Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How Do the Tigers Respond to the Loss of V-Mart?

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The Detroit Tigers recently announced that C/DH Victor Martinez has torn his ACL and will likely miss all of the 2012 season; extremely unfortunate news for Martinez, the Tigers, and Tigers fans looking forward to Detroit defending their AL Central Division crown and contend for the World Series.

Losing Martinez is a huge blow to the Tigers. Signed to a 4 year $50 million contract prior to last season, Martinez produced as well as could be expected protecting Miguel Cabrera in the Tigers line-up. Martinez hit .330, drove in 103 runs, and lead the league in batting with runners in scoring position. That is a lot of lost production and protection of Cabrera in the middle of the Tigers line-up. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that the Tigers still remain the favorites in the Central and the St. Louis Cardinals showed last year that you can still recover from an early injury to a star player (Adam Wainwright) and win the World Series. The Tigers also get a healthy Brennan Boesch back this year and a full year of Delmon Young (I think that’s good news). The Tigers also have GM Dave Dombrowski will no doubt be looking for options to help try and fill the whole left  in the line-up by V-Mart’s injury.

So where will Dombrowski go for help?

The big play would be to sign 26 year-old Cuban defector outfield prospect, Yoenis Cespedes, expected to be declared a free agent in the near future. Cespedes would play left field for Detroit and improve the team’s outfield defense as Young would move to DH. Cespedes would also provide speed and power at the top of the Tigers line-up. Of course, there’s big risk here. Cespedes is of interest to a half dozen ball clubs and it could take anywhere from $30-50 million (5 years) to sign him which is expensive for a player who hasn’t proven he can succeed in the big leagues.

Of the free options available, Carlos Pena would make the most sense and comes closest to providing the same level of production of Martinez. Pena will strike out a lot, but he also draws a lot of walks, gets on base, and hits for power. Pena is also a very good defensive first baseman and could be rotated with Miguel Cabrera at first base and DH. Pena would be my top FA choice if the Tigers decide to go that route and can get Pena to agree to a one year deal as a primary DH.

The other free agent options Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui, and Johnny Damon are old veterans that don’t offer much upside or position flexibility which is how the DH is evolving. There’s a reason they are still free agents. Manny Ramirez is an intriguing option. Yes, he would have to serve a 50 game suspension to start the year, but there could be minimal risk signing him to a minor league contract.

Most likely, I see Dombrowski making a trade to improve the Tigers line-up. Who tops the Doctor’s trade shopping list:

David Wright, 3B, New York Mets
I hope Dombrowski is making inquiries with the Mets front office about 3B David Wright who has two years remaining on his contract and may not factor into the troubled franchises future plans. Coming off a year where Wright was hindered by injury and free from the doormat Mets and New York pressure, a change of setting and a winning ball club could help Wright bounce back. The Tigers would have to give up some prospects (Mets would probably demand 3B prospect Nick Costellanos) to get Wright, but I think I make that trade to add a potential MVP candidate type player on a team built to contend now.

Bobby Abreu, OF/DH, Los Angeles Angels
Abreu is a left-handed bat, gets on base (.353 OBP), and can still run (21 steals last year). The Tigers need another left-handed bat that gets on base and get swipe bags. Furthermore, the Angels may not have room for Abreu in the line-up with the signing of Albert Pujols at first base and Kendry Morales and Mark Trumbo getting at bats at DH. There also have four outfielders. This could be a great fit for both teams.

Carlos Lee, 1B/OF/DH, Houston Astros
Houston would likely eat most of Lee’s salary and wouldn’t cost Detroit a top prospect. Lee wouldn’t be the ideal left-handed hitter Detroit’s looking for but he played 155 games last year with 18 homes runs batting .275/.342/.446.

Adam LaRoche, 1B/DH, Washington Nationals
If Prince Fielder ends up signing with Washington, LaRoche becomes expendable for the Nationals and could be had for cheap in terms of prospects and Washington eating part of his salary. He’s an injury risk, but provides a left-handed bat with 20 home runs potential.

Alfonso Soriano, OF, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are undergoing a complete overhaul under Theo Epstein and would love to dump Soriano. Rumors are that the Tigers and Cubs have been in talks over Matt Garza, so this could shape that discussion as well. In the last year of his contract, Soriano can still hit for power and alternate with Young in left and DH. In the last year of his contract, the Cubs would likely have to pay a large chunk of it.

I think the Tigers need to make a move to improve the line-up before the season starts although I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen until spring training is underway and teams have more time to evaluate and more players become available. Whether it is a stop gap move (e.g. LaRoche) or a blockbuster (e.g. Wright trade/Cespedes signing) is yet to be seen. Dombrowski and owner Mike Illitch have proven that they are capable and willing to make the big (Miguel Cabrera) and small moves (Doug Fister – yes, it was small at the time) to make Detroit a winner and we can expect them to do the same this season.