Detroit Tigers free agent rumors: outfield edition

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.

  1. Attempt to re-sign Anibal Sanchez, and
  2. 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.

Torii Hunter

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.

For my free agent thoughts on the Tigers’ bullpen for next year, click here.

  • Bryce T-mac Curtis

    iilitch is gonna die soon so he better spend the money because when he dies there wont be no money

    • Treukh

      you ever hear that saying “you cant take it with you? you think hes just gonna take all his money with him when he dies? hahahah you’re a trip man. That family will always have money, as long as money is around.

  • Joe White

    Thanks John. I appreciate that. I completely agree, people like to peg the Tigers’ as a mid-market organization. When you have an owner as wealthy as Ilitch, that is a losing argument.
    Bourn is seeking a lot more than 4 years/$40M too guys, so don’t bet on that happening at all. I’d be stunned if the Tigers even inquire on him.
    And to rob I say please no! I wouldn’t want Upton or Soriano over a lot of other players out there.

    • John Brandon

      I’d still argue in signing Bourn over Hunter. Can’t say I’m disappointed in the Tigers acquiring Hunter though. Anyway, yes, I’m that stubborn to come back and say HA. I was right about Bourns contract credentials.

  • rob

    I know people are like the tigers wont spend to much more money but im thinking maybe maybe illitch sees the ghost of ernie and sparky and they tell him he only has couple years left and they make a huge unezpected move like upton or soriano or maybe else. But dont think it will be quite the offseason people are thinking

  • John Brandon

    Diggin’ the article man. Hunter does seem like the perfect fit; contractually and in the clubhouse. But you said it yourself, Illitch and Dombrowski have a knack for getting what they want. I think they’re gonna make a huge splash again. Remember, Illitch is not getting any younger. And he’s a billionaire..

  • Pipe Dream

    Mike Ilitch should just go all in and bring home a championship to Detroit. Go grab Josh Hamilton and Justin Upton; boom corner outfielder situation taken care of. Dump Porcello and Smyly and re-sign Sanchez as a fifth starter moving Scherzer to your fourth, Fister to your third spot, and have the second spot filled by Detroit’s fourth and final offseason move – Greinkie. Cut the checks Illitch, you cant take it with you.

    • Joe White

      Sounds so easy!

    • John Brandon

      I don’t even want Josh Hamilton. He’s gonna want about a 7 year 215 million dollar contract. But his career is so injury riddled I’d be surprised to see him put up four more years of solid numbers. I’d much rather have Michael Bourn, we could probably get him for about 4 years, 40-45M. A gold glove winner, with unreal speed, which is what the Tigers have lacked. He’s got about a .350 OBP% too. With him in the leadoff spot, and Jackson in the two hole, that’s about 145 RBIs for Cabby.

      • pipe dream

        So your telling me that you would be more excited about signing bourn over hamilton? I didnt know payroll came out of your pocket. I would love four solid years of hamilton over bourn thats more than youll get from fielder. Jamiltom is a gold glover with legit speed too so your arguement is null. I eould rather have 65% production from hamilton than 100% production from bourn. Lol no comparrison.

  • Joe White

    Valid points Chris. He has really taken care of his body the last few years though and still looks pretty fresh. Even if he dropped to .275 but still hit lefties well and played good D (a given with him), he’d be solid.
    Alec, the Tigers aren’t going to spend that much $. No chance. Shields was already re-upped by Tampa anyway.

  • Chris R

    Torii Hunter seems to be the kind of player the Tigers sign and regret later. Coming off a Renaissance year, moving to a cold climate, up in age…classice setup for a regression.

  • Alec

    I’d take any of the three. In fact, I think we should go after Hunter and Cabrera. They can start in right and left with Jackson in the middle. I also think we should try to get Dan Haren or James Shields instead of re-signing Sanchez. Porcello should not be on our roster next season; he seems unwilling to learn a third pitch and his style doesn’t fit the defense we have in place.

  • Joe White

    Agreed. It’s hard not to like Torii Hunter. He’d be a great dynamic on the team. Rob, did you see Melky’s #’s against lefties? Mesmerizing.

    • Rob White

      Steroid induced numbers

  • Craig Coxen

    I’d love to see Boesch step up and prove himself, although it looks like Garcia will be that guy. Until that happens, Hunter would look good in the old english D.

    • John Brandon

      I agree. Boesch seems to have so much potential, but just can’t break through. I have a feeling we will trade him, and with the right coach, we will regret it.

  • Rob White

    No thanks on Melky and I wasn’t overly impressed with Pagan in the World Series. I love the idea of Torii Hunter though, sounds like a perfect fit.