There is a lot of roster turnover in Major League Baseball these days. On our last podcast, HookSlide and I pointed out that just three position players and two starting pitchers from the Detroit Tigers' 2013 squad are still in the organization. The Tigers were especially busy this offseason, resulting in a team that will have at least nine players on its Opening Day roster that were not with the organization last October.
Last week, fearless BYB leader Kurt Mensching used his Detroit News column space to identify left-handed reliever Justin Wilson as the Tigers' most underrated move of the offseason. Adding Wilson to the fold helps strengthen the Tigers' middle relief corps, helping them preserve close leads in what should be a tightly-packed divisional race.
Not to bash my colleague or anything, but he's wrong. The Tigers' most underrated move this offseason is catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and here are three reasons why.
He's a useful left-handed bat
Saltalamacchia struggled in a Marlins uniform, batting just .209/.310/.351 in 123 games over two years. He has been much more productive in every other stop during his career, however, and is a career .240/.311/.419 hitter. This isn't all that impressive, but Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter with some pronounced platoon splits. In just over 2,000 plate appearances as a lefty against right-handed pitching, Salty has hit a solid .251/.325/.447 with 77 home runs. This kind of production will be an excellent complement to James McCann, who posted an ugly 64 wRC+ against right-handed pitching last season.
Not only will Saltalamacchia platoon well with McCann, he also provides a solid option off the bench in key situations. The Tigers haven't had an above average bench bat in several years now, and Saltalamacchia's splits pair well with the Tigers' righty-heavy lineup. Pinch-hitting opportunities may be few and far between -- he's not going to pinch hit for Miguel Cabrera anytime soon -- but the Tigers are in a much better position to take advantage of late-inning matchups than in years past.
The only thing worse than the Miami Marlins signing Saltalamacchia to a three-year, $21 million deal was releasing him halfway through that contract. As such, Saltalamacchia will make $8 million in 2016, with the Marlins on the hook for nearly $7.5 million of that money. Granted, this meant a lot more when the Tigers were underneath the luxury tax threshold -- they have since blown past that barrier by signing Justin Upton -- but employing any useful player for the league minimum salary is good business in today's game.
He creates organizational depth
Saltalamacchia himself is a useful insurance policy should James McCann land on the disabled list, but the repercussions of his signing go deeper than that. Bryan Holaday was originally slated to be the backup catcher, but could potentially spend another season plying his trade in Toledo. Injuries happen all the time, especially to catchers, and having a solid third catcher in the organization is a big plus. Holaday is out of options, and 2015 Mud Hens teammate Manny Pina is no longer in the organization, so the Tigers will need to hope Holaday squeezes through waivers at the end of spring training. If he does, the Tigers will be able to withstand an injury to either McCann or Saltalamacchia with little drop-off in production.
The other guys
Of course, there are plenty of players to choose from. Kurt makes a great case for Wilson, while others like Mark Lowe, Francisco Rodriguez, and Mike Pelfrey -- yes, Mike Pelfrey -- cannot be ignored. One could also make the case that high-profile signings like Upton and Jordan Zimmermann are still underrated in their own right.
What do you think was the Tigers' most underrated move this offseason?