On February 6, 2004, the Detroit Tigers were coming off a 119-loss season — one that offered little hope in sight for the future — when they signed eventual Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez to a multi-year contract. One year later, on February 7, 2005, the Tigers signed Magglio Ordoñez to a seven-year contract worth $105 million, with options included. The two stars would help the team to an American League pennant in 2006, and the club went on to a decade of prosperity.
It’s now February 2020, and the Tigers are coming off a 114-loss season. Worse, they have lost the only hitter in their lineup who performed better than average at his position, when they traded Nicholas Castellanos last summer. While their division rivals in Chicago and Minnesota are stocking up for the season, the Tigers have made only a modest effort this offseason to help their lineup, by signing C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop to a pair of one-year contracts. The void in their outfield is obvious, but will it be addressed before Opening Day?
One by one, the best options, including Castellanos, have signed elsewhere as spring training approaches. Hunter Pence and Domingo Santana have found new teams in the past few days, for very modest salaries. The best player available is 29-year-old Yasiel Puig, who hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs and a .330 wOBA last season. Recent comments by Tigers general manager Al Avila suggested that the team may not be done shopping for the offseason, and they could add an outfielder. But Avila told reporters that Puig was “not a priority.”
So who is left? Here are six outfielders who are still free agents that could help the Tigers in 2020:
The 31 year old super-utility player ranks 41st on MLB Trade Rumors’ top 50 free agents. He was forecast to sign a two-year deal for $4 million per season. Holt hit .297/.369/.402 with a .333 wOBA in 295 plate appearances last season with the Red Sox, where he has spent the past seven seasons. He has little power, but plays respectable defense wherever he is stationed. He is one of the only left-handed hitters in this group, a preference for the right-heavy Tigers.
The former first round Tigers draft pick signed with the Cleveland Indians on March 29, 2019 and was purchased by the New York Yankees by the end of April. He enjoyed a fine season in the Bronx, hitting .285/.364/.494 with 11 home runs and 19 steals in 269 plate appearances. Traditionally a center fielder, Maybin played both corners last season, grading out better in right field than left. Another right-handed hitter, the now 32-year-old probably would come at a bargain price.
A 30-year-old left handed batter who was brought up as an infielder but has seen duty in the outfield, Miller also started the 2019 season with Cleveland before being dealt to the Phillies in June. He hit .260/.329/.565 (a 126 wRC+) in 170 plate appearances between the two teams, and posted plus defensive metrics in the outfield. He smashed 13 home runs in just 170 plate appearances last summer, showing that the power is still there after hitting 30 homers in 2016. He has played every infield position and both corners in the outfield.
A switch-hitting utility player who just finished up a four-year stint with the Chicago Cubs, Zobrist missed most of the 2019 season. The 38-year-old has provided steady production, hitting .294/.373/.408 with a .341 wOBA over the past two seasons. There were rumors that he may retire, but that remains to be seen.
After spending five seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, the San Francisco Giants non-tendered Pillar in his final season of arbitration eligibility. The 31-year-old right-handed bat plays all three outfield positions very well and has hit 36 home runs with 28 steals in the past two seasons. He has a paltry 4.0 percent career walk rate, but is otherwise a solid two-way player. He made $5.9 million in 2019, but will likely have to take a pay cut next season.
The 34-year-old former Colorado Rockies All-Star signed on with Cleveland for $2 million in mid-March 2019, was released at the end of May, and eventually picked up by the Cubs. A month later, Gonzalez declined a minor league assignment and became a free agent . A left handed hitter, Car-Go says he still wants to play ball, and would probably have to take a minor league deal. He is not far removed from a 2018 season where he hit .276/.329/.467 with 16 home runs. The upside is obvious if he could find some of the old magic in his bat.
Free agent outfielders: 2018-19 statistics
The Tigers have waited out the market and these players have fallen through the cracks of free agency. They could move to and up a bargain player who can share duty in the outfield with their young players like Christin Stewart, Victor Reyes, and Travis Demeritte. Ideally, the Tigers would sign someone to a multi-year contract and who might be a part of their lineup when they are ready to field a contender. Based on Avila’s comments, and on their recent actions, that doesn’t appear likely.
Which free agent outfielder should the Tigers sign?
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None of the Above