Meetings help Tigers accomplish offseason retooling
Transition from power-packed lineup to speed, versatility complete
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The makeover of the Tigers offense began well before the Winter Meetings. It reached its pinnacle here.
With the signing of veteran speedster Rajai Davis, the Tigers continued their shift from a power-centered lineup, whose runners often plodded around the bases, to a more diverse offense that has multiple routes to runs against tough pitchers.
"I like the idea of being multi-dimensional," Tigers team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said.
Offensively, it's unquestioned. Even before Davis was on board as the right-handed-hitting part of a left-field mix, the Tigers were going to field a different offense than the one that led the Majors in hitting and finished second in OPS and runs scored in 2013. That's the price they paid for shedding Prince Fielder's contract and watching Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante hit free agency.
What they're hoping is that it's also a different offense than the one that was shut out 14 times, including twice in the playoffs, and experienced seven 1-0 losses. They'll take fewer runs on the year, if they can find those runs more consistently from game to game.
Davis is a small step to that, but represents what they're trying to do.
In Baserunning Runs, a metric designed to quantify the value of baserunning efficiency, Davis finished second only to Jacoby Ellsbury among Major League players, even though Davis wasn't an everyday player. As Fangraphs' Dave Cameron pointed out, his plus-42 rating in Baserunning Runs since his arrival in 2006 ranks eighth among all big league players in that span, even though Davis has had 500 plate appearances in only one of those seasons.
Not all the metrics are kind. His 1.2 Wins Above Replacement ranked rather low, yet still marked his highest total since 2009. Put him into the right situations, however, largely avoiding right-handed pitchers and primarily platooning him in one position, and he has the chance to provide the kind of situational boost the Tigers enjoyed with Ryan Raburn and Marcus Thames.
"The home run is not the only way to score runs in baseball," new manager Brad Ausmus said. "You can do it through the 'small ball,' you can do it through home runs, you can do it through a combination. It's a little different, but I still think a potent offense."
Ausmus wants to foster that type of aggressive mentality, not just in Davis but other baserunners. He wants to give baserunners a green light to steal in Spring Training to try to get them to think about the extra base, bucking the club's tradition of focusing on hitting in the spring and limiting injury risk.
With that, a busy offseason that included a managerial change, an All-Star traded and a starter dealt is poised to finally slow down.
"We accomplished what we wanted," Dombrowski said before leaving the Winter Meetings. "You look at the wintertime overall, and we've been real happy with what we've done. Really, our positional players are basically set, not that you can't always get better. Our starting rotation is set with a little bit of depth there. Our bullpen, we're looking for maybe another arm, but I don't mean a high-profile, closer-type arm. So we're happy with what's taken place."
Deals done: Signed Davis to a two-year, $10 million contract. Agreed to terms with reliever Joba Chamberlain on one-year deal.
Rule 5 Draft activity: Detroit didn't have a Rule 5 selection, having no room on its 40-man roster. The Tigers lost nobody in the Major League portion, but lost catcher Adolfo Reina and third baseman Jesus Ustariz in the Minor League phase.
Goals accomplished: The Tigers wanted a right-handed hitter to mix in with Andy Dirks in left field, and they wanted to add some speed to their offense. They found both in Davis, who, in limited action, stole more bases (45) this past season than the entire Tigers team (35).
Unfinished business: Before he left Florida, Dombrowski wanted one more veteran reliever to fill out the bullpen, not necessarily a top setup arm but an experienced reliever to support hard-throwing Bruce Rondon in the seventh and eighth innings. Chamberlain, who has battled injuries over the past three seasons with the Yankees, fit that bill.
Team's bottom line: "I think we've changed with our athleticism at this point. We have an extremely athletic outfield when you talk about having Austin Jackson and Rajai and [Torii Hunter], even though he doesn't run quite the same way he did. We've changed the middle of our diamond with [Ian Kinsler] and [Jose Iglesias] on board and [Miguel Cabrera] moving over. I think we've changed the look of the team." -- Dombrowski