In a season full of disappointments, one of the more glaring voids on the 2019 Detroit Tigers roster was the lack of a capable everyday second baseman. That role was first handed to Josh Harrison, but injury and poor performance sent the Tigers falling back on their lack of depth. There still isn’t an in-house answer the team can turn to in 2020 and they are unlikely make a big splash on the trade market. This leaves free agency to find a capable player at the keystone.
A new option became available when the Chicago White Sox designated infielder Yolmer Sánchez for assignment and he cleared waivers, becoming a free agent. The Tigers should look into making him their second baseman in 2020.
Admittedly, Sánchez doesn’t bring much to the table offensively.
In five full seasons with the White Sox, he has never posted an above-average campaign by wRC+, and batted only .252/.318/.321 in 2019. However, he fits the kind of mold that Detroit’s coaching staff have been emphasizing for years. He sprays batted balls to all parts of the field, and had the fifth-highest rate of medium contact in the league among qualified hitters. Add in a middle-of-the-pack line drives and swinging strike rates, and you have a player who would be a big upgrade for not much salary (and no long-term commitment).
Sánchez derives most of his value from his work in the field. He is a skilled defender and is able to float the profile of a light-hitting veteran presence. Baseball-Reference’s player value system valued his defensive work alone at 1.7 wins above replacement (dWAR) last year. Incidentally, that dWAR total would have outpaced all but four members of the 2019 Tigers in total WAR (incorporating both offense and defense).
Excellent defense would be a welcome addition to the club, not just because it was an area the Tigers were lacking in during the 2019 season, but because it will play a role in successfully bridging the top pitching prospects to the majors. Making the leap to the bigs is almost always tricky. A good team needs to give their youth every edge, which means sheltering a young pitcher from hard luck losses thanks to bad glove work. The Tigers’ rebuild is predicated on the pitching prospects, so why not help them at every step of the way?
Sánchez fits the organization in more ways than one.
He is arguably the best option available to the team on a one-year commitment. Players who could hold down a spot on a better team would more than likely command multiple years, but because of his shortcomings at the plate, Sánchez won’t be exacting a high price; he may even be had on a minor league deal requiring no significant commitment from the Tigers.
The bottom line is this — the Tigers need to do better in filling the holes on their roster this winter than they did last year. Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison did not get the job done on Comerica’s infield grass in 2019. Looking at the options available at second base, it’s easy to see how the Tigers would find themselves at Sánchez’s doorstep. His signing would hardly be speculative — he has produced 8.2 rWAR over the past three seasons — but it also won’t vault the Tigers into playoff position.
While signing Sánchez doesn’t scream “upside” — he is what he his offensively at this point — the Tigers need quite a bit of help just to put a sound defensive unit on the field. It’s easy to see how Sánchez could fit in with the Tigers plans without significantly altering the way they have been going about their business over the last two offseasons.