Thursday, June 18, 2009

Five prescriptions for an anemic offense

The Tigers need an upgrade at the back-end of the rotation like the NHL needs a new commissioner. Fortunately, there is an obvious internal candidate—Joel Zumaya—to bolster the rotation issues. Unfortunately, there is no such internal candidate to help fix what has become an anemic offense. The Tigers haven’t scored more than four runs in eight consecutive games. Even worse, they have averaged just 3.3 runs per games since May 28 (20 games). Seattle—the worst offensive team in the AL—averages nearly a half-run more per game that what the Tigers have managed since late-May. Not surprisingly, the combination of rotation issues and offensive futility has had a painful impact on the standings. The Tigers are just 10-15 in their last 25 games after starting 24-16. Something will need to be done—and done soon—if the Tigers are going to have a legitimate chance of beating Minnesota, Chicago, and a resurgent Cleveland for the division. On Monday, I presented Zumaya as a solution for the rotation. Let’s see what we can do for the offense…

Before I get started, I just want to point out how much easier it is for the rest of MLB to upgrade their offense. The Tigers have the misfortune of playing in the same division as the Chicago White Sox. The ChiSox have three perfect pieces for a team looking for an upgrade. Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye—all members of the ChiSox—are like having a supermodel for a sister. It’s great for everyone else but there’s not much you can do with it. If I’m an NL team in contention, I would have Kenny Williams (White Sox GM) on speed dial. Anyhow, let’s see if we can find some players outside of the division who could be available at a reasonable price. Remember, teams can’t simply say, “I want Albert Pujols” when they’re looking to add a “bat.” Obviously, a trade partner needs to be out of playoff contention and the player needs to be old, in a contract-year, or both. Here are five in order of preference…

1). Adam Dunn

Dunn plays for the Nationals. They may threaten the mark for worst record in MLB history. I think it’s safe to say he is available. Dunn has one year left on his contract beyond this season and it’s at the reasonable price of $12 million. You would be surprised how difficult it is to find someone who meets the simple criteria of a). being worth trading for, b). playing for a bad team, and c). having a favorable contract. Dunn is one of the few. It helps that he is an impact player. He has been discussed amongst the Tigers fanbase quite a bit over the last few years mainly because he is a run-producer who doesn’t cost $100 million. Dunn was the target of some interesting comments by J.P. Ricciardi (Blue Jays GM) last year. Ricciardi basically said that Dunn’s lowly batting average and high strike out totals make him a player to avoid. The good news for the Tigers is that Ricciardi’s opinion is likely shared across baseball. That means that Dunn’s value should be relatively low for a middle-of-the-lineup stalwart. While Ricciardi chose to focus on strikeouts and batting average, I’m going to focus on walks, runs, RBIs, home runs, on-base percentage, and OPS. Over the last five years, Dunn has averaged 111 walks, 98 runs, 100 RBIs, 41 home runs, a .382 OBP, and a 133 OPS+. Those are Hall of Fame numbers. Since 2004, no player in MLB has more walks than Dunn and only Albert Pujols has more home runs (228-224). For those fearing a drop-off in production, he’s on pace to surpass all of those marks this season with the exception of runs; and he’s doing it while playing for a horrible team. In fact, Dunn has done most of his damage over the last six years with very little protection. Imagine how he might feel hitting in front of, or behind, Miguel Cabrera. Hopefully Dave Dombrowski can get something Dunn. (weee!)

2). Matt Holliday

Scott Boras will have his work cut out for him following the season. Holliday will be a free agent and he was set to virtually name his price on the open market. That was before his numbers tanked in Oakland. Holliday still has substantial name power so even in the midst of a disappointing ’09 campaign, the A’s will still make it hurt to trade for him. The important question is: how much will it hurt? Even though Holliday put up massive numbers in Colorado, his success away from Coors Field leaves no doubt that he isn't a one-venue pony. Plus, the arrival of the humidor in 2002 changed things quite a bit. In fact, Coors Field is no longer the top hitter’s park in baseball according to ESPN’s Park Factor. That distinction goes to the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. It didn’t help Holliday that he was traded to the Oakland A’s who play at the Oakland Coliseum which is one of the worst hitter’s parks in MLB. Holliday’s statistical plunge has no doubt been exacerbated by going from one extreme to the other in terms of ballparks. It's true that he has always hit substantially better at Coors Field than anywhere else. That might be cause for concern when considering whether to offer him $100 million or not, but I don’t think it should be much of a concern when trying to decide if he can hit away from Colorado. In the last three years, Holliday has put up road OPS+ marks of 116, 130, and 145, respectively. Holliday can hit anywhere. Hopefully, the Tigers contact Oakland before they figure that out.

3). Aubrey Huff

Huff has “Renteria Syndrome” which is a condition that spawns rapid fluctuations of inconsistency. Huff was a superstar last season with Baltimore when he hammered the American League—not the least of which was the Tigers—for 32 home runs and 108 RBIs. He makes just $8 million and he is in the last year of his contract. The Orioles have no chance in the stacked AL East. Huff has struggled this year with an OPS+ of 94 through 62 games. However, he would come cheap and he would give Miguel Cabrera some protection. Part of the gamble on Huff would be the hope that he would regain some of his ’08 form. If he could put up anything close to that, the Tigers would likely see a vast improvement in offensive production. Huff also has the added bonus of being a left-handed bat which is something the Tigers have needed since 1842—or thereabouts.

4). Derrek Lee

The Cubs are definitely in playoff contention but I don’t think they would be against moving Lee. I’m assuming, though, that they’d want something that would help them win the division. I don’t think there’s a whole lot the Tigers could offer in the name of everyday help for a playoff contending team. That ship sailed when they released Gary Sheffield. Then again, if they didn’t release Sheffield, we might not even be talking about this but I digress. Anyhow, unless the Cubs are interested in something like Marcus Thames, Jeff Larish and a prospect, I don’t think Lee is an option. There is the possibility of Aramis Ramirez getting moved to first base upon his return from the DL—grasping at straws here but I would think players coming back from a dislocated shoulder should probably not being diving on said shoulder at 3B—allowing Josh Vitters to take over at third base. I suppose that would make Lee expendable. Or, maybe they would be fine with someone like Jake Fox replacing Lee. Still, there would be the question of whether the Tigers have anything the Cubs want. Lee’s best days are in the rearview mirror but, like Huff, he is better than what we’ve got going on right now. Oh, did I mention he has a no-trade clause? I probably could’ve saved you two minutes by putting that in the first sentence.

5). Jason Giambi

This is the point when I started to wonder if it’s even worth making a trade to get a guy like Giambi. Bear with me for a minute. There’s no question that he’s a poor man’s Adam Dunn which likely means that J.P. Ricciardi would rather fight a polar bear than even consider bringing him to Toronto. Still, last year Giambi hit 32 bombs with 96 ribeyes with a very respectable 128 OPS+. Sure, he has struggled in his return to Oakland but considering what has happened to Matt Holliday, there might be something in the water out there (or maybe just a tough pitcher’s park). Giambi still draws mad-walks and he has hit 32+ home runs in each of his last three full seasons. He would probably come pretty cheap from an Oakland-team that flat-out stinks. He would be a free agent at the end of the season (Oakland has a club-option) so he pretty much fits all of the basic criteria for trade feasibility. He is a lefty-bat that would give the Tigers a different look in the middle of the lineup. The Tigers could probably get away with trading two or three mid-level prospects. I would actually be excited if the Tigers got this done. Yes, I am aware of how sad that statement sounds. Just imagine how I’d feel if any of the first three options went down.

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