As 2016 comes to a close, the Detroit Tigers have been frozen since the end of the regular season. Plans and rumors of a drastic overhaul have faded away, and the 2017 strategy has come more into view. It seems like general manager Al Avila is prepared to make just minor tweaks to the roster, keeping the team stable financially while still fielding a competitive lineup.
To contend, though, the Tigers do need to make a couple of more moves. Center field is still an ominous gap that has no easy solution. The best plan would be to sign a cheap, two-way player who could be had for a light contract. This requires shifting through a player pool with few obvious gems. But maybe Peter Bourjos could be the man for the job.
Who is he?
Bourjos was a 10th-round pick by the Angels who rose up the system, making his debut in 2010. He had a few positive seasons in Los Angeles, but found it difficult to sustain consistent playing time in a crowded outfield. He spent two years in St. Louis before joining the Phillies in 2016, playing 123 games with Philadelphia. A career .243/.300/.382 hitter, Bourjos has very little power, but can be competent at the plate and valuable with his legs.
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.
Why should we care?
The Tigers need a center fielder, and Bourjos is better than the current internal options. He should be able to be had for a very reasonable price, and he offers a few skills that are lacking in the lineup. Bourjos would not be a liability in the outfield, and he could even make up for some average-at-best defense from the corner outfielders. With the number of fly ball pitchers in Detroit, as well as a large area to cover in center, having a glove-first player might be the way to go.
Additionally, Bourjos has decent speed and has a career 13.0 BsR. This is easily above most of the current Tigers on the roster. He is not a huge threat at the plate, but he can get on base enough to score some runs given the other players in the lineup. The Tigers simply need someone who can play quality defense while not being a liability on offense, and Bourjos fits this role.
Why should we stay away?
While he should not be a liability, the upside of Bourjos at the plate is very limited. Only twice has he posted an OBP over .300 and he has averaged just four home runs per year since 2012. A 4.4 percent walk rate last season was a little concerning, and his career strikeout rate sits at 23.5 percent. For having good speed, Bourjos does not steal many bases. He has not hit double-digits since 2011, so he has not been a player who scores all that frequently.
Bourjos has the ceiling over players like Tyler Collins, Steven Moya, and Anthony Gose, but if he struggles to improve on his 2016 season he many not really be that much of an upgrade. At least one of those players is going to be on the 25-man roster, and they can probably provide just as much value on offense as Bourjos has the past couple of seasons. The defensive downgrade would still be a problem, but no extra money or roster spot would be needed in this situation.
Will he end up in Detroit?
The Tigers are not willing to make any huge additions going into 2017, but they still would like to find some sort of upgrade in center field. For a team that struggles with defense and speed, a player like Bourjos looks like a decent match. He may never come back to his days in LA, but he does have the tools to be an everyday contributor on the roster.
Tigers are still seeking a veteran stop-gap in centerfield, I'm told, looking for low-cost options around $2 million.— anthony fenech (@anthonyfenech) January 5, 2017
Avila wants to be cost effective, and signing Bourjos would fit that plan. He is not the headline grabber of past offseasons, but he represents a key piece in the lineup, and he is the type of player that fits the budget. For the Tigers to seriously compete next season they must do something about center field, so it would not be that shocking to see someone like Bourjos come to Detroit.