Now, before I get into the meat of this analysis, there are some terms that need to be explained. The main numbers presented here are weighted On Base Average (wOBA) and weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). I could go into detail about them, but I'd rather let the experts do it. I would strongly recommend going to http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/offense/wrc/ and http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/offense/woba/ for simple, well thought out explanations. I'd also recommend poking around on Fangraphs' glossary and familiarizing yourself with most of these statistics since they'll come up at various points.
First, let’s start with Andy Dirks who really came into his own this season, posting a triple slash of .322/.370/.487 with 8 homers for a wOBA of .368 and a wRC+ of 133. For reference, Victor Martinez .369 wOBA and a 131 wRC+ last season. Unfortunately, there are signs of potential regression for Dirks. He had a BABIP of .365, which is approximately .060 points above league average. If he regresses to a reasonable number, say to .320 due to his solid speed, his line would drop to something in the range of .280/.330/.440. If he was a centerfielder, that would make him above average but in a corner, that’s 4th outfielder material.
Quintin Berry certainly provided a huge spark for the Tigers when Austin Jackson went down in May, hitting .333 with a .395 OBP and .293/.389 in June. Unfortunately, he fell off dramatically after June, hitting .250, .176, and .212 in the subsequent months. This was a function of his BABIP normalizing following a scorching start to his season. A slap hitting outfielder who rates below average defensively and strikes out 24.2% of the time is not a regular in the major leagues. He does still have value as a left handed bench bat and extremely efficient pinch runner.
Now, we get to the real future of the Tigers outfield, Avisail Garcia. A true 5 tool player, Garcia had a breakout 2012 in the minors .289/.324/.447 with 8 home runs and 14 steals in A+ before really turning it on in AA to a tune of .312/.345/.465 with 6 bombs and 9 steals. Combining speed and power with a huge arm in right field, Garcia is a very exciting player. Despite this, I still believe he is not ready for the big show. He has absolutely no plate discipline, posting horrible walk rates of 3.8% and 3.1% in the minors this year. Unless he can figure out how to take the right pitches, he’ll get the Delmon Young treatment which means nothing in the zone because he swings at everything in sight.
The Tigers have a clear need in at least one corner spot, allowing a platoon in the other. Now, I’ll analyze the most noteworthy offseason outfield targets.
Free Agent Outfielders:
Hamilton is really, really scary due to his well-documented past, but he would give the Tigers an incredible lineup for the next few seasons. I would sign him for something in the range of 3/75, wouldn’t touch him for anything longer.
Bourn is a bit of a pipe dream. He COULD be undervalued due to general undervaluing of defense and base running. Should and could get $100 million over 5 or 6 years, but if it falls to 5/75 it would be a steal.
Ludwick and Pagan, despite being vastly different players, are probably too expensive given their level of production since they’re coming off very nice (possibly overrated) seasons, most likely pushing them towards multiyear $10 million or higher a season contracts. (3/30 for Ludwick, 4/45 for Pagan)
Victorino is an interesting bounce back candidate. After being outstanding in 2011, he really struggled in 2012 due to a BABIP of .278. Despite his offensive struggles, he still managed 3.3 WAR due to good defense and speed.
Ichiro would be a perfect fit for our outfield but could be overpriced based solely on name value. I’d be comfortable with a 2/20 level deal, but not much more.
BJ Upton, while never living up to his potential, has been an above average player for his entire career. He would provide strong defense, pop, and speed despite having poor on base skills. Due to his untapped potential he’s likely to command a deal in the range of 4/40 million which would be better served going after a better player along the lines of Bourn or Pagan.
Swisher has a solid bat, posting a career .364 OBP with an average of 28 home runs per season. He is most likely going to cost in the range of 5/80 after a poor showing in the playoffs and he’s 32 years old. Due to age, I wouldn’t want to commit to more than three guaranteed years in the $15 million range which is likely well below his asking price.
Hunter seems likely to be resigned by the Angels even though recent reports have them a ways off on contract length and value, and there are reasons to have reservations about a 37 year old coming off of a career year. I wouldn’t go above 2/20 and that might be pushing it.
Ross is an outstanding platoon vs. LH pitching (career 141 wRC+) and is probably the best suited among the platoon based players to play fulltime due to a not necessarily horrible 93 wRC+ vs. RH, but will likely be priced out of a reasonable range for his services.
Hairston and Johnson are both serviceable platoon outfielders’ vs LH, both with wRC+ around 120. Would leave us with corner outfielder platoons of Dirks/(Hairston or Johnson) and Berry/Garcia. Only issue is that it Garcia is potentially not ready to play a full season even as a platoon
Dejesus is a platoon bat versus RH pitching but would have to be traded for. After a quality season for the Cubs last year, he may not be available at a reasonable price.
An extremely intriguing option is Melky Cabrera. Sure, his reputation has taken a hit due to the PED violation, but this leaves him ripe for the picking since the multi-year big money contract he was looking at is now most likely off the table. Some people want to link his success over the last two years to his PED use, but the two are simply not scientifically related. He is not a power hitter, and steroids do not increase the pure hit tool. If he’s willing to take a 2 or 3 year deal with an AAV around $7-8 million I would jump all over that.
Crisp is very capable of being an above average corner outfielder after being nearly a scratch centerfielder (-0.9 UZR) and the Athletics have a plethora of outfielders after the trade for Chris Young. Billy Beane has said he will not trade from his outfield depth but the right offer could certainly sway him. A few mid-level minor league pitchers should be able to pry Crisp from the A’s.
Bourjos is an interesting option since his defense is well above average in center let along a corner. He’s a nice bounce back candidate, even though he’ll never hit .300 and his walk rate hasn’t been great, but he runs and fields well enough to be a 3-4 win player without an outstanding OBP. He is only theoretically available assuming that Torii Hunter is resigned by the Angels.
Heisey and Stubbs are both underachievers for the Cincinnati Reds. Neither has lived up to their tools and would essentially be short term solutions unless Stubbs manages to turn around his very uncomfortable downward trend. Both play solid defense, with Stubbs rating as well above average and he also runs much better than Heisey. Both are going to be 27 heading into next year, right in their theoretical primes and if they are going to turn it around, 2013 is as logical a time as any other.
Ideally, we would pick up a strong defensive/base running outfielder to help offset our poor defense at nearly every other position on the field. That leaves players such as Pagan, Victorino, Bourjos, and Upton as top options on my list. If the Tigers resign Anibal Sanchez, I'd have to believe the most likely option is going after either Hairston or Johnson and rolling with a platoon in both corners. If Pagan doesn't command a massive deal, he’s probably my favorite long term answer since he would provide speed and above average defense, though Bourjos is a personal favorite. All of these options should really help to lengthen our lineup, especially with the imminent return of Victor Martinez. As long as the Tigers acquire someone to play a corner, they should go into next year in a much better defensive position.