The Detroit Tigers have identified their main offseason need. For a refresher on yesterday’s “State of the Team’ address from GM Dave Dombrowski, click here.
As it stands right now, the Tigers have a few objectives.
Attempt to re-sign Anibal Sanchez, and
Find a corner outfielder who can play defense and hit with reliability, especially against lefties
Regarding Sanchez, he is probably one of the top 3 starting pitching free agent targets on the market after his hot regular season finish and tremendous playoff run. He is young, has now proven that he can pitch with success in both leagues, and will come at a steep cost.
If Detroit does re-sign Sanchez it will cost Drew Smyly his rotation spot. If Sanchez goes elsewhere, then the Tigers will roll out the exact same starting 5 as they did back in April.
Anibal is going to want at least a 4-year deal and will more than likely get it, if not more. The Tigers will be in the discussion but the smart money is on another team, with more present desperation than a team that just made the World Series, outbidding the Tigers. At this point, I’d be very surprised to see Sanchez return to the Tigers in 2013. If he does, Detroit would enter the season with the best rotation in all of baseball. If he doesn’t, it’ll still be very good.
Could Torii Hunter be the Tigers’ #1 free agent target?
And about that corner outfield spot now. The Tigers really had to battle to get any semblance of production from right and left field in 2012. The main culprits were Ryan Raburn, Brennan Boesch, and Quintin Berry. If not for Andy Dirks hitting .322, despite missing a few months of action, it would have been a colossal mess.
Dombrowski views Dirks as a key member of the future, but perhaps not an everyday player. Apparently he still has to earn that gig. The organization does have Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos waiting in the wings. It would be an easy argument for the Tigers to say that both players need another year of seasoning in the minors though.
For now, the play seems to be targeting a veteran outfielder with a proven track record, obvious defensive ability, and the desire for nothing more than a 1 or 2 year contract while Garcia and Castellanos get fully up to speed.
Three names that have already surfaced are Torii Hunter, Angel Pagan, and Melky Cabrera. Cody Ross could also serve as a fallback option.
Hunter is 37 years old but put together a tremendous 2012 season. He hit .313 with 16 homers and 92 RBI’s for the Angels. More importantly, he plays a great right field and hit .340 against lefties last year. Hunter is as good as it gets from a ‘clubhouse guy’ perspective and will only want to move to a championship caliber team if the Angels don’t pick up his option. At 37, he could merely demand a 1 or 2 year deal. This, along with sliding Dirks to left, could be the perfect answer to Detroit’s corner outfield dilemma.
Pagan recently wrapped up a World Series title with the Giants on the Tigers’ home floor. At age 31, he might be seeking a few more years than the Tigers are willing to give. He hit .288 for San Francisco with 8 homers, 56 RBI’s, and 29 steals. He would be an impact player in the 2-hole in the Tigers’ order.
Melky Cabrera’s performance enhancing drug suspension late in the summer probably cost him $70-80M on the free agent market. He’ll once again have to prove himself with a 1-year deal probably in the $5-7M range. Before his suspension, he lit the NL up over the course of 113 games. He was leading the league with a .346 batting average and .390 on-base %. He cracked 11 homers, 60 RBI’s, and stole 13 bases. He is also a switch-hitter who mashed lefties to the tune of a .395 batting average against and .444 on-base %. To what degree his production erodes will be the risk that his suitors will be forced to measure before tendering a contract.
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Cabrera represents the classic low-risk, high-reward player. He is not rumored to be a tremendous presence in the clubhouse as compared to a Torii Huner, but production speaks volumes. Melky was effective just 2 seasons ago in an American League lineup as well. He hit .305 with 18 homers, 44 doubles, 20 steals, and 87 RBI’s for the Royals in 2011.
To me, the Tigers should take a long, hard look at both Hunter (if available) and Cabrera. The right field position would be secure defensively. The ever-changing #2 slot in the batting order would likewise be on lockdown.
Jim Leyland and Dombrowski both agree that the Tigers are really close and likely missing just one key piece offensively to put them over the top. If you’ve learned one thing by now you should know that the Tigers almost always get their man.