed a month ago, when Tigers general manager Al Avila was preaching the motto “cheap and young.” With the new suggestion being that the Tigers are not as motivated to sell as they were previously, there might be a little wiggle room for them to buy. And Rajai Davis could probably be snagged for a relatively fair short-term deal. He’s not as young as he used to be, and older players tend to be more willing to take shorter deals, as Davis has demonstrated. He’s not precisely what the Tigers had indicated they were after, but he could be just what they need.