Can Mets build winner around Wright?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The winter meetings haven't start yet, but baseball's winter market is already buzzing, with news breaking all over the place: Folks in the industry expected David Wright to take the New York Mets' offer and he did, as Adam Rubin writes.
The risk of leaving a $100 million-plus offer behind is just too great, at a time when Wright would have been a year from free agency. And without a big-time show of power, Wright was always going to be worth markedly more to the Mets than to any other team, because of his connection with the franchise; he is to the Mets what Derek Jeter has been to the Yankees.
Hot at the corner
How David Wright ranks amove MLB third basemen in his career.
Since 2005 Rank
BA .301 2nd
HR 190 4th
RBI 778 2nd
2B 305 1st
XBH 513 1st
The signing of B.J. Upton demonstrated, again, that teams will pay significantly for power -- and Wright has been more of a high-average hitter, with 35 homers over the last two seasons.
Per WAR, 2012 was Wright's best year in a while, as he ranked 4th in the NL.
Buster Posey 7.2
Andrew McCutchen 7.0
Ryan Braun 6.8
David Wright 6.7<<
Yadier Molina 6.7
>>Best season by WAR since 2008 (6.7)
The challenge for the Mets' baseball operations department moving forward will be to construct a roster around Wright with about $80 million or so at their disposal, because there are no indications the Mets will be increasing their payroll any time soon.
For a period of about four years, 2005-08, you could make a case that David Wright was perennially a legitimate NL MVP candidate. But over the last four years, 2009-12, Wright appears to have settled in as closer to a "very good" player, as measured by both traditional stats and advanced metrics.
• When Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo spoke with Denard Span for the first time after acquiring him from the Minnesota Twins on Thursday afternoon, he could tell Span was a little anxious -- and excited. "He mentioned what a great time he had in Minnesota, and how he was looking forward to playing with guys like Jayson Werth and Bryce]Harper," Rizzo told me.
Rizzo has been scouting Span for years, having first seen him when he was a high school senior in Tampa, Fla., before trying to trade for him in the summer of 2011. At that time, Span was dealing with some concussion issues and Rizzo was concerned about the price tag at that time.
But now, with Minnesota trying to rebuild it's organization's pitching, Rizzo surrendered hard-throwing pitching prospect Alex Meyer for Span -- a player who gives Rizzo tremendous flexibility in determining how to proceed at filling the first base job. Because Span hits left-handed, Rizzo doesn't feel as much pressure to sign Adam LaRoche to help balance the predominantly right-handed hitting Washington lineup.
Now Rizzo has multiple options and is in a position to look for the best possible deals, thusly:
1. He could re-sign LaRoche, who likely has a very limited market -- in part because the Nationals made a qualifying offer to him, which would cost the team that signed him a top draft pick. Some GMs think LaRoche may wind up getting his best deal from the Nationals -- and the two sides were relatively close to a new contract earlier this month.
If Rizzo signs LaRoche, he could trade Mike Morse, who would have good value this winter in light of some of the free agent prices (hello, B.J. Upton). Morse, 30, is coming off a year in which he hit .291 with 18 homers in 406 at-bats, and he'll be eligible for free agency next fall after playing for $6.75 million next summer.
2. The Nationals could let LaRoche walk away, and then shift Morse to first base, which is probably Morse's best defensive position.
3. Washington could keep LaRoche and Morse and work from extraordinary depth in 2013, especially in light of the respective injury histories of Morse, Werth and LaRoche. Remember, the Nationals have Tyler Moore, as well Washington manager Davey Johnson likes to use his whole roster, a lot, and he loves this trade.
Denard Span has been one of the best center fielders in the AL over the last two years.
Austin Jackson 10.0
Jacoby Ellsbury 8.8
Curtis Granderson 8.0
Denard Span 7.1
Adam Jones 6.2
A possible Washington lineup (and it's pretty darn good):
CF Denard Span
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
3B Ryan Zimmerman
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Ian Desmond
2B Danny Espinosa
C Kurt Suzuki
It's possible that Werth could be moved to left in spring training, as Adam Kilgore writes in this piece.
• The Twins had no choice but to try to trade to rebuild their pitching, because they don't have a lot of ways to do that. The free-agent market is thin, their minor-league system is pitching-poor, and rival executives say their major league team has almost no assets that could net top pitching talent in return. Span, with his team-friendly contract, had that kind of value. Let's face it: Until Minnesota improves it's pitching, they are doomed to irrelevancy, and Alex Meyer has the stuff to be a frontline starter.
The Twins are trying to be competitive, says Terry Ryan. I totally agree with what Jim Souhan writes here: The Twins made the right trade, and time will tell if they got the right player.
Now it's up to the Twins to develop him, writes Tom Powers.
• For all the speculation about Joe Mauer possibly being traded, it's worth reviewing some of the hurdles to any deal:
1. He's a Minnesotan with a full no-trade clause.
2. He's the Cal Ripken of the Twins' franchise, with his value to them going beyond just his OPS and catching skills. If they were to trade him, they'd need a major package of players in return, in addition to some national parks.
3. He's probably overpriced right now, at $23 million annually, so any team acquiring him would want salary relief that the Twins wouldn't want to give.
Around the league
• With the Atlanta Braves and Nationals making aggressive moves this week, some agents are speculating that Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro will be itching to do something splashy -- like signing Josh Hamilton. They're just speculating, but as one said, "That's his M.O."
• The Boston Red Sox like Mike Napoli, but they may want to limit the years in his deal, to perhaps as few as two.
• The Yankees never made an offer to Russell Martin, given how they've placed a priority on pitching this winter with their available funds, and knowing what he was looking for. Martin told David Waldstein he had a great time in New York. The Yankees' deal with Mariano Rivera could be finished as soon as today.
• The Los Angeles Dodgers met with Zack Greinke Thursday. The expectation is that they will offer Long Beach and parts of Bakersfield to him, in the end.
• If the Pirates are ready to trade Joel Hanrahan, the Dodgers are ready to discuss, and have starting pitching to offer (like Chris Capuano). But the fact that Pittsburgh agreed to terms with Martin probably means that the Pirates are making a push for 2013 and trading their closer wouldn't seem to fit that.
Martin is a good fit for the Pirates, and yes, they overpaid a bit -- but that's what they need to do to get good veteran players to come to Pittsburgh. Texas also had made an overture to Martin.
This is the most expensive free-agent signing in Pirates' history, writes Rob Biertempfel.
• Francisco Liriano has drawn interest from the Minnesota Twins -- and another interesting match in the AL Central might be with the Kansas City Royals.
• The Phillies' best offer to B.J. Upton was $55 million over five years, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com. The Upton signing is a risk for Atlanta, writes Jeff Schultz.
• The San Francisco Giants will talk about Brian Wilson again today, but the expectation is that they will non-tender the reliever. There have been no talks about a new negotiated deal for the arbitration-eligible closer -- and really, there's no reason for Wilson to haggle over a deal with San Francisco. He'd be better off going to free agency and finding a job in which he'd be more assured of being a closer.
This decision looms as the Giants prepare for the winter meetings, writes Alex Pavlovic.
• Some officials believe Ryan Dempster may land with the Brewers, eventually, because it would put him closer in proximity to his old home in Chicago.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Mac Engel thinks the Rangers should spend their money on their rotation, and not on Josh Hamilton. If the Rangers sign Zack Greinke and passed on Hamilton, they would need to bolster their lineup, and the best free-agent fit still on the board could be Nick Swisher, because of his positional flexibility he can play right, left or first base.
2. Bob Elliott writes about how the Miami Marlins-Toronto Blue Jays trade went down. Mark Buehrle has warmed up to being a Blue Jay.
3. Alex Anthopoulos says he feels good about his team.
4. The Tigers know how to deal with Scott Boras, writes Bob Nightengale.
5. Alfredo Aceves may not fit the plans of the Red Sox.
6. The Kansas City Royals worked out a deal with Felipe Paulino.
7. Paul Daugherty thinks the Cincinnati Reds spent too much money on Jonathan Broxton.
8. The Cleveland Indians worked out a deal with Blake Wood.
9. Manny Parra is likely to be non-tendered today.
10. The Chicago White Sox are not likely to tender a contract to Phil Humber.
11. The Chicago Cubs hired a new director of baseball operations.
12. All is quiet for the Arizona Diamondbacks now, writes Nick Piecoro.
13. The Colorado Rockies don't appear ready to sign Dexter Fowler to a multi-year deal.
14. The Angels could work on the back end of their rotation, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
15. The San Diego Padres are going to play 37 exhibitions next spring.
16. Shane Victorino could be the best value for the Phillies. However: There are folks in the organization who feel it's best to move on from Victorino.
Hamilton the next Griffey?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
At some point this winter, a team with money to spend and an opening in the outfield for a big left-handed bat will make Josh Hamilton a very wealthy man. With the winter meetings approaching and some big names already off the board, the baseball world is wondering "When?" and "How wealthy?" Hamilton's home run totals and 2010 MVP season make him one of the most enticing talents on the market, but his age, injury record, history of substance abuse and performance away from the hitters' parks he's called home give general managers plenty of reasons to think twice before committing to a long-term contract.
We can tack on yet another concern to that long list of red flags: Hamilton is not a patient hitter. Over the course of his career, he's struck out at an above-average rate and walked at a (barely) below-average rate even though pitchers have plenty of incentive to stay away from his power. Last season, his tendency to swing (and chase) grew much more pronounced, while his contact percentage plummeted.
Because Hamilton doesn't add any value via the walk, most of his offensive performance hinges on what happens when he makes contact. The outcome of a batted ball is dependent on two things: speed and quality of contact. The early 30s are when bat speed starts to slip and reaction time suffers. If Hamilton had better command of the strike zone, his ability to take walks could compensate for his inevitable declines in other areas. As it is, his offensive value is closely tied to skills that soon start to fade in free agents of a certain age.
In May, I wrote about the six-year, $85.5 million extension a somewhat similar player, Adam Jones, received from the Baltimore Orioles. Jones walks less often than Hamilton and hits for less power, but both players generally fit the low-walk, high-power profile, with roughly the same career strikeout rate.
To see what effect a low walk rate might have on how a player ages, I looked for hitters with power production similar to Jones' through May (and, as it happens, Hamilton's) and divided them into two groups, one for those who walked in less than 10 percent of their plate appearances and another for those who made it over that mark.
What I found was that after a certain age, the low-walk hitters aged worse than the high-walk group. Not only did their production per plate appearance suffer a steeper drop, but their playing time tailed off more quickly, too. Because Jones was still just 26 when his extension was signed, I concluded that despite his impatient profile, the deal made sense for Baltimore.
Low-walk power hitters don't start to suffer relative to high-walk power hitters until their age-32 seasons. After age 32, Jones won't have to be the Orioles' problem, so they can enjoy his prime production and let someone else overpay for what could be an unforgiving decline phase later.
His PECOTA projection is not that promising.
Year Age PA TAv WARP
2012 31 636 .307 3.9
2013 32 571 .294 3.4
2014 33 567 .291 3.2
2015 34 561 .287 2.9
2016 35 551 .280 2.5
2017 36 537 .271 1.9
2018 37 519 .259 1.1
2019 38 496 .243 0.3
Hamilton's employer, however, won't have that luxury: His prime production is already past, and his decline phase is about to begin. In the table to the right are Hamilton's statistics from 2012, along with the stats projected for his next seven seasons by BP's projection system, PECOTA.
These projections don't incorporate the potential effects of Hamilton's past struggles with substance abuse or build in any risk of a relapse, since we can't quantify those factors precisely. Even without accounting for those variables, though, PECOTA projects that Hamilton would be close to a replacement-level player by the end of the seven-year contract he reportedly covets, totaling 15.3 WARP over the life of the deal.
If we set the current going rate for a free-agent win at $5 million and factor in a conservative 5 percent annual inflation rate, a win would cost $7 million on the open market by the end of the deal. All told, that 15.3 WARP would translate to just more than $85 million in value. Given the recent increase in leaguewide revenue from television contracts and the CBA changes that limit spending in other areas, the inflation rate over that span may significantly exceed 5 percent, but even if we peg the average value of a free-agent win over the next seven seasons at $7 million, the total value climbs to only $107 million or so.
PECOTA bases part of its projection on how comparable players have performed in the past. While the pool of players compared to Hamilton includes some encouraging names, two of his top comps -- Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones -- lived the sort of nightmarish scenarios that can't be far from the minds of Hamilton's suitors. Both players were superstars through age 30, but a combination of injuries, poor conditioning and eroding skills made them only marginally productive after they passed that point. Griffey played through age 40 but accumulated only 8.2 WARP of his 79.2 career total after age 31, while Jones has amassed just 2.5 WARP in his age-32-to-35 seasons.
Hamilton isn't doomed to suffer a similar fate, but those examples remind us of how quickly a productive player can become an albatross.
Earlier this week, Buster Olney wrote that the market for Hamilton has been slow to develop, noting that teams appear to be wary of extending an offer longer than four years. A four-year contract would take Hamilton through 2016 and, according to our conservative model, be worth just more than $64 million. Raise the four-year average value of a win to $7 million, and the most reasonable sum rises to $84 million, or $21 annually through age 35 -- coincidentally or not, the age at which PECOTA expects Hamilton to be an above-average player for the final time. A team on the October bubble might be willing to pay a premium for his short-term production, but for most clubs, that looks like a prudent place to draw the line.
Twins do very well in Span trade.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Washington Nationals didn't get much production from their non-wunderkind outfielders in 2012, so adding Denard Span and sliding Bryce Harper to right makes the team better by a couple of wins in 2013. The price they paid was heavy, though, with the Minnesota Twins receiving Alex Meyer the kind of hard-throwing, high-upside arm their system lacks.
Span is a solid everyday player who has made himself into an above-average defender in center, a position where his modest bat will play even though he's not particularly patient and has well below-average power. Span's deal pays him a very reasonable $10.25 million total over the next two seasons, with a $9 million option for 2015, so the Nats get three years of control at affordable prices, and can walk away from Span right at the point where he's likely to start to see his value slip. In the interim, however, he gives them an average regular in center whose value will fluctuate with his BABIP.
He has quick wrists and has a handsy swing, putting the ball in play at a very high rate and using the whole field but rarely driving the ball for power. He's a plus runner who gains a few hits each year from his speed and has been worth a few extra runs a year on the bases as well. Yet even in his two highest-BABIP seasons, he's peaked at 4 wins above replacement (per FanGraphs), and the ups and downs of his batting average on balls in play can shave more than a win off that figure. That's still a good fit for a Nats team that lacked a true centerfielder.
For that, however, they gave up a very good pitching prospect in Meyer, who, if he stays healthy, could easily make the Nats regret this deal in the long run. Meyer is generally tabbed as a future reliever because he's primarily a two-pitch guy who, at 6-foot-7, has had trouble keeping his mechanics together, and comes from a slot below three-quarters. I can see all of those concerns and do think there's a chance Meyer ends up in relief, but I'm also somewhat optimistic that he can remain a starter -- and if he does, he'll likely be a very good one, pitching near the top of a rotation.
Meyer has touched 99 and can work at 92-97 even as a starter, with good life on the pitch due to his low slot, although his ground ball rates in pro ball have been just okay. His slider is filthy, a bona fide out pitch whether he starts or closes in the majors, while his changeup has improved to the point where it's probably a future-average pitch. (He hasn't shown any kind of platoon split so far in the minors anyway.) There's a good enough chance that he starts that I'd hate to give him up for three years of a league-average centerfielder unless my club was an immediate contender -- which the Nats are. For the Twins, this gives them the potential frontline starter they didn't see in the 2012 draft class, when they passed on Kevin Gausman and Mark Appel in favor of very high-upside prep center fielder Byron Buxton. Pair Meyer with the resurgent Kyle Gibson, who showed a plus mid-80s slider in the Arizona Fall League, and the Twins' future pitching situation looks a lot more promising.
This does leave Washington's system fairly short on the pitching side at the moment. The Nats' best remaining starting pitching prospect, Luc Giolito, is out until next summer after Tommy John surgery, and while he projects as a potential No. 1 or No. 2 starter, he's probably five years away from major-league impact. Their next-best starter prospect, lefty Sammy Solis, is just coming back from the same operation. Nate Karns is the sleeper, with a plus fastball/curveball combo and a potentially plus changeup, but he's yet to reach Double-A at age 24. They're going to live or die with the pitching already on the big club, or whatever they can add through free agency, because they don't have much arriving soon and their tradeable assets are dwindling.
One other possible beneficiary of this deal is the Colorado Rockies, should they choose to move Dexter Fowler, a talented, athletic center fielder who doesn't have Span's speed or defensive value but has more offensive potential, especially in terms of power. The Rockies' direction isn't entirely clear to me, but Fowler's youth and affordability should net them a higher return than the strong one the Twins just got for Span.
Four stealth HOF candidates.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Bert Blyleven is in the Hall of Fame because he was a great pitcher who belongs in Cooperstown, but also because he was the poster child for the analytically inclined baseball community for the better part of a decade. Led by a blogger named Rich Lederer, Blyleven's supporters inundated writers with articles and stories supporting Blyleven's election, and on his 14th chance, he finally crossed the 75 percent mark needed for enshrinement.
With Blyleven in, now the groundswell of support is rising behind Tim Raines, an underappreciated star of his era whose willingness to draw a walk has kept him out of the Hall because he didn't get to 3,000 hits. Raines' skill set has always been undervalued, and to this day, players who do what Raines did don't get as much credit for their performances as bulky sluggers who drive in runs. The recent AL MVP race made it clear that many still prefer the RBI guy to the table setter.
So, given what we know about what types of players make it into the Hall of Fame, here are four active players who are on track to be worthy of Cooperstown one day, but who have flown under the radar to some degree during their careers and will probably require a long lobbying effort to get them elected once their careers are over.
Adrian Beltre | Third Base
Third basemen are woefully underrepresented as a group in the Hall, and Brooks Robinson is basically the only third baseman who got inducted based on his defense. While elite defenders at other positions have been recognized, the great defensive third baseman has never gotten much recognition. Unless voters have an epiphany about the value of defense at the hot corner, Beltre will be fighting an uphill battle.
His career line (.280 AVG/.331 OBP/.476 SLG) translates into a mark of 111 wRC+, meaning he's been 11 percent better than an average hitter based on the league norms and his home ballparks during his career. For comparison, that puts him in a tie with Graig Nettles, who never received more than 8.3 percent of the vote and fell off the ballot after just four years. Beltre's offensive résumé is simply not at the level of other Hall of Fame third basemen.
But anyone who has watched Beltre play for any length of time realizes that there's a lot more to his game than what he does in the batter's box. He is an amazing defender at third base and has played Gold Glove defense at the position for nearly 18,000 innings. For his career, Ultimate Zone Rating estimates that he's saved 147 runs more than an average defensive third baseman. When you combine that level of defensive greatness with an above-average bat, you get a pretty terrific player. When Beltre hits like he has in recent years, he's one of the best players in the sport.
His career inconsistencies, and the fact that so much of his value is tied up in his defense, will hurt him. But he has already accumulated 62.5 WAR through age 33. Even if he's just an average player for the next four years, he'll crack the 70-WAR barrier, and an overwhelming majority of players with 70 or more WAR have a plaque in Cooperstown. As long as he doesn't fall off a cliff in the next few years, Beltre will deserve one, too.
Matt Holliday | Left Fielder
The case for Holliday is essentially the exact opposite as the case for Beltre. Instead of being about defense and longevity, Holliday's case is about recognizing a premium hitter who has had one of the best seven-year runs in baseball history. Since 2006, Holliday has posted a wRC+ of 138 or higher in every single season, and his 145 cumulative wRC+ over that span ranks as the sixth-highest mark in baseball during that stretch -- the only guys ahead of him are Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Manny Ramirez.
Unfortunately for Holliday, his offense comes from hitting for a high average and racking up a lot of doubles, so he doesn't have the sexy home run totals that voters tend to look for in a guy who is up for election based on his offensive production. He has hit only 30 home runs in a season on two occasions, and both of those years came in Colorado. With just 229 career home runs, Holliday won't get close to any of the big slugger milestones, but looking at his overall value as a hitter, his ability to win games becomes clearer.
Holliday has been a beast of a hitter for the better part of the last decade, yet he's continually flown under the radar. He has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting only once -- in 2007, when he finished second. It's probably too late for him to run off a series of multiple monster seasons to get the voters' attention, but he has shown no signs of slowing down in recent years, and a few more seasons at his established level should be enough to get him serious Hall of Fame consideration.
Because he got a later start on his career, he'll need to age gracefully to have a strong case, but Holliday has already had a Hall of Famer's peak. Now he just needs to stick around long enough to add enough counting stats so people remember how good he actually was.
Jose Reyes | Shortstop
If Reyes falls short of 3,000 hits -- he has 1,484 and turns 30 next summer, so it will depend almost entirely on how well his hamstrings hold up -- he won't fly below any voter's radar, but singles hitters who don't reach that milestone have traditionally not done particularly well in the voting.
However, Reyes is a singles-hitting shortstop who has already had four elite seasons, and if he ages like Kenny Lofton, he could remain a productive player for the next decade and add enough longevity to build a solid Hall of Fame case. If he keeps hitting into his mid-to-late 30s, his career will start to resemble Alan Trammell's -- another undervalued shortstop who the analytical community is agitating for.
Matt Cain | Right-handed Pitcher
His perfect game and postseason track record have helped put Cain on the map, but in many of the milestone categories that voters tend to look at, he comes up short. He has never finished in the top five in Cy Young voting and has made just three All-Star teams.
And, perhaps most problematic, he has a career record of just 85-78. Even if he stays healthy and continues to pitch well, averaging 15 wins per year for the next decade, he'll still finish with fewer than 250 wins, and the voting electorate continues to hang on to pitcher wins as a useful measure of value.
Yet Cain's career ERA- of 80 -- meaning he has prevented runs at 20 percent better than league average -- puts him in a tie with CC Sabathia and ahead of Hall of Famers like Juan Marichal and Bob Feller. If Cain keeps pitching the way he has thus far, he'll deserve a spot in Cooperstown, but he'll need voters to abandon pitcher wins in order to see his true value.
Detroit's middle infield problem.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It's often said that the best way for baseball teams to build a championship squad is up the middle, with middle generally referring to catcher, second base, shortstop and center field. In Austin Jackson and Alex Avila, the Detroit Tigers -- a team with World Series aspirations -- have half of that equation solved, but second base and shortstop could once again grow to be the team's Achilles' heel.
In second baseman Omar Infante and shortstop Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers have a pair of middle infielders who will both play in their age-31 seasons in 2013. Infante has enjoyed a career transformation the past couple of seasons. After serving in a utility role for most of his career, Infante was given an opportunity to start in 2010 by the Braves, and he ran with it, posting the best offensive season of his career. It capped a three-year period with the Braves during which he posted average or better offensive numbers. They unfortunately stick out as the three best offensive seasons of his career:
Atlanta years: 1,083 PA, .309/.353/.411, .763 OPS
The rest: 2,960 PA, .262/.302/.392, .693 OPS
That's a 70-point difference in OPS, and a 47-point difference in batting average. We could run through a litany of advanced stats as well, but suffice to say, whatever worked for Infante in Atlanta did not or has not worked elsewhere. Infante's .257/.283/.385 line in his two months in Detroit in 2012 didn't even match that career-outside-of-Atlanta average. At the very least, Detroit can at least be confident in his fielding. As he has received more steady playing time at one position, his fielding performance has improved -- he has been 18 runs above average over the past two years according to UZR -- but even with two months of Infante's good defense, the only team to get worse production out of its second basemen last season was the Orioles. It's unlikely that a full season of Infante will make second base an above-average position for the Tigers.
Shortstop also was a below-average unit for the Tigers last season, thanks to the underwhelming play of Peralta. He too has turned in play that was well above average defensively the past two years according to his UZR numbers (18.8 runs above average in that time), but other advanced statistics paint Peralta as average or worse, and it's not hard to see why. Peralta is often described as having "fall-down" range, as in he only reaches balls he can reach by falling down to either side.
Peralta's improvement or lack thereof defensively may be up for debate, but his decline offensively is not -- he has been below average at the plate in three of the past four seasons, last year included. Even when he has been good, Peralta has been inconsistent. He has posted a .450 slugging percentage or better in three of his eight full big league seasons, but never in back-to-back seasons. And he has only achieved a .350 or better on-base percentage in one of those eight years, and that was his first full season back in 2005. Simply put, Peralta is just not very good.
To the Tigers' credit, they know that. Last week, they were mentioned as a suitor for Stephen Drew, and if they are able to sign him, they presumably will have the freedom to deal Peralta to another team (the Arizona Diamondbacks have been said to be interested). Outside of Drew and Marco Scutaro however, there aren't any palatable starting shortstops available in free agency. And with the Tigers' farm system depleted, they will need to work hard to find an upgrade over Peralta via trade. If they are serious about winning while Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander are in their primes, it might make sense to use top prospect Nick Castellanos as trade bait to get an elite shortstop or second baseman. Castellanos' natural position is third base, where he is blocked by Cabrera, so he could be expendable. While they can't move Peralta to another position, Infante could easily go back to his super-sub role and have plenty of value there if they acquire a better second basemen.
It's not all doom and gloom up the middle, of course. Last season, Jackson posted one of the best seasons in the game, and it was curious that he didn't receive even one vote for the Most Valuable Player award. (He had 5.5 WAR, per FanGraphs, which ranked eighth in the AL.) At 5.5 WAR, only 21 players in baseball were more valuable than Jackson. At the other end of the diamond, backstop Avila wasn't able to duplicate the production of his 2011 breakout campaign, but he was still better than league average offensively, while maintaining decent defense and baserunning numbers as well. And because he'll be only 26 next year, his best days may still be ahead of him.
The Tigers have been very strong on the mound and on the corners, and with Torii Hunter's arrival and Delmon Young's dismissal, they should be even stronger there in 2013. And in Jackson and Avila, they have a good foundation up the middle. But the Tigers are playing to win it all in 2013, and their middle infield remains a soft spot. There are as many ways to win as there are stories in the naked city, but being strong up the middle is one of the easiest paths to ultimate victory, and unfortunately for the Tigers, they are not yet there.