After addressing their need for an everyday second baseman, the Detroit Tigers are still faced with a vacancy of sorts in the designated hitter slot as the 2019 season approaches, a need they have not needed to address since the arrival of Victor Martinez in 2011.
Luckily, for Al Avila and company, there are some options that can explored to fill this position, with some ideas being more creative than others.
The basic, in-house option(s)
Miguel Cabrera, soon to be 36 years old and coming off of yet another injury-riddled season, is an obvious option to take up some time at DH in order to put less wear and tear on his body. It’s unlikely he would want this to be a full-time position — he has preferred to play the field in the past — but seeing him there part-time in 2019 wouldn’t be a surprise. And there are a couple of options on the roster that would allow this to happen.
Niko Goodrum, now without a regular place to play in the field following the Josh Harrison signing, is a viable candidate for the job. He brings a solid bat to the table, in addition to his utility man’s glove. Last season was a breakout of sorts, as he exhibited the ability to provide some power — 16 home runs, 29 doubles, .187 ISO — in a lineup that was largely starved for it. Though strikeouts were high (a 26.8 percent rate), he also maintained a slightly above-league averages with his walk rate (8.5 percent) and weighted on-base average (wOBA, .322). He has started seeing some reps in this spot in Grapefruit League play, along with playing time just about everywhere else on the field.
John Hicks, currently slotted as the backup to Grayson Greiner at catcher, is another possibility. It’s not a bad idea, given that he is coming off of a groin injury that cost him much of the back end of the 2017 season. It’s also worth noting that his serviceable bat (.311 wOBA, nine home runs in 81 games) is his strongest suit, given his subpar defense as both a catcher and first baseman. But it’s also not ideal pairing, given high strikeout and low walk rates in 159 career major league appearances.
Though it won’t be in any full-time capacity, we should expect to see both Nicholas Castellanos and Christin Stewart taking on the DH role for a few games this year to give them the occasional day off from the field.
Mikie Mahtook, fresh off of a two home run performance in Lakeland on Monday, has been used in the DH role a few times as well, though it’s more likely that he would serve in a fourth outfielder’s role should he make the team.
Free agent options
Evan Gattis is the only true DH left on the free agent market. He is coming off of something of a down season, which saw him finish as a replacement-level player. His stats were highlighted by a dip in batting average and on-base percentage with an uptick in strikeouts, as well as a below-average 99 wRC+. However, he remained a viable threat as a power bat, launching 25 home runs to the tune of a .226 isolated power (ISO). His numbers in 2017, albeit in just 84 games, were promising, just as they were in 128 games in 2016. He doesn’t bring great defense at catcher, but he can fill in there if necessary.
There’s risk attached to him, though. Tigers can’t place a sure bet on a return to 2016 from the 32-year-old Gattis. If it works, then he becomes a flippable asset on what would probably be a relatively cheap one-year deal. If he continues to regress, he’s no better, if not worse, than Martinez was last year.
Jose Bautista has not been a true DH in his career, but this might not be a bad idea. After being non-tendered by the Toronto Blue Jays, he didn’t make his 2018 debut until May with the Atlanta Braves. He also spent time elsewhere in the National League East, appearing for both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. Despite his late start, Bautista still managed to play in 122 games and make 399 plate appearances. Although his average was down and strikeouts remained a common sight (a 27.8 percent rate), he still managed to draw walks at a 16.8 percent clip. He also managed to keep his power at a resectable level (.175 ISO) on his way to registering as a 1.0 WAR player. He doesn’t shine defensively at any spot in the field, and should probably just be a DH at this point. But there’s little to no harm in approaching Bautista with a minor league deal in mind based on his bat alone.
There’s also the possibility of signing a first baseman off of the free agent market, something Ron Gardenhire expressed interest in earlier this spring. As Gardenhire mentioned, the Tigers could use veteran depth, and any addition could also serve as a safety net if yet another injury would befall Cabrera. However, at this point, the market of available first basemen is scant. Before signing with the Minnesota Twins, Marwin Gonzalez would have slotted in nicely here (and elsewhere). Bautista remains an option to take some time at first base, but it’s likely that Goodrum or Hicks would get the call before him.
The only true first baseman remaining in free agency is Logan Morrison, coming off of an uninspiring -0.7 WAR season that saw struggles aplenty at the plate. Chase Headley, a third baseman by trade who also saw time at first during his time with the Yankees, is another option, though he is coming off of a 2018 season that saw him play in only 27 games. Unless you’d want to take a flyer on James Loney — who hasn’t made a major league appearance since 2016 — or a 36-year-old Adrian Gonzalez, the crop is mighty thin. The lack of free agent buzz on any Tigers front indicates that this is unlikely, though.
Who would you like to see as the Tigers DH?
This poll is closed
Cabrera, with Hicks/Goodrum filling in
Free agent option
Sign a first baseman, more Miggy at DH