The Detroit Tigers did not receive good production from their corner outfielders in 2012.
During their latest news conference, the team made some subtle hints at their offseason plans. It will be an outfield bat, not a closer who will top their list.
How much money Tigers general manager Dave Dombroswki will have to work with is a question for which only owner Mike Ilitch has the answer. Dombrowski will have a better idea after he sits down with Mr. Ilitch, however, he suggested there will be a change in the corners for next season, whether it is from within the organization (Avisail Garcia or Nick Castellanos) or via free agency.
As free agency is about to begin, lets take a look at some of the free agent outfielders the Tigers will take a look at:
(2012 stats are listed in parentheses).
(.313 average, 16 home runs, 92 RBIs, nine steals, .817 OPS).
Hunter is the type of player the Tigers are looking for.
He can defend left field and still has a solid bat, with power and some speed on the base paths. He also hits well against left-handed pitching, which was something the Tigers seemed to struggle with this year.
Hunter is an older player, but one who has shown good durability and minimal decline. There is a good chance Hunter will get a deal with a couple of team options, rather then a long term deal. A two-year, $30 million deal with performance bonuses, plus option years based on performance would probably be enough to get Hunter signed.
(.255 average, 11 home runs, 55 RBIs, 39 steals, .704 OPS).
Victorino has good speed and plays good defense. He is also a switch hitter who would fit nicely into the number two spot in manager Jim Leyland's lineup.
Like Hunter, he hits well against left-handed pitching and would bring a speed element that the Tigers have sorely been missing.
Victorino has had two down years, which will probably cost him a couple of years and several million dollars off a new contract. I think it would be a great deal for the Tigers if Victorino took a deal for four years and $40 million, with a mutual option for a fifth year.
My guess is Victorino will end up receiving a contract which is worth more annually, but might be willing to take a little less to play with a contender. Hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera might be a pretty nice pull, as well.
(.346 average, 11 home runs, 60 RBIs, 13 steals, .906 OPS)
Cabrera probably cost himself at least three or four years off a contract and tens of millions of dollars with his use of and subsequent suspension for PEDs. His 2011 numbers were solid, however, and he wasn't a horrible player in New York. Cabrera is also only 28 years old, so there's a pretty good probability he has several more productive playing years left.
Cabrera is likely to receive an incentive-laden contract with team options to offset the risk the team is taking with him. Detroit would be an ideal situation, as it has good veteran leadership and players who have conquered personal demons before.
For Detroit, adding another Cabrera to the team makes lots of sense, even if Melky returns to the level of production he had when playing for the Kansas City Royals in 2011. He is a switch hitter who hits off left handers well (.395 in 2012), has some speed on the base paths and plays solid defense. Because of his PED suspension, I suspect a contract for a year or two with two club options at $6 to 8 million would be enough to get him signed.
(.275 average, 26 home runs, 80 RBIs, 0 steals, and a .877 OPS)
Ludwick declined his option and became a free agent, so he's looking to get more then the $5 million option he had with the Cincinnati Reds. Ludwick is a middle of the order power bat, who the Tigers would want to bat sixth, behind Victor Martinez.
Ludwick, who is 34, is looking for his last "big" contract and will probably be looking for a three or four year deal which will pay in the neighborhood of $7 to 10 million per year. He is still a good fielder, although they may ask him to shift to right field to have a more fleet-footed defender in left.
I don't know if Ludwick will want to leave the National League where he has had most of his success. If he is willing to sign for three years and $28 million, I think he would be a good investment for the Tigers, assuming none of the other players on this list work out.
(.288 average, 8 home runs, 56 RBIs, 29 steals, .778 OPS)
Pagan is a center fielder by trade, but would fit in well in Detroit, where he would improve the defense in left and allow Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia to platoon in right. He would also bring speed to a Tigers team that is in need of more speed on the base paths.
Pagan is a switch hitter who is able to handle left handers reasonably well. He doesn't hit for a lot of power, but would be a nice fit at the number two spot in the Tigers lineup. At 31, he probably won't get a really long contract, but a three to five year deal isn't out of the question.
I suspect Pagan will get a contract which will pay $7 to 8 million a year. I think the Tigers should offer him a three year deal with a fourth year option at $7.5 million per year. Pagan is obviously not the Tigers' first choice, but he would be a nice prize if they can't land Cabrera or Victorino.
I think the Tigers are most likely to target Hunter, Victorino or Cabrera, with Ludwick being an option if the other three sign elsewhere.
The Tigers got very little pop from their corner outfielders last year. Not including Delmon Young, the top six corner outfielders (based on games played) combined to hit just 24 home runs, or two less then Ryan Ludwick.
Corner outfield is clearly a big void which needs to be filled, but the Tigers aren't looking to get caught with a long contract, especially with the development of Avisail Garcia and the projected play of Nick Castellanos.
The one thing we know for sure is the Tigers will be looking to improve their outfield as they try to finish what they started last year.