Detroit Tigers: Champagne Tastes but a Joc Pederson Budget

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Budgeting appears to be the agenda to sign free agents. Does Joc Pederson fit into the Detroit Tigers’ plans?

The old saying of “champagne tastes on a beer budget” might take on real meaning in baseball this off-season as we see how baseball’s “Great COVID Depression” affects the spending levels around baseball. It could mean the difference between a team like the Tigers taking a run at George Springer or settling for a role player on the level of Joc Pederson.

The 2020 World Series is winding to a hopefully thrilling conclusion in Texas this week as the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays tangle for a title. Once it concludes baseball immediately pivots to the Hot Stove season. That means free agency among other things.

The idea of the Tigers getting aggressive in free agency and kicking the club’s rebuild into a higher gear has been beaten to death in this space. George Springer moving his talents from Houston to Detroit along with at least one other high profile move could be enough to get the Tigers out of the basement and end the years of monitoring draft position late in the season.

However, as we’ve seen the last few years the free-agent signing has been more about Ivan Nova and CJ Cron than about elite level players and their accompanying contracts. Plus the sour milk taste of the Jordan Zimmermann signing will still be needing daily Listerine shots to dissipate.

The MLB Financial State of Mind

The rumblings around the baseball world all seem designed to sell the story of the owners taking such a gargantuan financial hit this year, coupled with the still unsure status of 2021, that spending must be curtailed at least in the short term. Will Tigers owner Chris Ilitch find this a “go along to get along” moment to stay in step with MLB? Or does he view this as the moment to zig into spending while his competitors zag meekly into austerity? There is a difference between Joc Pederson and the pursuit of Springer.

This isn’t to completely crush the idea of signing Pederson. Barring other moves, Pederson likely becomes the Tigers starter in left field and, if he bounced back to his 2019 levels of production, one of their best outfielders.

What’s up, Joc?

The left-hand batting Pederson has had a rough 2020 (.190/.285/.397) as he preps for free agency. He wasn’t the platoon monster he’s been in past seasons where he crushed righty pitching.  Certainly, he is righting his ship in this current post-season and the Dodgers have to be pleased his bat perked up in crunch time. Pederson is currently 13-34 (.382) with 2 BB, 2 HR, and 8 RBI in the playoffs.

A Pederson signing would be centered around calling his fall-off in 2020 a short-lived COVID mayhem induced season. The team signing him is betting on getting some version the Dodgers saw of Pederson in ‘18/‘19. At age 29 next year, there is enough tread on the tires for him to bounce back where a team like Detroit could see him as an asset to a rebuilding club. He’d be an immediate upgrade in talent, he’d bring a post-season legitimacy to the clubhouse, and his deal would still likely be very movable at any trade deadline should he be hot and wanted by others at a good price.

Pederson has hit 25+ homers in four different seasons since 2015 with three of those years with an OPS+ over 125. He’ll always be noted as “dangerous” more than “consistent” and the platoon splits likely to make him a 135-game guy at most moving ahead. But given the fact he can play a decent outfield  he’s a player who helps a club more often than not if you’re willing to overlook his 43-game struggle in 2020.

While players like Springer may command 9-figure overall deals this winter, a player like Pederson should be far more attainable in both years and money. Pederson was slated to take in $7.75M in ‘20 before the COVID-related downward adjustments in salary across the board. One has to assume a large raise isn’t really looming given his weak season in ‘20 despite the playoff uptick. A modest rise in AAV (Average Annual Value) on his next deal is more likely depending on his number of bidders. Does 3-yrs/$27M with incentives tacked on drive the Tigers toward a deal with Joc Pederson? Is there a better offer out there for a player with his skillset and age?

Will the Detroit Tigers pounce?

If the Tigers are too timid at this time to compete for marquee talents like Trevor Bauer, DJ LaMahieu, Springer, Marcell Ozuna, or JT Realmuto then it seems like the more affordable deal in the Pederson range coupled with a lefty-mashing outfielder to platoon with him would be a decent plan.

Pederson would an injection of left-handed home run power into a lineup in desperate need of more players able to reach the seats. He’d be the strong side of the platoon which gets him on the field and he’s a good enough defender to remain in the outfield for the duration of the deal.

If the Ilitch fortune can’t be mobilized in these times to get the premium talents to Detroit then it needs to be at least mildly tapped into for role players with good skills to augment the young players on the way up in Detroit’s system.

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