Andy Dirks' core offensive numbers dipped in 2013, but other stats suggest he could be poised for a bounce-back-season. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
It’s reasonable to wonder what would make for a successful winter meetings for the Tigers.
With every team represented and so many agents and players on site, the winter meetings are often to the place the offseason gets fun.
Not so much this year, with the Tigers already making two of the biggest trades of the offseason and a number of top free agents taken off the board during MLB’s manic gold rush in the past week.
After that, just what should Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski and the rest of his team be expected to accomplish during the next few days in Orlando?
The answer here is actually pretty simple: keep working on finding upgrades to the bullpen and see just what the market for a left fielder looks like. But don’t press too hard. If the Tigers pack up their suite and head north without adding a player to the roster, that is not necessarily a sign they failed.
That’s not to say the Tigers shouldn’t try to do something. But if you’re expecting them to give Shin-Soo Choo $100 million, which is reportedly what Choo’s agent, Scott Boras, is targeting, then maybe the smart executive has to look elsewhere. In light of Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract, Choo will probably command even more than that.
There’s no doubt Choo is a good player, but it’s unrealistic to expect a team that may wish to lock up Max Scherzer and that almost certainly needs to re-sign Miguel Cabrera could give out another large, long contract to a player on the wrong end of age 31.
It may not be necessary anyway. When people talk about Tigers left fielder Andy Dirks, they often put too much emphasis on what just happened.
A year ago at this time, many were convinced Dirks would play at an all-star level. Was it reasonable to expect he’d hit at a .327 average, .370 on-base percentage and .487 slugging average again? Of course not.
In 2013 the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. After Dirks hit .256/.323/.363, many have decided he’s a bum and the biggest issue in the entire lineup right now.
That’s simply not true. Dirks, a Gold Glove finalist, got better as the year went on, combining for a .749 on-base-plus-slugging in the second half after a .649 start. He also suffered through a lower than expected BABIP -- batting average for balls in play, a measure of how often a hit ball drops in -- nearly every month throughout the year. This is curious because Dirks actually hit a higher rate of line drives, a batter’s best friend, in 2013 than 2012. It is not unreasonable to expect Dirks has a rebound year while continuing to play above-average defense.
He’s certainly a step down from Choo, but a team with a limited budget can’t buy everything. Maybe a right-handed hitting platoon partner is all the Tigers need for solid left field production.
What the Tigers could really go for, a point that cannot be made often enough, is more relief pitching. In signing closer Joe Nathan, the Tigers shored up their ninth innings for the season. But putting too much confidence in the health and arms of Bruce Rondon and Al Alburquerque could be an issue for a team whose Achilles heel in 2013 was relief pitching, especially now that Drew Smyly will be moving to the rotation.
If the Tigers come home with a couple of veteran relievers who fill out the pen and fit in the budget, even if they’re not big names, they’ve done their job. If they return from Orlando with nothing to show for it, that’s not their last chance to find what they need, either.
They’ll have plenty of other relievers to choose from in the coming months.
The Tigers are in a good position to only take the best deals at the winter meetings. If they don’t find any, sitting pat is an acceptable move for the time being.