Nobody is going to accuse the 2022 Tigers of having "too many hitters". They have some nice pieces in place, with Akil Baddoo, Jeimer Candelario, Jonathan Schoop and Robbie Grossman putting out well-rounded, above-average production. Defensively, Tucker Barnnhart solidifies catcher. They’ve added Javier Baez, a legitimate 25+ HR player at SS, and of course, Riley Green and Spencer Torkelson should be boppers for years to come. But wouldn’t one more hitter be really nice? Perfect, even?
The one position that stands out as easily upgradable is the outfield. Baddoo had a strong, if streaky, rookie season and already surpassed expectations of any Rule 5 draft pick, Grossman is a steady veteran possibly on the upswing, and Green should be "the guy" by the All Star Break. But the combination of Victor Reyes, Daz Cameron and Derek Hill is a pretty uninspiring placeholder for Green, and only Hill provides truly plus defense to make up for the lackluster offense. Between that and the very real risk Baddoo and/or Green struggle, and it’s clear there’s space for another outfielder.
Enter Nick Senzel.
Senzel is a former top prospect, topping out at 7th overall in 2019, who was rushed to the majors, spun silly with needless defensive versatility, and generally underwhelmed in between bouts of seemingly random injuries. His medical records give typists hand cramps; knee, heel, shoulder, shoulder, groin, shoulder, thumb, elbow, undisclosed, hamstring, ankle, migraine, face. Overall, it has led to Senzel playing in only 163 of a possible 352 games since he debuted in 2019, and it hasn’t been pretty; the 70 grade hit tool translated to a .246 career batting average, and his 55 grade power totaled only 15 home runs over what amounts to a full season, in Great American, of all places. So why bother?
Last year was different. His bottom line results sucked, again, but he looked better doing it. His strikeout rate dropped from a strong 19.2% to a paltry 12.9%; his walk rate rose from 7.7% to 9.7%, and while his wOBA was a mere .286, his expected wOBA (xwOBA) was a strong .357. If he had matched his expected and actual results, he would have been on par with stars like Jose Altuve (.357), Kris Bryant (.356) and Manny Machado (.350). That’s impressive. But he only played 36 games, maybe it’s a fluke?
I don’t think so. A lot changed for Senzel last year. His max EV jumped up to 109.8 MPH, a 50 on the raw power scale. He swung at everything more than he ever had; his Swing% on pitches Inside and Outside of the zone both increased, and so did his Contact%. He hit fewer popups, which are automatic outs. He swung at 96.4% of the "meatballs" he saw. The "precise, high-quality contact" FanGraphs praised as a prospect finally materialized in the Majors. The most fascinating thing about his 2021, however, was that his First Pitch Swing % jumped up from 38.5% to a top-15 45.2% in 2021, suggesting his entire game changed. See a strike early, ambush it, and trust the results will come. With every day playing time, his results would have stabilized. Senzel has matured offensively, he plays an adequate defensive CF, and his elite speed should translate well to gap power and base running havoc in Comerica Park.
Now, actually acquiring Senzel, that’s a bit tricky. Teams don’t typically trade controllable former top-prospects for pennies on the dollar - but Cincinnati is playing cheap, which the Tigers have capitalized on earlier this offseason, and Senzel has been really bad. He’s also rather out of place in their lineup; more than $35M is committed to Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakas at 3B, Jonathan India just won ROY at 2B, Jesse Winker and Tyler Naquin have locked down two OF spots, and frankly, they might prefer to cut their losses before things spiral even further. It wouldn’t be the first (or even the third, sadly) time this ownership cut a reasonably priced player for the best offer available. They’ll certainly want another OF, preferably a cheap one with good defense - Derek Hill fits that to a tee. They also trotted out a bottom-5 bullpen in 2021; Detroit could easily deal from its newfound pitching depth to acquire a potential 2-way star. Reece Olson or Joey Wentz probably have the most immediate appeal to Cincinnati. Either could be broken into the Majors as ‘pen reinforcements before slotting into the 2023 rotation. Finally, as an added insurance policy, the Tigers could add Isaac Paredes to cover either of Moustakas or Suarez - or even both - sucking once more, giving the Reds a polished infielder with a likely power bump in the Bandbox. Paredes looks a lot nicer with 18-22 HR in Great America than 10-14 in Comerica.
To summarize: the Tigers trade OF Derek Hill, SP Joey Wentz/Reece Olson and INF Isaac Paredes for OF/3B Nick Senzel. It’s a high-risk, high-reward move, and if it pays off, it would add another dynamic hitter for AJ HInch’s to utilize in the top of his lineup. If not, the Tigers lose a strong 4th outfielder, a mid-rotation arm and a potential low-grade starting infielder, which really isn’t that much to gamble on someone as talented as Senzel.