We’re into free agency now, like, for real. Everyone is free to sign with whoever they want. In addition, the GM meetings are underway, so there’s actually some movement on things.
In the past, before I moved blogs, I took a look at every single free agent and considered whether the Detroit Tigers would have any interest in each one of them. It got to be a bit of a lengthy task, given that there are typically around 150 of them and 90% of them didn’t fit at all, so I’m downsizing it a bit to the top 50 free agents, because those are the ones everyone wants to talk about, right? Without further ado…
Important thing to note, firstly: you’re looking at a lot of exorbitant rumors about contract demands. Or at least, they may look exorbitant. But if there is one thing I have learned about the free agent market, it’s this: never underestimate the insanity of the market. People will pay. That new TV money has to go somewhere, and the draft isn’t an option. You can scoff at some of the asking prices, but don’t be surprised if they’re met.
Here’s the list we’re using. Off we go…
1. Zack Greinke, RHP. He has long been a favorite of mine, and he’s the best pitcher on the market. But he’s going to command more than Anibal Sanchez will, and the Tigers might not even be willing to afford Sanchez. It’s unlikely at best.
2. Josh Hamilton, OF. Tick the boxes and Hamilton fits what the Tigers want: they need a corner outfielder, they’d like him to be a good defender….but there are a number of reasons I personally believe Hamilton turns out to be the worst free agent signing of the winter. He turns 32 in May, and it will be an old 32, given the years of abuse he put his body through. He is an aggravatingly streaky hitter at times. He is almost guaranteed to miss a month per season with some sort of injury (and the body, again, is not getting any younger). And while clubhouse chemistry might be overrated a bit, he doesn’t appear to be leaving Texas on the best of terms (and their fans aren’t entirely pleased with him, either). Throw on to this that he wants a 5-6 year deal in the $175 million range and it’s a big fat no for me. I think the Tigers will agree. They’ll do their due diligence on him, but short of a direct order from Mike Ilitch, I see them going in another direction.
(And that’s another thing – people assume the Tigers will jump at Hamilton, citing the Prince Fielder deal as an example. People forget the Fielder signing was born out of very unique circumstances: Victor Martinez got hurt, the Tigers had to do something, Fielder just happened to be sitting there unsigned, and Ilitch decided this was the only option and he was willing to open the checkbook to get it done. It has the trappings of a one-time thing. Don’t expect something like it to happen again.)
3. B.J. Upton, OF. I don’t hate Upton; he’s got a ton of skills. He’ll get a lot of money. But at age 28, you have to wonder at what point we accept him for what he is: a center fielder with great speed, good defense, and tantalizing power, but little else. The guy had a .298 OBP last year. Not worth the pricetag he’ll command; plus, he’s not a corner outfielder, so that rules him out of the Tigers’ market unless they’re going to relocate either him or Austin Jackson to a new position. Hint: they’re not.
4. Anibal Sanchez, SP. The Tigers would love to keep Sanchez. If the recent reports that he’s after a deal in the 6 year, $90 million range are true, they won’t. Simple as that. (Remember: never underestimate the insanity of the market. Someone else may well be willing to go that far.)
5. Hiroki Kuroda, SP. Seems like his options are New York, Boston, or Los Angeles. Good pitcher, one year deal, but he was reportedly unwilling to come here when brought up in trade discussions back in 2011.
6. Mike Napoli, C/1B. No fit in Detroit.
7. Nick Swisher, OF/1B. The most expensive of what I’d consider the “realistic” corner outfield options for Detroit. How good is he, really? He’s got plenty of on base skills, which would be a nice addition, but he’s not a plus defender and he won’t have the short porch to rely on anymore. He’s only hit above .270 twice in his career and he also has terrible playoff numbers. I have reservations. And considering he’ll be able to drag a rather costly 4 year deal out of someone, I think the Tigers would be better off looking elsewhere.
8. Michael Bourn, OF. Again, he’s a center fielder, and he’s going to be expensive as well. And speed players are always very risky propositions after the age of 30.
9. Dan Haren, SP. A lot of people love Haren, but it’s not 2009 anymore. His back wasn’t in great shape last year and his velocity dropped to 88 accordingly, and he had the worst season of his career. My reaction to Haren would pretty much completely depend completely on his price tag. Trading him would have meant that his $15 million option would have been on the books this year: no thanks. As for his free agent asking price? If it’s more than 2 years, $14 million, I’m not really interested. And I’d guess it will be.
10. Mariano Rivera, RP. He’s going back to New York.
11. Rafael Soriano, RP. But he’s not. And he’ll probably get $15 million, which is a ludicrous number for a closer. Joaquin Benoit could probably do just as well for way less in terms of save percentage. So could the likes of Al Alburquerque or Octavio Dotel a far cheaper reliever. Avoid this one at all costs. The Tigers might sign another reliever, but they won’t – and shouldn’t – spend $15 million on one.
12. Edwin Jackson, SP
13. Brandon McCarthy, SP
Lumping these two together in the second-tier starter market. Jackson might finally get that big contract this winter and it’s best left to someone else to give it to him, because he’s, well, frustrating. McCarthy I’d love, but his ground ball tendencies might not click well with the Tigers’ infield and I honestly can’t see him leaving Oakland.
14. Adam Laroche, 1B. You can rule any first baseman out of Detroit’s plans this winter.
15. Scott Baker, SP. Baker’s a decent back-end guy and would fit Detroit’s needs. Of course, he’s also coming off Tommy John surgery. I wouldn’t mind an incentive-laden short term deal, but once you get to this point in the starter market you have to wonder if the Tigers might just prefer taking their chances with Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly and hope that they can perform similarly.
16. Andy Pettitte, SP
17. Ryan Dempster, SP
18. Kyle Lohse, SP
More starters. It’s Yankees or retirement for Pettitte. Dempster regressed predictably after going to Texas last year, and he’s one I’d rather avoid. Lohse is going to get a hilariously huge payday for a control guy who can’t throw 90 MPH. Just say no.
19. Stephen Drew, SS. I like Drew, but he’s a risky proposition. He’s quite clearly not the same player he was before he broke his ankle in 2011. His defense took a severe hit as a result. Is he better than Jhonny Peralta? Not if he still can’t move laterally.
20. Melky Cabrera, OF. The Melkman isn’t my preferred choice of outfielder this year, but he’s certainly one I would be comfortable with. PED suspension aside, he’s a solid left fielder who doesn’t really excel at anything, but isn’t really terrible at anything either (he doesn’t walk a ton, but oh well). Caveat: he would almost certainly come on a one-year deal designed to rebuild his value.
21. Shane Victorino, OF. Victorino could be a really nice bargain after the worst season of his career. If he hits anywhere close to his .275/.341/.430 career triple slash, he’d be an excellent remedy for the Tigers’ corner outfield issues. He’s a switch hitter, too…though he was brutal against right-hand pitching last year.
22. Hyun-Jin Riu, SP. Posting fee won by the Dodgers. No need to discuss any further.
23. Torii Hunter, OF. My preferred outfield choice. He will probably require a two year deal, but I’m okay with that. Don’t expect him to hit .300 again, but he’s an excellent defender, can hit .270-.275, and pop 15-20 home runs. And he’ll even walk, too, and he’s an excellent clubhouse presence (again, the chemistry is overrated, but he can’t hurt). For two years, he fits for me.
24. Mike Adams, RP. I don’t care about the shoulder surgery; the Tigers should spring for this guy. He was hindered with said shoulder issues in 2012, but before that, he was as good as any reliever in baseball. The Tigers have enough solid relievers (Benoit, Alburquerque, Dotel, etc) and deep enough pockets that they can absorb the hit if they give him a 1-2 year deal and he never quite comes back from his surgery….but if he returns to his pre-2012 form, he’d be the best reliever in the bullpen. A gamble worth taking.
25. Joaquin Soria, RP. Another guy I really like. He’s coming off Tommy John as well, and he’ll likely not be ready until May or June. If the Tigers want to wait that long, I think he could be a nice add, but if he’s not going to get multiple years or a closer’s job, I think he’ll just go back to the Royals.
26. Lance Berkman, 1B/OF: Nope.
27. Ryan Madson, RP. He’s basically Soria, except he’ll be ready for Spring Training. Wouldn’t mind a one-year incentive-laden deal for him either.
28. Jonathan Broxton, RP. A Tommy John survivor, Broxton’s Ks died last year and his ground balls went way up. He’s the closest thing to Jose Valverde you’ll find on the market not named Jose Valverde. Might demand a closer’s job; not sure I can justify out-and-out giving him one.
29. Kevin Youkilis, 3B/1B
30. Marco Scutaro, SS/2B
Two guys who don’t have a fit with the Tigers.
31. Kyuji Fujikawa, RP. Japanese import trying his hand here for the first time, so I barely know anything about him. Tigers have not been the type to spring for overseas rookies in the past, preferring more known commodities; don’t really see that philosophy changing here.
32. Jeremy Guthrie, SP
33. Shaun Marcum, SP
If Anibal Sanchez signs elsewhere, this might be the sort of starter the Tigers might have a go at. That said, Guthrie is reportedly seeking 3 years and $34 million when he’s not even worth half that. Marcum’s a finesse guy who had arm issues in 2012. Both should be looked at as back-end competition and nothing more.
34. Ryan Ludwick, OF. Studwick, a former Toledo Mud Hen, had a great season offensively. Doesn’t do much on defense, though. He’s basically a better version of Delmon Young with extra plate discipline. Reds seem interested in retaining him.
35. A.J. Pierzynski, C. WHARRGARBL
36. Angel Pagan, OF. Three things I can guarantee about Angel Pagan: he will get at least a three year deal, he will get more money than he is worth, and it will end up being a mistake for whoever signs him.
37. Jeremy Affeldt, RP. Affeldt is a fantastic lefty reliever, but if it’s true that he’s after 3 years and $20 million, that’s a non-starter.
38. Koji Uehara, RP. He’s basically Joaquin Benoit – lots of homers, not much else. Worthwhile if you can get him on the cheap.
39. Carlos Villanueva, SP. He’s looking for a starter’s job. Best let someone who can actually guarantee it deal with this one.
40. Russell Martin, C. A guarantee to be overpaid. The guy isn’t that good.
41. Jeff Keppinger, UT. A fine bench infielder. But as long as Ramon Santiago is around it’s hard to see where anyone like that fits on this team.
42. Cody Ross, OF. Another guy in search of a three year deal who doesn’t deserve it. Fenway Park did wonders for him last year. Comerica probably would not.
43. Ichiro Suzuki, OF. He was the Yankees’ MVP in the ALCS, but until he went to New York, this was a guy who looked pretty much done. Wouldn’t want to risk it.
44. Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS. Not a position of need + unknown commodity = no for the Tigers.
45. Francisco Liriano, SP. Oh, what could have been. Liriano’s value has totally tanked the last two years. Some brave pitching coach will try to fix him, but frankly, the investment isn’t worth it right now.
46. Joe Blanton, SP. A fifth starter if there ever was one.
47. Sean Burnett, RP. Another lefty who can get righties out (but mostly lefties, he’s absolutely lights-out against them). Will probably expect to be paid in the Affeldt range, which is a no.
48. Jason Grilli, RP. I don’t know how this happened but Grilli became a really good pitcher after he landed in Pittsburgh, with a dominant K rate last year. One has to wonder if hard feelings still linger from his not-totally-amicable departure from Detroit. I’d rate a reunion as unlikely at best.
49. Jonny Gomes, OF/DH. Would certainly address the Tigers’ inexplicably shakiness against left-hand pitching, but he’s a platoon guy and not good in the outfield, which probably rules him out.
50. Oliver Perez, RP. Already re-signed with Seattle.
Outside of the top 50? There are some relievers, if the Tigers are into that department. And they may well need a backup catcher (Kelly Shoppach!), and there are a number of those lying around. But the big names are listed above, particularly the corner outfielders. I’d expect the Tigers to sign one of those listed. Unless, of course, they find the trade market more appealing. I’m not even getting into that.