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Tigers looking for lefty bats to balance lineup

Righty-heavy batting order leaves Detroit vulnerable against right-handed pitchers
MLB.com @beckjason

DETROIT -- The Tigers have evolved from fielding a young lineup to a veteran lineup to now a rebuilding lineup. Through that whole time, they have had a heavily right-handed hitting lineup.

Thus, as general manager Al Avila heads into the heart of the Hot Stove season looking for help for a revamped roster and a new approach, part of his search should sound familiar.

DETROIT -- The Tigers have evolved from fielding a young lineup to a veteran lineup to now a rebuilding lineup. Through that whole time, they have had a heavily right-handed hitting lineup.

Thus, as general manager Al Avila heads into the heart of the Hot Stove season looking for help for a revamped roster and a new approach, part of his search should sound familiar.

Hot Stove Tracker

"We're very right-handed, so left-handed anything -- infield and outfield -- would be very handy for us as far as somebody that could help at the Major League level in 2018," Avila told reporters Monday at baseball's GM Meetings. "No doubt about that."

The Tigers were a middle-of-the-pack offense for most of last season. Their .258 batting average overall ranked 12th among Major League teams, their .748 OPS placing them 18th. Against right-handed pitchers, those numbers and placements plummeted. Detroit batted .252 off righties, 18th in the Majors, with a .723 OPS that ranked third-to-last in the American League and 25th in the Majors.

Part of that issue was a short supply of hitters from the left side. It was a clear issue going into the season, when switch-hitting designated hitter Victor Martinez was the only regular bat that could hit from the left side. Alex Avila provided a left-handed hitting option at catcher, while Tyler Collins served as a lefty-hitting outfielder.

Video: LAD@DET: V-Mart launches a no-doubter to right

Martinez played in just 107 games due to heart issues. Collins batted just .200 before being designated for assignment at the end of May, and didn't rejoin the Tigers until they needed outfield help in September. Jim Adduci went on a brief tear following an April callup before a nagging oblique strain halted his momentum.

The two productive left-handed hitters for Detroit were Avila (.274 average, .869 OPS before his July 31 trade to the Cubs) and midseason callup Alex Presley (.314, .770). Put it all together, and only the Orioles had fewer hits from the left side of the plate than the Tigers' 360.

Seventy-seven of those hits came from Presley, who was taken off the roster earlier this month along with Collins, Adduci and switch-hitting Andrew Romine. As it stands, the only hitters on Detroit's 40-man roster who can bat left-handed are Martinez and fellow switch-hitter Jeimer Candelario, who's in line to become the regular third baseman next season.

Video: CWS@DET: Candelario's three-run shot to center

The Tigers will likely add a lefty hitter to their roster next week when they protect No. 10 prospect Mike Gerber from the Rule 5 Draft, but he has just four games above Double-A Erie. If Detroit plans on balancing its bats for Opening Day, it will most likely have to come from outside the organization.

Like the rest of the Tigers' dealings, such a move will most likely be a smaller deal, such as non-roster invites, prospects returned in trades or smaller big league transactions. Detroit struck a bargain with last year's Minor League deal with Presley, but his arbitration eligibility seemingly ruled out a return. So far, there's no indication the Tigers will try to revisit a Minor League contract for Presley, who's expected to pursue a big league spot for now.

Detroit added one such bat when it signed former Twins prospect Niko Goodrum to a Minor League contract. The switch-hitter hit 1-for-17 with Minnesota as a September callup, and he did the bulk of his damage at Triple-A Rochester from the right side, batting just .230 (77-for-335) against right-handed hurlers.

Veteran left-handed bats could linger on the market this offseason, but the question they'll encounter is what role the Tigers can offer. Many right-handed hitters are pegged for regular roles in Detroit's lineup, including Miguel Cabrera, James McCann, Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, Mikie Mahtook and JaCoby Jones. A trade of Kinsler or Iglesias could open a spot.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Detroit Tigers, Alex Presley