Reviewing the Tigers’ LF options without Dirks
The first test of the Tigers’ depth didn’t take long to emerge. With Andy Dirks out for the next 12 weeks for back surgery, the original plan to platoon him with Rajai Davis is now out until at least June. And considering it’s back surgery that he’s having, that timetable might have to be flexible.
Dave Dombrowski told reporters Tuesday that the initial plan is to look within camp for the answer. Though the Tigers signed Davis primarily for his numbers against left-handed pitching (besides his speed, of course), they could opt to give him some starts against righties and only sit him against the particularly tough matchups. When Davis signed during the winter meetings, Brad Ausmus said left field wouldn’t necessarily be a strict left-right platoon, a perceived nod towards Davis’ tendency to heat up against all pitchers in stretches.
Still, even if Davis were to get an uptick in play now, it’s tough to envision him playing every day for two months. It’s also difficult to envision him on a hitting tear that lasts two months, although his .288 average and .335 on-base percentage last year represented the best first-half numbers of his career. So somebody is going to play some part in the mix.
It’s not going to be Steven Moya, who has yet to play a game above A-ball. If this injury happened around midseason, one could envision Daniel Fields or Tyler Collins getting a call if they were off to a good start at Triple-A Toledo. As it is, however, neither has played above Double-A Erie, and both need more time. The Tigers promoted Fields aggressively his first year as a pro in 2010, and he ended up spending 2 1/2 years at Class A Lakeland, arguably slowing his development. Collins batted just .240 with 122 strikeouts at Erie last year, and while it’s rarely useful to make judgments this early in Spring Training, he has struck out five times in seven at-bats this spring.
The two utility players on the projected 25-man roster can each play left field. Don Kelly is certainly familiar there, having started 51 games in left over the last four years. The question will be the offensive production. His playing time has always come against right-handed pitchers, but he has batted .198 and .220 against righties over the last two seasons, though the .198 came in very limited playing time in 2012. If the Tigers could get his 2011 splits (.250 average, .698 OPS vs. RHP), they’d take it and put it in a platoon with Davis. Steve Lombardozzi is a switch-hitter with some extra-base power, but he has never been a big offensive catalyst.
As for the minor-league free agents, Trevor Crowe and Ezquiel Carrera both have Major League experience. In fact, you might remember them as Cleveland Indians in recent years. Crowe struggled with the Astros last year, despite hitting well at Triple-A. Carrera, meanwhile, let his situation get to him last year at Triple-A Columbus, and it showed in his numbers.
Between the lack of clear-cut answers and Dave Dombrowski’s history of being thorough on the scouting front, it would be a shock if the Tigers don’t send out evaluators across Florida and out to Arizona to look at potential options, both for trades and possibly for waiver pickups when roster cuts approach. Mike Carp has found his way into trade rumors for teams seeking left-handed hitting at first base, but he actually made more starts in left field than at first last year. He hit .296 with an .885 OPS last year, and drove in 43 runs in essentially a half-season’s worth of play. Ichiro Suzuki is an all-time great without a starting role this year, but he’s making $6.5 million this season. A slew of other outfielders could hit the trade or waiver markets by mid-month, a huge amount for a team that might merely be seeking a short-term fix.
Bottom line, what happens here depends a lot on how the Tigers view the Dirks injury. If Detroit really expects Dirks back in June, the wait seems more reasonable. If the injury is viewed as part of a larger injury concern, or if there’s any indication three months won’t be enough, then the wait seems longer.