Delmon Young is an awful player – he cannot play defense, cannot hit right-handed pitching, and cannot take a walk. The problem is that the Tigers will no longer be handicapping themselves by making him their every day DH. Instead, the Tigers are going to be replacing Delmon Young’s career .317 OBP with one Victor Martinez. White Sox fans can console themselves with the fact that Victor Martinez is turning 34 this winter and is coming off of a very serious knee injury – but the career .303/.370/.469 switch hitter is coming back to the lineup and replacing a non-entity. There’s no way that isn’t an improvement.
Further, it will be almost impossible for the Tigers to have worse production at 2B than they did this year. Tigers second basemen hit a Ray Olmedo-esque .209/.268/.299 – good for a major league worst wOBA of .253 — in 2012, and appear to have had no better than mediocre defense to boot. Even without a concerted effort to improve the position, they could sign any number of veteran scrubs and manage better production. For comparison, White Sox third basemen hit .215/.295/.332 last year.
Likewise, the Tigers struggled to get any production from right field, as they got a .247/.299/.365 line from that position. Fangraphs has Tigers right fielders as -2.0 WAR, the bulk of that coming from an absolutely abysmal defensive score. While I don’t trust defensive metrics, I think it’s fair to say Boesch was bad in right field. Avisail Garcia clearly has a lot of tools. Without trying to project his offense, at the very least he’s an excellent defensive right fielder, which is already a huge boost for Detroit.
There are other areas where the Tigers might improve – Doug Fister might be healthy and pitching at full strength for the entire season instead of half of it, for example. Despite the fuss about the Triple Crown, Miguel Cabrera was actually better in both 2010 and 2011 than he was last year, seeing his OBP drop over 50 points in 2012 – so, as scary as it sounds, Cabrera might be even better next year.
The takeaway from this article should not be despair, and I do not mean to suggest that the Tigers are guaranteed to have everything work out perfectly for them. Their infield defense is going to be a train wreck no matter what, some players may simply regress hard – I’ll be curious to see if Austin Jackson can OPS .856 again – and injuries are bound to happen. The White Sox also have a lot of room to improve – Ventura may get better as a tactical manager, it’s hard to imagine third base being any worse, hopefully Danks and Floyd will be healthy, there’s reason to believe that Viciedo will improve, and Alexei should hit better than he did in 2012. Rather, the point is that the Tigers have a lot of ways to get better from 2012 to 2013 without making any external moves. And with people still buying Hot-N-Ready pizzas, they may very well go out and pick up a few more free agents to boot.
The AL Central may be the weakest division in the majors, but the White Sox are probably going to have to aim a little bit higher to get past the Tigers next year.