The Detroit Tigers Winter Caravan got under way on Wednesday, and our social media feeds are now filling up with best-shape-of-my-life quotes, cute interactions between players and young fans, and the requisite preseason interviews. This is a time to look ahead to summer nights at the park and the sweet sound of baseballs cracking off of bats and popping into gloves.
However, while pitchers and catchers are just weeks away from reporting to Lakeland for spring camp, the offseason is still far from over, and according to general manager Al Avila, the club hasn’t stopped looking for ways to bolster the outfield group for the campaign ahead.
He’s making no promises, which tells you that the Tigers are looking more for a minor opportunity to drop into their lap rather than actively pursuing free agent outfielders. Still, as Evan Woodbery reports for Mlive, Avila made it clear that the front office is still thinking about adding a free agent outfielder. He went on to say that, “At this stage, I don’t know if it’s so much the price. It’s just a matter of the fit,” Avila said. “And does it block anybody?"
Now, of course it’s about the price. We’re all reasonable adults here. And as to blocking players, the Tigers don’t have a single outfielder who projects to be worth 1 WAR this year according to the ZIPS projection system at FanGraphs. Yes, there are certainly players who could surprise us, and you’re welcome to all the hope you can muster this season, but the odds that a free agent outfielder is going to hurt the rebuild by blocking someone are slim to none.
However, on the question of “fit” there may well be no real point in adding another cheap one year contract.
Ignoring who is actually available, let’s just consider the ideal candidate for their 2020 outfield. You’d love a left-handed hitter with power who can play good right field. Pretty simple. Obviously that isn’t available either. There isn’t a right-handed hitter who fits those descriptions available either.
Free Agent Outfielders 2018-2019
|Nicholas Castellanos||308||1342||50||4||6.7 %||21.9 %||0.294||0.346||0.513||126||-33.3||5.7|
|Kevin Pillar||303||1187||36||28||3.0 %||15.8 %||0.256||0.285||0.429||87||5.5||3.5|
|Yasiel Puig||274||1055||47||34||7.6 %||20.9 %||0.267||0.327||0.473||110||-15.6||3.1|
|Cameron Maybin||211||653||15||19||10.4 %||22.5 %||0.263||0.342||0.401||104||-4.0||2.0|
|Leonys Martin||149||617||20||11||8.3 %||25.1 %||0.231||0.303||0.390||84||7.7||1.9|
|Billy Hamilton||272||909||4||56||8.6 %||24.1 %||0.229||0.295||0.307||61||17.2||1.7|
|Jarrod Dyson||197||689||9||46||10.7 %||17.4 %||0.216||0.302||0.299||62||14.2||1.5|
|Matt Joyce||212||484||14||0||15.1 %||20.2 %||0.251||0.364||0.400||109||-7.4||1.4|
|Carlos Gonzalez||177||670||19||5||8.2 %||24.6 %||0.258||0.319||0.423||86||-0.8||1.2|
|Hunter Pence||180||564||22||11||6.6 %||22.7 %||0.265||0.314||0.453||98||-13.1||1.0|
|Domingo Santana||206||742||26||9||9.4 %||32.5 %||0.257||0.328||0.432||104||-22.1||0.8|
|Jon Jay||190||768||3||4||5.3 %||16.3 %||0.267||0.326||0.340||83||-7.7||-0.1|
|Gorkys Hernandez||162||508||15||9||6.3 %||25.0 %||0.225||0.278||0.376||77||-1.8||-0.2|
|Juan Lagares||163||349||5||7||7.2 %||24.1 %||0.237||0.297||0.338||69||-0.1||-0.2|
|Steven Souza Jr.||72||272||5||6||10.3 %||27.6 %||0.220||0.309||0.369||85||-7.8||-0.4|
|Curtis Granderson||261||766||25||2||12.4 %||26.6 %||0.214||0.318||0.395||94||-15.4||-0.5|
|Peter Bourjos||62||93||1||2||3.2 %||32.3 %||0.148||0.174||0.239||5||1.0||-0.6|
Once we get beyond ship-who-has-seemngly-sailed, Nick Castellanos, there just isn’t a whole lot to get excited about on the list. Yasiel Puig would be fun, but in his comments on Thursday Avila was asked about Puig and offered that the Cuban outfielder wasn’t a priority. This sounds like general manager for “we’re not really going to spend even that much,” but perhaps it’s not out of the question if the market for the talented yet mercurial outfielder is as weak as it currently seems.
In short, please sign Yasiel Puig. This message is endorsed by a least at slim majority of Tigers fans according to our unscientific polling. No, we won’t be holding our breath on this one.
Beyond that it’s a little hard to see the point in an inexpensive, and in some cases, quite familiar, cast of mediocre outfielders. Months ago one of our staff suggested inquiring into Jason Kipnis’ willingness to come on in a utility role and mixing in some work in right field or first base against right-handed starters only. At this point that doesn’t seem like a bad alternative either.
None of the other actual outfielders available really have a claim on regular playing time either. Leonys Martin hits left-handed, could platoon a bit with Travis Demeritte or Jorge Bonifacio, and play center field in a pinch. He also seemed quite well liked in his brief stay in Detroit back in 2018. However, beyond that brief productive streak with the Tigers, he hasn’t been a legitimate starting player for a long time.
Martin came off the blocks raking that spring and was traded to the Cleveland Indians for shortstop prospect Willi Castro in July, but then fell victim to a serious bacterial infection that threatened his life. Thankfully he recovered and was able to return to baseball this season, though he struggled in part-time action for Cleveland. Martin has his health and at least most of his former speed and wouldn’t be a bad pickup in the Tigers’ price range.
Domingo Santana is a poor outfielder, and pairing him too much with Christin Stewart in the corners could be a real liability on defense. But, he’s coming off an odd down year at the plate, and has a track record that suggests he could be a weapon in a part-time role. Former Tiger Matt Joyce is 35 years old now and still going strong in the circumscribed but somehow perfect bench role he’s carved out for himself. Kevin Pillar is right-handed and posts moribund on-base percentages year in and year out, but he does have some power and continues to play pretty good defense.
In short, a few of these players could certainly be of some use in a paper thin outfield position group. Just don’t expect much of an impact.
Of course, it’s rather immaterial if the Tigers add a player at this tier or not. Heading into the fifth full year of Al Avila’s tenure as general manager, the club still doesn’t have a single position player on the roster who will play a full-time role in turning things around for the franchise. One year deals don’t move that needle. Short of shocking us with a long-term signing or trade for a player under team control, their moves this offseason won’t have much bearing on the organization’s future.
Still, adding one of these lower tier players on the understanding that their role will be limited, combined with the short term acquisitions of C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Austin Romine, and a host of depth starters, could help make another long season a little more entertaining.