The Detroit Tigers clearly need some serious help this offseason if they’re to contend for a postseason berth in 2022. While adding pitching has to be part of the plan, the crux of their roster issues are centered at the shortstop position. We’ve already looked at Carlos Correa and why he’s the best all-around solution at the position. But there are a few other options they may consider, and Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager has to be next on the list.
The 27-year-old Seager is only a few month older than Correa, and has spent his entire career with the Dodgers. He was their 18th overall selection in the 2012 amateur draft, and has certainly turned out to be a heck of a pick. Seager burst on the scene in 2016, his first full season, cranking 26 home runs and posting a 136 wRC+ in 157 games played. Unfortunately, that remains his high water mark.
Seager was almost equally as good in 2017, but since then injuries and degraded defensive abilities have seen his total production plummet. However, his bat remains as potent a weapon as ever, arguably better than Correa’s. Seager should also be substantially cheaper, though he’s still going to require a very hefty contract.
Corey Seager 2018-2021
Corey Seager isn’t exactly a paragon of plate discipline, but he is solid in that regard, typically putting up league average walk rates. He’s an aggressive hitter and is somewhat vulnerable to left-handers with good breaking balls. Still, even against lefties he holds a career 116 wRC+. He’s just an excellent hitter all around.
What Seager does really well is make a ton of contact. He routinely posts very low strikeout rates, while hitting for good power numbers. Against fastballs in particular he’s exceptionally dangerous, holding a .248 ISO against heaters of all types over the past four seasons. That really stands out when we look at fastballs greater than 95 mph. Seager holds a .374 wOBA against those fastballs over the past four years. By contrast, Carlos Correa has posted a .292 wOBA against fastballs over 95 mph over the same time span. Against fastballs over 98 mph, Correa’s numbers actually improve, but so do Seager’s. At 99 mph or better, Seager holds an outrageous .418 wOBA over the past four years.
So, Correa has better pitch recognition, and hunts offspeed more successfully. He also draws walks at a better clip. But Seager is a confirmed monster against fastballs, no matter the velo, and it makes him particularly dangerous in the late innings when teams are running out right-handers with triple digit gas. He’s perhaps just a slightly better pure hitter than Correa.
In 2021, Seager missed well over two months due to a fractured pinky after being hit by a pitch back on May 15. That kind of injury isn’t a concern, but Seager’s lengthy injury history is a little worrisome in considering a long-term contract.
Seager tore his UCL in April of 2018, and missed the rest of the season for Tommy John surgery. He’s also had a litany of minor strains to his quads, hamstrings, and lower back, though only the hamstring injury in 2019 necessitated a stint on the injured list. Those repetitive soft tissue injuries keep GMs up at nigh.
We can’t say with any confidence whether Seager is likely to break down as compared to his peers. At least the last two seasons, the only real injury was the fractured pinky, so the recent history isn’t too worrisome. Still he’s lost some athleticism through the course of his Dodgers tenure overall. He doesn’t run particularly well at this point, and seems to have lost a bit of arm strength as well. Those issues might be a bad sign for the longevity of his all around game, but as long as he’s reasonably healthy he’s going to hit, and hit a lot.
The real problem with the Tigers signing Seager to take over at shortstop, is that he’s just not as effective at the position as he once was. In 2021, he graded out with a 0 mark in defensive runs saved (DRS), while Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OOA) put him at negative 5. Compare that to Carlos Correa’s plus 21 DRS and 12 OOA in 2021, for example. Per Statcast, Seager struggles going into the hole in particular, and his diminished throwing arm is presumably a big part of that.
The Tigers would probably be wise to upgrade the defense up the middle this offseason. Seager and Schoop together isn’t going to do that. However, Seager’s bat is enough to make up for it, and for one year, with Seager moving off shortstop in 2023, it would be worth it to have an excellent left-handed bat added to the lineup.
Will the Tigers bite and at what cost?
FanGraphs estimates that Corey Seager will receive a deal of eight years, and $240M. The team that signs him will also surrender a draft pick due to Seager’s qualifying offer from the Dodgers. That’s a shorter deal than Correa’s projected 10 years, but for a similar average annual salary. The hope is that you get Seager on the shorter deal and have less of a decline phase to worry about. Whether that is enough to outweigh the much more modest defensive utility when compared to Correa, is the key question. One might comfortably argue that Correa is a lot better bet to remain a strong two-way player and hold value even if the bat does decline notably in his mid-30’s.
The Tigers have really emphasized the need to improve defensively this offseason, and that more than anything else, makes me think Seager isn’t really on their radar. So far, the New York Yankees have been the team most closely linked to him, and the Tigers aren’t going to outduel them financially. They might have to overpay Seager a good deal to convince him to consider the Tigers in the first place. Adding Corey Seager to this team would still be a huge statement of intent from Tigers’ ownership and the front office this offseason and an enormous upgrade to their lineup. But right now, the fit doesn’t seem to be there.