The waters have been fairly calm so far, but it will not be long before the MLB offseason takes off. Every fall, whispers and rumors regarding potential trades and free agent acquisitions pave the way for a flurry of transactions that will reshape rosters ahead of the new season the next spring. The season may start in April, but for all intents and purposes, the games begin now.
Unfortunately for fans of the Detroit Tigers, this offseason looks more like an opportunity to sell than a time to stack up the roster, which can be a little less headline-grabbing. Still, for the long-term prospects of the organization, the next few months could play a big role going forward. The Tigers have a prime chance to continue rebuilding the depth of the farm system, and jumping into the trade market is a great way capitalize on that.
Help needed in the Bay Area
Perhaps no team in 2017 was more disappointing than the San Francisco Giants, who finished with the same record as the Tigers. The problems for the Giants were spread across the board, with below-average numbers in wRC+, FIP, and position-player and pitcher fWAR. However, with plenty of talent still on the roster, the Giants are looking for a major bounce-back next season.
San Francisco’s vice president of baseball operations, Brian Sabean, was very clear about the team’s direction this offseason. “Center field needs to be upgraded,” Sabean said recently, as he also cited third base and the bullpen as target areas. While it was already clear that center field was a need, hearing it from someone the level of Sabean further emphasizes the likelihood of a deal being made.
The Giants featured a duo of Denard Span and Gorkys Hernandez in center field in 2017, who totaled 1.2 fWAR and 0.4 fWAR, respectively. Span recorded almost 200 more at bats at the position and hit a modest .272/.329/.427, while Hernandez hit just .255/.327/.326.
Hernandez graded out as an average defender, which does not do enough to outweigh his offensive limitations. Meanwhile, Span ranked second-worst among center fielders with -7.5 UZR and at the very bottom with -27 DRS. Neither player can be relied upon as an everyday player going forward, and even as a platoon piece their impact would be limited. This is why the Tigers should pick up the phone.
Thanks, but no thanks
Given the state of the situation listed above, the Giants are in no position to leave any stone unturned, but it would be highly unlikely for the Tigers to solve their problems. Detroit has been searching for an everyday center fielder themselves, and none of their three primary options stands out as an obvious choice for a move.
Right away, JaCoby Jones can be crossed off the list of potential trade candidates for San Francisco. Jones still has much brighter days ahead of him, but he is nowhere near ready enough to be a staple in the lineup. He spent the majority of 2017 in Triple-A and accumulated just 34 wRC+ with Detroit on the year. His 5 DRS in limited innings is encouraging, but he needs more time to develop at the plate.
Tyler Collins could be an intriguing player for San Francisco, especially given his defensive numbers. In 2017 he posted 4 DRS and 2.9 UZR in under 200 innings in center, representing a decent upgrade over current Giants’ fielders. His bat still leaves something to be desired, with 62 wRC+ leading to a negative fWAR last year, but Collins has posted better seasons in the past. Collins was also outrighted by the Tigers, so if the Giants wanted to sign him as a minor league free agent, they could do so without trading.
Realistically, Detroit’s best chance at a trade is Mikie Mahtook, a player who hit .276/.330/.457 with 107 wRC+ last season. Mahtook totaled 1.6 fWAR on the year but ended hot, recording 122 wRC+ during the second half. His defense graded below average, which does not solve the Giants’ issues in the field, but his bat could be an intriguing commodity.
Most likely, though, the Tigers do not line up as a great trade partner for the Giants. Their best option in Mahtook looks too similar to the current situation with Span and does not represent a big enough upgrade. Detroit should test their luck this offseason, but center field is unlikely to yield many results for the Tigers in the trade market.