At the moment, the Tigers can count on Rajai Davis and J.D. Martinez to have some role in the outfield in 2015, but beyond that, the Tigers have virtually nothing written in stone. Torii Hunter has manned right field for the past two seasons and is almost certainly signing elsewhere. Austin Jackson was dealt in July. Andy Dirks was jettisoned on waivers. The Tigers in-house options are Steven Moya, Tyler Collins, and theoretically Ezequiel Carrera. And after Wednesday’s trade, they can put Anthony Gose on that list.
That is not an outfield you’d expect to win a pennant. Martinez projects for a .342 wOBA and 1.5 WAR with Davis picking up a .319 wOBA and 1.4 WAR. Together, they are at least good enough to hold down one third of the outfield at bats, and perhaps more if Martinez’s breakout winds up being meaningful. Moya and Collins figure for 1-2 WAR between them, leaving the Tigers in bad shape overall. Gose projects for a wOBA in the .290 range, but his great defense could bring him up into 1-2 win territory if everything breaks right.
The projections are estimates and they could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s anyone that feels good about an outfield populated entirely out of Martinez, Davis, Gose, Moya, and Collins. There are good pieces and great potential there, but not a complete 2015 outfield. The Tigers need at least one legitimate outfielder, and two might be better. What are their options?
We’ve set aside any hopes of in house options, so let’s turn to the two places you might find some talent: free agency and the trade market. In no particular order, here are some candidates that make sense for the Tigers who are both feasible and worthwhile.
The list of free agent outfielders offers some interesting players for one reason or another, but no obvious, “the Tigers are a perfect fit” type guys. Nelson Cruz is off the list, along with Willingham, Morse, Delmon Young, and Torii Hunter because the Tigers can’t afford to sign defensive disasters and are locked in at DH for the next four seasons thanks to the Victor Martinez deal.
There were rumors earlier in the week that the Tigers were purusing Melky Cabrera, and while you never know if rumors are true, he’s probably the best outfielder on the market and will command something on the order of 3-4 years and $40 million to $50 million. He’s an expensive option relatively speaking, but he’s a solid enough player. Nick Markakis is the same way, reliable, good enough, and slightly cheaper. But both are corner outfielders with limited defensive upside.
Nori Aoki is a step down, as are Chris Denorfia and Ichiro Suzuki, but they will all be competitively priced. Alex Rios is an intriguing option because he’s a tremendous base runner, solid defender in a corner, and will probably be priced below the two guys in the higher tier.
It’s not a compelling group, but it’s a group that features a lot of small commitments for solid enough players. You can dream on Colby Rasmus, but two great years in a sea of trouble might not be the guy you want to target.
All told, you probably can’t find your key piece here. There’s no really good outfielder on the market, but there are some complimentary pieces who might work.
The trade market offers a couple of more intriguing options. The Tigers need a center fielder and they need him to be a very strong defender without being a total zero at the plate. They simply can’t play the kind of outfield defense they did last year and adding a plus defender in the middle would be great. They have Gose now, so you can live with more bat and less glove, but Gose also probably doesn’t profile as an everyday guy, despite general manager Dave Dombrowski’s comments to the contrary.
On the low end, the Red Sox are probably willing to let Jackie Bradley go for a discount considering their embarrassment of outfielders, and while Bradley didn’t shine offensively in his MLB debut, his glove work was excellent and he could really help the team on the run prevention side of things. Of course, that’s probably redundant with Gose in the fold. Additionally, they could target quality corner options like Michael Saunders who might be cheap and Yoenis Cespedes who would cost more but would also bring some pop to the lineup.
But if they’re serious, there are three names that jump out at me. One is sexy, but all three make plenty of sense. The first is Braves’ right fielder Jason Heyward who is a superlative defender there who should be able to handle center just fine with a very nice on base percentage and above average pop. He has three great years to his name and two solid ones, and is only on the market because he’s nearing free agency and isn’t signing an extension. The Tigers could capitalize and dangle the right prospects.
Or they could target two more under the radar players who could have nearly the same impact: Peter Bourjos or Craig Gentry. Both players are elite defenders. Bourjos is a good base runner and Gentry is one of the very best in the league. Neither is a great hitter, but both are close enough to league average to make it work. Both would be 3-ish win players in a full season and would provide exactly the kind of value (outfield defense and base running) that the team needs. They’re both currently in crowded outfields and should be available for the right price.
In a world where cost was no object, Heyward and Cabrera would look great in the Old English D, but a more realistic Bourjos/Gentry and Alex Rios tandem might work out really well. There’s no perfect fits and no easy fixes, but the Tigers need outfielders and they need them to play quality defense. Heyward would be an excellent addition to the roster, but there are other options.
The Tigers are clearly going for it and outfield help and bullpen reinforcements will be the next step.
Neil Weinberg is a Senior Analyst for TigsTown. He is also the Founder of New English D, a contributor to Gammons Daily, the Associate Managing Editor at Beyond the Box Score, and the Site Educator at FanGraphs. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44