Detroit Tigers Off-Season: How and Why the Bench Must be Improved

Bench

While the bullpen is, and will continue to be the biggest blemish on the Tigers’ roster, the bench isn’t spectacular either. More depth and quality will be needed in late-inning situations. Yes, the Tigers lineup is fantastic, but sometimes the bottom half of the lineup pales in comparison to the top half. And, as such is much easier to retire. This was brought into focus in the ninth inning of the second and third games of the ALDS against Baltimore as the bottom half wasn’t able to carry out or continue rallies with the game on the line. The Tigers need better hitters off the bench. Whether they arrive via waiver wire, the trade market, free agency, or what have you, help is needed. Dave Dombrowski has to be particularly active in fixing this during the offseason to improve the team’s chances for next year.

Dombrowski has become adept at plucking hitters out of relative obscurity and then watching them become contributing members on the team. He found Quintin Berry, who ended up being a godsend thanks to his added burst of speed into a slow lineup. Swiss army knife/utility specialist Don Kelly was another find. Matt Tuiasosopo was yet another find who provided Jim Leyland with a power hitting alternative off the bench in the legendary skipper’s final season. However, the greatest find may be that of JD Martinez. The former Astro was picked up by Detroit and, after fixing some mechanics with his swing, turned into a legitimate, middle of the order bat.

The Tigers need more production off the bench. Dombrowski isn’t going to find a JD Martinez in every transaction, but he should be actively looking for bench bats.

Yes, the Tigers’ starting lineup is fantastic, but their bench is comparatively futile. With the exception of Kelly, who has a knack for showing up in playoff games, there isn’t much to scare opposing managers or pitchers. Outfielder Ezequiel Carrera is light-hitting at best and is known more for his speed than anything. Andrew Romine and Eugenio Suarez manned shortstop for Brad Ausmus in 2014. With defensive wizard Jose Iglesias returning from injury next season, and neither shortstop’s play screaming “KEEP ME!” Detroit could look for a better hitting infielder. Another middle infielder, Hernan Perez shows the potential to be a solid two-way player, but if he wasn’t ready to play full time in the big leagues, or if he was unable to unseat Romine or Suarez, he certainly won’t surpass Iglesias next season.

Dombrowski needs to give Ausmus more pop off the bench. Catcher is an area where this could be achieved. Bryan Holaday hit .231 this season and the team might seek an upgrade to backup Alex Avila.

Avila is in a different situation. The Tigers’ starting catcher, who suffered yet another concussion during the season ending loss to Baltimore, should be moved into a backup role, or at least a platoon. This would not only minimize the inexplicably severe beating the he takes and preserve his health, but also allow Detroit to find an offensive upgrade. Avila grades out as a good defensive backstop, but hasn’t been able to replicate his offensive output of 2011 when he drove in 82 runs, garnered MVP votes and earned Silver Slugger and All Star honors.

Acquiring a new catcher to partner with Avila would be prudent. The job may go to James McCann. The Tigers’ top catching prospect is a defensive-minded backstop who also hit .295 in AAA. He’s no Victor Martinez offensively, but the .295 line is an encouraging sign from a player thought to reach the Majors because of his defense.

If catching reinforcements are looked for externally, Russell Martin or Evan Gattis would be ideal fits. Martin, one of the best at his position in the game, grades out favorably defensively and provides pop (47 home runs over the last three years) and the ability to hit for average (he hit .290 this past season). Detroit may lose yet another first round draft pick if they sign Martin, but if the former Dodger is the missing piece in terms of winning the World Series, then there should be no hesitation.

Gattis’ calling card, meanwhile, is his bat. The Braves’ slugger hit 22 home runs in only 108 games for Atlanta. Pairing him with the comparatively defensively superior Avila would be perfect. While Gattis’ bat can provide extreme power, his defense isn’t anything special. Platooning him with Avila would make his defensive deficiencies less of a sore thumb. Plus, Gattis has shown that he can be productive without playing every day. This partnership would also save Avila some physical punishment behind the plate. Gattis won’t come cheap in terms of what the Tigers will have to give up to acquire him, but the second year player isn’t arbitration eligible until 2016 at the earliest and won’t hit free agency until 2019. He made a little over $520,000 last year. This is exactly the kind of player a team looking to save money like Detroit needs—an extremely productive hitter who can play a large role without costing much. He also has played in left field for Atlanta. He’s not Gold Glove worthy playing there, but he does have the experience. Something that would come in handy if Brad Ausmus needed to wedge in an extra bat in a must-win playoff game.

Lastly, the Tigers could, at the very least, use some depth in the outfield. Rajai Davis can get by defensively in center field, so an alignment of JD Martinez, Davis and Torii Hunter (if he returns) in the outfield wouldn’t be bad. In fact, it may win them the division again, but it probably won’t deliver a World Series. Signing an impact center fielder may be out of the question. Colby Rasmus is the most enticing option on the market, but the former Blue Jay may be more appealing, and better suited, to more of a rebuilding team like the Cubs or Astros than Detroit. Speaking of the Astros, Houston’s centerfielder, Dexter Fowler, would present a quality target. It may take a lot to pry him away from the Lone Star state, but the former Colorado player would mesh perfectly in Motown with his mix of speed and pop. Other potentially available center fielders such as Desmond Jennings, Denard Span or Peter Bourjos would all be attainable as well as being logical fits in the Tigers’ lineup.

Bringing in a new, starting caliber center fielder would be advantageous in numerous ways for Detroit. First, it would fix any issues defensively at the position. As much as Rajai Davis fits the profile of an old-school center fielder in terms of speed, he’s predominantly a corner outfielder. Having a center fielder who is more accustomed to playing the position defensively would provide an upgrade. Pushing Davis to the bench or into a role where he would potentially spell the aging Torii Hunter would greatly improve the pinch-hitting options. Throw in a healthy Andy Dirks, a couple of scrap-heap/waiver wire pickups and more polished versions of Stephen Moya and Tyler Collins and the Tigers all of a sudden have a plethora of outfielders who could contribute. Injuries and slumps are about as common as the changing of the seasons, so having too many options is a good problem to have.

The Tigers’ offense has long been deemed one of the best in baseball—maybe the best. But over that span the team hasn’t had the most fearsome bench. The bullpen will need some help too, but changing the bench could help make the difference in finally winning a World Series.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

MLB Trade Rumors: Non-Tender Bargain Bin Free Agent Finds

Lost in the shuffle of the numerous (and I mean numerous, with italics) trades that occurred on Tuesday were the equally numerous number of quality players to hit the market after not being tendered contracts by their teams. They may have gotten a late start on the market, but there are many non-tendered players who could be quality pieces on a contending team. Here are some of the better buys.

  • J.P. Arencibia, C

The former Blue Jay hits the market with lots to offer as a catcher. He wasn’t the best to offer from a defensive standpoint. He led the league in passed balls last season and wasn’t necessarily the best in terms of caught stealing percentage, or the success at which runners stole on him last year. Only three “qualified” catchers finished with a worse percentage. Arencibia did provide some value with his bat. Despite a .194 batting average, the formerly highly-touted prospect amassed 21 home runs. Only Matt Wieters had more in terms of catchers across Major League Baseball. The now ex-Toronto player may have his deficiencies as a player, but as a bench bat with pop/backup catcher there is definite value. Teams like the Tigers, Rockies and Cubs could be fits.

  • Francisco Peguero, OF

Another formerly well-regarded prospect, Peguero failed to stick in the Bay Area and will look to latch on elsewhere. He was one of the Giants’ top prospects, but as stated couldn’t stay with the big league club. He has the potential to hit for average in the big leagues, but at this point a flier from someone is all he’s likely to get.

  • Sandy Rosario, RP

Rosario, the second Giant on the list, is a quality relief pitcher. Or at least that’s what his numbers suggested last season. The ex-Marlin posted a 3.02 ERA in 43 appearances while allowing a singular homerun. His strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn’t amazing with 24 punch-outs to 20 free passes, but he’s got the talent. It’s surprising that San Francisco would non-tender him after such a fine season, but if you go through the Giants’ depth chart, their entire bullpen is composed of quality relievers. Almost all of them have ridiculous numbers, so maybe they felt Rosario was surplus. Regardless, he’d be a cheap seventh inning option on most teams. Anyone with bullpen needs could target him.

  • Christian Martinez, RP

Martinez, like Rosario, didn’t work out in Florida/Miami and moved elsewhere to display his talents. That “elsewhere” was Atlanta. After an ok year 2010, Martinez was in fine form from 2011 to 2012. Over that span he compiled a 3.63 ERA over 100 appearances. His strikeout-to-walk ratio in that span was a whopping 123 to 38. The now former Brave didn’t appear much this season, making two appearances and posting a 7.71 ERA in that span. Should his form from 2011 and 2012 return, Martinez could be an electric strike thrower for a contending club. Also like Rosario, any bullpen-needy club could come calling. Bias aside, Detroit could be a nice fit.

  • Mitchell Boggs, RP

No, the next player isn’t a former Marlin or top prospect or ex-Giant. He’s Mitchell Boggs. Folks will remember him from his days as a Cardinal when he helped the team to a World Series triumph. He posted ERAs of 3.61, 3.56 and 2.21 over three years, totaling out to a combined ERA of 3.08 in a little over 200 innings pitched. The Georgia native struggled in 18 games in St. Louis this season, seeing his ERA balloon to an unhealthy 11.05. He soon moved on to Colorado where he posted a much more respectable 3.12 ERA in nine appearances. It seems 2013 may have been a fluke. If so, teams in need of pitching will, and should, come calling.

  • Ronald Belisario, RP

Everyone is apparently non tendering decent relief pitchers. For whatever reason, the Dodgers have decided to move on from Belisario. Outside of a fluky-looking 2010 season, the career LA pitcher seems to be a solid pitcher. He compiled a 2.04 ERA in his rookie year in 2009, a 2.54 ERA last season and a decent 3.97 ERA this past season. He’s probably good for anywhere from 60 to 70 appearances in a season. That being said, in the right situation, Belisario could be a devastating pitcher. Let’s all hope Oakland doesn’t sign him, or anyone on this list. Goodness knows Billy Beane doesn’t need the relievers.

  • Chris Coghlan, OF

See here gang, someone who isn’t a relief pitcher! Former Rookie of the Year Coghlan was non-tendered by the Fish after failing to re-create the promise he showed when he won the award. After hitting .321 in his inaugural season, he regressed to .268 the next year before dipping to .230 and .140 the next two years. Last season wasn’t horrible as he posted a .256 line, but it wasn’t enough for the Marlins to keep him around. A rebuilding team like the Astros could be ideal for Coghlan. If he regains something near his ROY numbers he could be moved to a contender mid-season.

  • Ryan Webb, RP

Just as quickly as we left relief pitcher behind we’re back, this time with former Padre Ryan Webb. The one-time New Orleans Zephyr is no stranger to being moved around. San Diego acquired him from Oakland as part of a package of prospects for outfielder Scott Hairston. After flourishing in the NL West for two years, he was traded again, this time with fellow reliever and current free agent Edward Mujica for Cameron Maybin. With Mujica gone and Webb being dealt for Maybin, he (Webb) is the one of the last remaining links to the Miguel Cabrera trade. He and a .200 hitter in AAA sum up all that’s left in South Beach. Take that back, a .200 AAA hitter is all that’s left from Miguel Cabrera. Well done Marlins’ front office! Webb posted a 2.91 ERA last season over 80 innings. There will be takers out there. It’s only a matter of who those takers are.

  • Garrett Jones, 1B/OF

Another non-reliever! (Fireworks go off simultaneously in the background.) Jones is the latest reclamation project on this list. He isn’t without his warts, but for someone who is a solid bet to hit 15-20+ homeruns in a season, he’ll likely find work. He was slightly below average at first base in terms of runs saved, but run saving ability in the outfield was horrendous. A first base/DH job in the AL could apply to him. Like Coghlan, he could find work on a struggling team before being flipped to a contender midseason. Worst case scenario, he’s a powerful bench bat that occasionally platoons in the field, think Jonny Gomes or Mike Carp. A team looking for this kind of platoon would be ideal. Jones hits righties to a tune of .271 compared to the .193, showing he displays against southpaws. Like Webb, he’ll have a gig next year. The question becomes where?

  • Tommy Hanson, SP

Another pitcher on the list… but at least he’s not a reliever! Hanson showed ace-like potential when he burst onto the scene with the Braves in 2009, but after seemingly plateauing as a quality middle-of-the-order starter the next two years, he struggled in 2012. Posting a career high (and not in a good way) ERA of 4.48. After that, he was shipped to Anaheim where the Angels thought he could fix their rotation issues. That didn’t pan out as the ex-Atlanta starter went 4-3 with a 5.42 ERA. LAA (as acronym happy or lazy folks call them) has moved on. Hanson still has the potential to be a quality big league starter; he just needs the right fit.

Daniel Hudson, former frontline starter for Arizona, was non-tendered and could have been a hot commodity on the market in the same vein as Hanson, but it looks like he’ll be back in the desert.

  • Lou Marson, C

Like Webb, Marson was one of the last parts of a major trade left with his team. Carlos Carrasco is the only player left in Cleveland from the Cliff Lee trade. Offensively, Marson isn’t amazing. One can tell by his career .219 batting average. What the ex-Indian does bring is solid defense. In 2010 and 2011 he threw out a respectable 38 percent of runners attempting to steal. That rate plummeted to 14 percent in 2012. The plummeting rate and waning offense led to only three games with Terry Francona’s squad this past year. A team looking for a defensive-first backstop could find value in Marson.

  • Chris Getz, 2B

Getz has a pretty wonky stat line. He has driven in 111 runs over the course of his career. During the same time he has exactly three home runs. Regardless, the former White Sox player would provide a solid bench bat on most teams. After failing to successfully hold down the Royals’ second base job, KC saw it fit to non-tender Getz. The Mark Teahen trade brought Getz to KC in 2009 after a few years in Chicago. Teams looking for infield depth could take a flier on the veteran second baseman. He has little experience playing third and short, but will predominately play second.

Check back later for more non-tendered players with value.

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

MLB Trade Rumors: Non-Tender Bargain Bin Free Agent Finds – Chris Getz

Getz has a pretty wonky stat line. He has driven in 111 runs over the course of his career. During the same time he has exactly three home runs. Regardless, the former White Sox player would provide a solid bench bat on most teams. After failing to successfully hold down the Royals’ second base job, KC saw it fit to non-tender Getz. The Mark Teahen trade brought Getz to KC in 2009 after a few years in Chicago. Teams looking for infield depth could take a flier on the veteran second baseman. He has little experience playing third and short, but will predominately play second.

 

Check back later for more non-tendered players with value.

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Love is Gone: How the Timberwolves Stay Afloat Without Kevin Love

(Side note, I thought about starting to call Kevin Love “The Klove,” which by the way makes no sense after I found out that it’s an adult contemporary Christian music radio programming service. Yes, that’s right, I actually took the time out of my day to Google “klove.” Laugh it up readers, laugh it up.)

The Timberwolves run on Love. Not to say that they are a gushy team or anything, but you catch my drift. Minnesota stands on four legs. One leg, and the one holding up most of the weight, is Love. Another is Nikola Pekovic, a third is Andrei Kirilenko and a fourth, albeit in a limited role this year due to injury, is Ricky Rubio.

With Kevin Love, Minnesota is a low-seed playoff contender. Without him they are definitely on the wrong side of the number eight seed.

Just to reiterate, Minnesota was 26-40 last year. The worst record in the conference belonged to the Hornets at 21-45. Kevin Love had a win share of 10 last year. Jumble that all together and throw in some math signs + = / to make it look super educated and you get 16. 16 wins the T-Wolves would have had without their sole Olympian and biggest player since Kevin Garnett (sorry Mark Madsen.)

Granted that was last year, and this year is a whole different animal in terms of the season, but the T-Wolves are still in trouble. Kirilenko has carried the team so far, but I have serious reservations about whether he can carry a team for the 8-10 weeks that Love will be out. Let me rephrase that, he can carry a team, but can Minnesota stay competitive if he’s the “Atlas” of the team? Probably not.

The team needs something new. Whether that be a trade acquisition, like say shipping Kirilenko, Derrick Williams and Luke Ridnour to Memphis for Rudy Gay. Or getting injured players healthy, and in the lineup again like Rubio and Chase Budinger.

At the end of the day, the Timberwolves aren’t going to be as good as they were with Love. It’s just not going to work. The team is built around “Klove” (that might be the last time you see that on the internet ever.)

What do you think? Will Minnesota be able to stay in contention with Kevin Love, or will they fall out of it without him and never recover? Tell me in the comments section.