The Detroit Tigers have taken a wait and see approach in the early going of offseason free agency. Part of this might be due to the ridiculous numbers that agents are throwing around thus far.
Try this on for size: Jhonny Peralta wants $45M for 3 years. I’ll wait until you’re done laughing. OK, welcome back. There is no question that being one-dimensional, especially when it’s with the bat, can pay dividends but $15M/year for Jhonny? I think not.
Some suggest Joaquin Benoit should get $10M/year for 2-3 years. If that’s the case, the Tigers should run fast and far, rest up, and then run some more. New York’s 31-year old Robinson Cano thinks he deserves $300M or more over 10 years. You get the point.
So until the crazy talk quiets down all we’re likely to see will be some lesser-hyped free agents getting picked up (such as David Murphy to the Indians) while teams assess what they have on hand heading into 2014. It can be a frustrating time as a Tigers fan as we’d love nothing more than to see the picture of Joe Nathan standing next to Brad Ausmus and Dave Dombrowski with his new Tigers jersey in hand. But there is no rush.
With that in mind, who the heck is this Hernan Perez guy we keep hearing about? Persistent rumors and Dombrowski himself suggest that Perez will potentially be given a chance to become the team’s everyday 2nd baseman heading into 2014.
The Tigers would like to have Omar Infante back but he’ll be seeking something like 4 years and $40M on the free agent market, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he got it. If that’s his demand, then the Tigers will probably pass, which would thrust Perez into the spotlight.
Perez, who will turn 23 in March, actually appeared in 34 regular season and two postseason games for the Tigers last year. Most of those came as a pinch-runner or late-inning defensive replacement. He managed just 66 at-bats, scraping out 13 hits while posting 15 K’s to just two walks. Despite an ultra-brief appearance in 2012, this was his first real crack at the big leagues.
His .197 batting average doesn’t really tell a story as his sample size was much too small and inconsistent. His minor league resume details a much deeper tale.
The Tigers signed him young but let him stay in Venezuela and play as a 17-year old before bringing him state side for the 2009 season. From there, he began a very slow and steady progression through the farm system.
His overall minor league numbers, covering parts of six seasons, show him as a .256 hitter with a lowly .297 on-base %. He had shown progress but never broke out until last year when between AA Erie and AAA Toledo he hit .301 with a .330 on-base %. The Tigers took notice.
Perez stands 6-foot-1, so he isn’t your slightly built, sparkplug type of a 2nd baseman. He has size and can hit with extra-base power that will probably develop into double-digit home run power at the major league level in the coming years.
In just 429 at-bats a season ago he ripped 31 doubles and added two triples and four homers. Perhaps of even greater note is that he stole 28 bases in 35 attempts, an area of dire need in the Tigers’ lineup. Hernan is currently hitting .280 in Venezuelan winter ball.
He has speed. He has shown he will hit, but maybe not right away against big league pitching. His glove is also a plus. During his brief look in Detroit last summer he showed tremendous range and soft hands to go along with a strong arm. The idea of him lining up next to Jose Iglesias for a full season would give the Tigers a middle infield defensive treat not seen around here for who knows how long.
The tools are apparent, and the price is right as Perez would cost the Tigers about $500,000 for his services in 2014. If Detroit passes on Infante and doesn’t pull a stunner by acquiring a Brandon Phillips-type via trade or drop jaws by entering the Cano sweepstakes, then they are conceding offense up the middle in favor of dynamic defense. For those that are skeptical, you should be, but hey, it has worked for years in St. Louis.
Iglesias has plenty of work to do on offense and Perez is right there with him. Both of these players project as guys who will produce in the batter’s box at some point but can the Tigers live with the growing pains while trying to win a World Series title? And furthermore, if the Tigers give Nick Castellanos the nod in left, would that deplete Perez’s chances even more for fear of relying too heavily on rookies?
Ultimately, Infante on a short-term deal would be perfect, but perhaps unlikely. A grinder like a Mark Ellis could ably fill the void until the Tigers feel Perez is ready. But how much more productive would he really be than Perez? Marginally, and for probably 6-8x the cost.
With so much focus on the bullpen and left field, it’s what the Tigers do at 2nd base that will greatly shape the structure of their roster heading into a promising season.
To receive an email each time a new Tigers article is published, fill out the Email Notification Form
[Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe]