The Winter Meetings have passed and the Detroit Tigers still have a hole to fill in center field. It was speculated that maybe they’d just turn 2017 into a rebuilding season (or “retooling,” as general manager Al Avila called it). J.D. Martinez’s contract is up after this season, and he and Ian Kinsler could be traded for good prospects. With the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox going that route, the Tigers’ only American League Central competition could be the Cleveland Indians now, and they have another chance at the Wild Card with their current core, too.
It seems as if the Tigers might do a 180 and not trade Martinez or Kinsler, either because the competition is already throwing in the towel for 2017 or because they couldn’t get what they wanted (a problem it seems that the Pittsburgh Pirates ran into in trying to deal Andrew McCutchen). The Tigers still have some issues to address if they want to make one final push, and if they make the right moves they could be in a position to either contend or trade players like Martinez on July 31 for a good return, since teams are usually willing to pay more in prospects around the trade deadline. So it seems like the Tigers might just look for a center fielder, but with the market being dry, where can they find one?
I think the answer is the New York Mets. Michael Conforto is a pretty talented player and is young, but he needs consistent playing time. Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes will require starting spots, of course. This pushes old friend Curtis Granderson out of the picture. The Tigers would love him. He can still hit 25-30 home runs and he can be a solid top-of-the-order hitter, as he has been for the Mets the past two seasons. The Mets need a reliever, which is probably where you think this story ends because the Tigers bullpen has been among the league’s worst for numerous seasons now. That is incorrect, however.
The Mets really need a good left-handed reliever. Their best lefty reliever with Jerry Blevins hitting the free agent market is Josh Smoker, who only got into 20 games last season and was pretty average in those innings. The Tigers have Justin Wilson. His numbers don’t look good on the surface, but he was extremely unlucky last season. So unlucky that Beyond the BoxScore tabbed him the most dominant bad reliever of 2016. He struck out over a batter per inning and his FIP floated around 3.00, nearly a full run lower than his ERA. It seems as though his 2017 numbers should improve and that he has a chance to be one of the better left-handed relievers in baseball. This would solve the Mets’ problem and the Tigers would have a center fielder. Now let’s run down a checklist.
The Tigers have Blaine Hardy and Kyle Ryan as left-handed relievers, and both were above average in 2016. The Tigers would be getting a solid center fielder who has power and gets on base. What about his defensive ability, though? He was moved from center field due to a bad season in 2012 in the field. Well, he had one defensive run saved in 251 innings in center last season. He may have lost a step speed-wise, but returning to Comerica coupled with that stat and passing the eye test mean that he could probably handle it for a season. The Mets would be getting the bullpen help they need too.
The only thing standing in the way of this is the money. Granderson is due to make $15 million in the final year of his contract this year. Wilson is only on the books for a projected $2.7 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors. That’s where Mike Pelfrey would have to come in. He’s coming off a terrible 2016, but his 2015 wasn’t awful and he could provide insurance for the oft-injured Mets pitching staff, as last year Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard were the only Mets starters to remain healthy through 162 games — and Colon is now with Atlanta. Pelfrey is due $8 million in 2017, but the Mets would still be solving a problem and saving about $5 million, and the Tigers would be plugging a hole in center and likely adding a 2-3 WAR player at the cost of a replaceable reliever and an increase in just $5 million in payroll for one season.
The Tigers’ options beyond this are pretty hit or miss. Ben Revere is talented and interesting, but he really relies on getting the ball on the ground and hitting for a high average. Last season he was unable to do that after an injury and produced a very subpar season. If he could return to his pre-2016 numbers, he’s a potential bargain on the market, but he’s a huge question mark. The same is to be said for Austin Jackson. He had a subpar 2015 and last year he spent most of the season injured. If his skills could return to what they were or close to what they were before he was traded to Seattle, then he could be worth a deal, but again, you’re making a gamble. Then there’s McCutchen if you want to make a big splash, but the Tigers are replenishing their farm and young arms and it would be very hard to swing a deal for Cutch, who also had a down season in 2016.
If the Tigers trade for Granderson, he’d fit right in the two hole where Cameron Maybin was last year, and he’s more of a sure thing than Maybin. He’d help solidify the Tigers, and if they decided to sell he could bring back a prospect at the deadline, too. The deal makes the most sense to plug the hole in center that the Tigers have for 2017.