Now that the team doesn’t appear to be selling off its stars, the Detroit Tigers’ search for a center fielder has become a never-ending saga as we inch closer to spring training. Fans have clamored for some new blood ever since the Tigers traded Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels on the opening day of the offseason, but little progress has been made. General manager Al Avila has done his best to prop up minor league signees Alex Presley and Juan Perez, but the team has done little to address the problem with a true upgrade.
Hopefully, those days may be numbered. According to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, the Tigers are “in touch” with free agents Peter Bourjos and Gregor Blanco.
I know, I’m excited too.
Sarcasm aside, a low-cost signing would be good for the Tigers. We identified Bourjos as a potential Tigers target earlier this month, citing his excellent speed and glove as reasons he should be on the team’s radar.
Over the course of his career, Bourjos has accumulated 36 DRS and 49.0 UZR. He has the ability to play in the spacious Comerica Park outfield and has above-average range. Though he played in right field in Philadelphia, he has spent most of his career in center with defensive success. Borurjos has not topped 2.0 fWAR since 2012, but last season was the first time in five years where he recorded over 300 plate appearances.
Bourjos hit .251/.292/.389 in 123 games with the Philadelphia Phillies last season, and as Kyle notes, hasn’t been that far above replacement level over the past few years. Even if injuries have sapped some of his speed, he would still be a capable defender in center. However, with a career on-base percentage of just .300, expectations will be limited.
Blanco, on the other hand, has a sterling .344 on-base percentage in nearly 3,000 career plate appearances. He played in 140+ games in three consecutive seasons with the San Francisco Giants, but saw his playing time dwindle a bit over the past couple years. He struggled quite a bit last season, hitting just .224/.309/.311 in 274 plate appearances. He still managed a 10.6 percent walk rate, though, and could be due for some positive regression in 2017.
The knock on Blanco is a complete lack of power — he has a paltry .091 ISO for his career -- and a subpar glove. He has positive UZR and DRS grades for his career, but has fallen off considerably over the past few years. A lot of Blanco’s value has also been amassed in the corners; in relatively small samples in center field, he has been closer to league average.
As Fenech notes, the Tigers are not particularly close to signing a deal with either player. Bourjos would provide a right-handed alternative to the likes of Anthony Gose and Tyler Collins, while Blanco could potentially form a solid platoon with prospect JaCoby Jones. Either player would only be in the mix to compete for the center field job if signed, but would likely have a leg up on the competition heading into spring training.
UPDATE (8:20 p.m.): Blanco has agreed to a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. According to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo, Blanco will earn $1 million if he makes their major league roster. He can opt out of his contract after April 1.
(h/t MLB Trade Rumors)