With the Tigers out of playoff contention, they have already started planning for the 2008 season. The first item on the agenda is to move Carlos Guillen over to first base from shortstop. This accomplishes two goals: they finally get a first baseman who can out-hit Sean Casey, and Guillen’s bad knees will take less abuse on the defensive side of things.
The latter part is important if the Tigers want Guillen to remain productive and healthy, and he’s no better than average defensively at shortstop at this point anyways. His .293/.354/.489 line gives him an EqA of .280, a hair above-average at first base and well ahead of Casey’s .258 mark. What strikes me as funny is that the Tigers essentially ended up with a league average shortstop (.255 EqA) line and a league average first base line, just not from their respective positions.
In order for this to improve the team, they will need to find another above-average shortstop; otherwise, the net offensive production will be the same. They won’t find that player on the free agent market, as the most productive available shortstop this winter may be David Eckstein, who is above-average with the bat (.269 EqA) but below-average defensively. Our own Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) saw Eckstein post a -15 this year, while Revised Zone Rating, a John Dewan invention, ranked Eckstein 21 of 25 qualified shortstops. Omar Vizquel has the defense nailed down, with +4 FRAA and the league-leading RZR, but he only managed a .245/.304/.309 season in the weaker league.
They also don’t have a shortstop prospect in Kevin Goldstein’s Positional Rankings, so they’ll have to make a trade over the winter if they want to upgrade. Edgar Renteria may be available if the Braves want to insert Yunel Escobar in as the full-time shortstop.
Renteria’s .332/.390/.470 line is a product of a .375 BABIP, but even if you adjust for that you end up around .305/.365/.450, well above the average shortstop’s production. He’s average by both FRAA and RZR defensively as well, and inexpensive with the Red Sox picking up $3 million of his $9 million salary for 2008. They’re also on the hook for the $3 million buyout on his 2009 option, if the Tigers decided they didn’t want him to stick around. With Escobar in the wings, the Braves can afford to negotiate a deal and acquire a prospect.
The Tigers obviously don’t have to acquire Renteria in order to make this work, but they will have to look into a trade or pull a magic sleeper from their farm system if the Guillen position switch is to accomplish anything besides keeping Guillen on the field. While that’s huge, they really should capitalize on this opportunity in order to keep up with an improving and young Indians club.