The reported deal that was going to send Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson across town to the Angels is no more, according to a report from Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Naturally, this has led Tigers fans to question whether Pederson would be a fit in Detroit.
Pederson, a 27-year-old power hitter who has shifted to the corner outfield over the past couple years, is in his final year of club control before he reaches free agency next offseason. He enjoyed an excellent 2019 season, hitting .249/.339/.538 with 36 home runs. He is an above-average defender in the corners now, and has consistently produced around the 3 WAR mark in four of his five full major league seasons.
In a sense, he is the exact kind of player we have been clamoring for the Tigers to acquire this offseason.
But while Pederson, who is projected by Steamer for 2.7 WAR in 2020, would be a huge upgrade for the Tigers’ replacement level outfield, it doesn’t make much sense for Detroit to pony up the player(s) necessary to pry him away from the Dodgers, even as they work to sort out their roster crunch now that Mookie Betts is in the fold.
It all comes down to Pederson’s current contract situation. As mentioned, he will be a free agent after the 2020 season, when he will be free to sign with any major league club. There is a chance he signs a contract extension with a new team in the meantime, but let’s assume that, like most players so close to free agency, Pederson will test the open market. The Tigers will have plenty of money to spend — remember, Jordan Zimmermann’s contract comes off the books next winter — and could give Pederson the same multi-year contract they would likely plan on offering him were he acquired now via trade (he probably won’t be giving out any hometown discounts). They would also save themselves whatever capital the Dodgers are looking for in return, all while letting Pederson play elsewhere in a season where the Tigers are not projected to be competitive.
And if Pederson performs well and gets a qualifying offer? That might work even more into the Tigers’ favor. As a team now receiving revenue sharing money, the Tigers would only have to give up their third-highest draft pick, a much lower penalty than what other clubs would have to forfeit to sign Pederson. This could be as low as their third round pick, which has only been as high as No. 79 overall in the past several years.
There is a small chance Pederson signs a contract extension elsewhere before free agency, which would be unfortunate, but not the end of the world. In the end, he is a 3 WAR outfielder, and there will be a few of those on the open market next year — including two of this year’s bigger names: Marcell Ozuna, and Nicholas Castellanos, who has an opt-out clause in his new contract.
But if the Tigers decide Pederson is their guy and want to trade for him right now? That’s OK too. We’ll gladly take the outfield upgrade.