Even the best teams have flaws and the Detroit Tigers have a few. One that sticks out is the leadoff spot where the Tigers have used Austin Jackson for most of the season and where his .337 on-base percentage and eight stolen bases were simply not good enough of a contrast to the slow power-hitting lineup that produced the best offense in baseball. While it didn’t bite the Tigers during the regular season it did in the postseason. Jackson was dropped to No. 8 in the order and Torii Hunter was elevated to leadoff. We know that at 38 Hunter probably isn’t the ideal leadoff man. How do the Tigers solve this problem going forward? You may be able to add free agent Jacoby Ellsbury to the list of potential leadoff hitters the Tigers could bid on. Another Scott Boras free agent Shin-Soo Choo is also a candidate. The reason those are possibilities is the relationship between Boras and the Tigers particularly owner Mike Ilitch. But the Tigers may have bigger fish to fry such as trying to tie up Max Scherzer another Boras client to a long-term contract. The Tigers have an older team but one that has a window of opportunity to win over the next couple of seasons. Victor Martinez is entering the final year of his deal. The middle of the order lineup Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will be in place for a while. So it would seem logical that the Tigers would enhance not take away from their chances. At a time when they should go for it why would they hold back and trade Scherzer and not pursue a solution at the top of the order? Granted Jackson is a fine center fielder and excellent athlete. But on a team of base cloggers he simply doesn’t get on base enough. Imagine Ellsbury getting on base stealing second and perhaps advancing to third because he’s forced a bad throw from the catcher? That’s what he does for the Red Sox who will also be a player in the Ellsbury talks. The Tigers have seen firsthand what a good leadoff hitter looks like. “That’s the one team we haven’t heard Ellsbury’s name mentioned with” said one American League general manager. “We’ve heard a lot about the Mets Mariners Rangers but the Tigers make perfect sense. They are a big-market team with big resources. There’s a relationship with Scott and Mr. Ilitch. They’ve done business before and there’s no reason they can’t do business again.” Ellsbury’s market is growing based on his strong postseason. He’s played with a broken bone in his foot and played at a high level still stealing bases and running down balls in the outfield. “It requires doing my pregame routine and taking care of it” Ellsbury said. “I’ve been diligent in doing things to prepare that the medical staff has asked me to do and it’s responding well.” Ellsbury and Boras have tried to allay fears that Ellsbury could require offseason surgery. “It just needs some rest once the season ends” Ellsbury said. “I’ll be fine. There’s no surgery needed. The bone is healing fine.” The fact that Ellsbury is playing speaks volumes. Ellsbury has been known to take awhile to heal his injuries — ribs in 2010 a shoulder subluxation last season. But none of that affected his talent. The power he showed in his career year of 2011 (32 home runs) hasn’t returned but there’s some power there. Watch batting practice and the only Red Sox hitter who hits the ball harder is David Ortiz. Of course teams often fear signing players who rely heavily on their legs to long-term deals. The Red Sox have been burned by such deals particularly to Carl Crawford whom they signed to a seven-year $142 million contract two years ago but were able to unload on the Dodgers in August 2012. Signs point to the Red Sox being willing to go five years perhaps six for the 30-year-old Ellsbury. It will be interesting to see whether Ellsbury is viewed as a big-splash signing for teams such as the Tigers Rangers Mets or Mariners who need a player at the top of the order. Ellsbury is certainly a star. While he’s not quite a five-tool player because of his weak arm he possesses the other four tools. And with home runs on the decline Ellsbury seems to be the poster child for the post-steroid era. The manufacturing of runs has become very important which is why Ellsbury is so valuable to the Red Sox. There’s no substitute for him though the Sox are still high on Jackie Bradley Jr. who is a different type of player and has yet to define himself as a base stealer though he’s an excellent defender with a better arm than Ellsbury. Organizations come to conclusions with their players where they believe they’ve gotten the most out of them and that the next phase of their careers won’t yield better results. The Red Sox want to re-sign Ellsbury but at their price and all signs are that Ellsbury wants to remain with the Sox if all things are equal. But the offer may not be equal. A team is going to spend big for Ellsbury.
Tigers have stars, but still in need of a leadoff man
Boston Globe | Oct 21