As it turns out, Ian Kinsler's comments about the Rangers and general manager Jon Daniels was not the only issue making news with the Tigers on Tuesday. Later in the afternoon, the team learned that outfielder Andy Dirks needs back surgery and is expected to be out for 12 weeks. Dirks was tabbed as the left-handed hitting half of a platoon in left field for Detroit.
The Tigers signed Rajai Davis to be the right-handed half of their left field platoon, but it now appears he'll be the full-time starter at that position. That might not work so well, considering Davis hit .228 with a .594 OPS in 232 plate appearances versus right-handed pitching last season. Against lefties, he batted .319 with an .857 OPS.
Dirks, 28, struggled in his first full season with the Tigers last year, mostly playing in a platoon with Matt Tuiasosopo. Overall, he batted .256 with a .686 OPS in 484 plate appearances. Against right-handed pitching, Dirks hit .260 with a .698 OPS, seven home runs, 33 RBI and seven stolen bases. Late in the season, he admitted that a knee injury suffered in spring training lingered throughout the year. During the playoffs, Don Kelly and Jhonny Peralta were Detroit's left field tandem.
But with the Tigers looking to control spending this offseason and make the lineup more athletic and versatile, the team needed to see what it had in Dirks. Tigers fans wanted a bigger, more proven name like Shin-Soo Choo or Nelson Cruz in left field, but general manager Dave Dombrowski needed to overhaul the bullpen. (Devoting future funds to possibly re-signing Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera are also major considerations.) Thus, Davis was signed to be a platoon partner with Dirks and bring more speed to Detroit's lineup.
So how do the Tigers handle left field in light of Dirks' injury? As mentioned above, Davis likely becomes a full-time player at the position. Last year with the Blue Jays, he split time among all three outfield positions, filling in when Melky Cabrera was hurt and occasionally platooning with Adam Lind. Getting more playing time gives Davis an opportunity to provide more speed to the Detroit lineup, something the Tigers sorely need. He notched 45 stolen bases in 2013.
As of now, it appears that the Tigers intend to use in-house options to replace Dirks. Kelly will probably be the reserve left fielder, filling in when Davis needs a break or plays one of the other outfield positions. Steve Lombardozzi should also see some time there, as he played in left field quite a bit during his past two seasons with the Washington Nationals. Other possibilities include two former Cleveland Indians currently in spring camp with the Tigers, Ezequiel Carrera and Trevor Crowe.
A more intriguing option could be minor league center fielder Daniel Fields, set to begin the season in Triple-A. Last year in Double-A, the 22-year-old Fields hit .284 with a .356 on-base percentage, 10 home runs, 58 RBI and 24 stolen bases. But as MLB.com's Jason Beck points out, the Tigers promoted Fields aggressively early in his career and the 22-year-old ended up playing more than two seasons in Single-A as a result. So the team likely wants to see him develop further. Manager Brad Ausmus said as much to the press on Wednesday.
Of course, the Tigers could also bring in an outside hire to replace Dirks. Names like Juan Pierre, Jason Bay, Andres Torres and DeWayne Wise are on the market. Trade possibilities include the Red Sox's Mike Carp, Jason Kubel of the Twins or the Rays' Matt Joyce (a former Tiger). The Braves' Joey Terdoslavich is also an option, if Detroit wanted to take a chance on a minor leaguer whose path to the majors is currently blocked.
However, with what Detroit already has on hand, Dombrowski seems likely to wait to see what Davis can do until seeking help elsewhere.