The Detroit Tigers have signed outfielder Rajai Davis to a two-year contract worth an even $10 million. The story was first reported by Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca
Tigers GM David Dombrowski likes to operate in shadows. It’s how he snuck Miguel Cabrera to Detroit in exchange for a couple of now non-existent prospects (Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller), and how he signed Prince Fielder to one of baseball’s biggest albatross contracts. And somehow, magically got himself out of that very contract. He’s responsible for moving Curtis Granderson to New York in exchange for Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson. He gambled on Omar Infante, Delmon Young, Torii Hunter, and won. He brought Magglio Ordonez to a scuffling Detroit team where Ordonez proceeded to have the best years of his career, and helped drive the team to a World Series appearance in ’06. He did well, or as we like to say in Michigan, “He did his job.”
But you can’t always get it right. Things go wrong. Things go sour. Landscapes change, and contracts get old. That was the thinking, entering this offseason — Prince Fielder’s contract loomed heavy — an elephant in the room. At the offset of the offseason, there was no indication of a market for Prince Fielder, yet somehow Dombrowksi managed to steer the Tigers clear of a future with a massive, burdening contract with an aged Prince Fielder. The trade with Texas is best for everyone; Fielder didn’t get along with the fan base in Detroit, Texas needed a lefty slugger, and the Tigers needed to set themselves free of Fielder’s contract, even though they paid $30MM to the Rangers to fulfill some of it.
Dombrowski signs Rajai Davis to platoon left field with Andy Dirks, after “giving up” Doug Fister. Fan base confused. Local media confused, but mostly trusting and patient. Still, quiet confused.
Most importantly, the signing of Rajai Davis says: we’ll no longer be a station-to-station baserunning team. It’s by no means a fast team with the additions of Davis, and Steve Lombardozzi (the utility replacement for Ramon Santiago), but the Tigers have replaced their worst baserunner (Fielder) with one of the league’s better base stealers. Davis will platoon with lefty Andy Dirks who in 2013 was unable to repeat his .322 (314 at-bats) performance of 2012.
Davis stole 125 bases over the last three seasons.
Over the last three seasons, the Tigers stole 143 bases.
And, over his eight-year career, Davis has hit .294 against lefties in 882 at-bats.
In 2014, the Tigers will only be slowed on the basepaths by Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. In terms of baserunning, replacing Prince Fielder with Dirks/Davis is a major upgrade, and the signal of a new era of thinking at Comerica Park.
Bringing Davis to platoon makes sense for the Tigers, who have a new manager — a young, unpredictable manager. A manager who has never managed, at any level. In fact, there’s no indication he’s even managed a little league team. Though, by all accounts, Brad Ausmus has not only the mind for baseball, but the demeanor and rapport with players and coaches. Ausmus will also have Jim Leyland nearby to mentor him, as he stays on with the Tigers in a role connected to baseball operations.