By: Kurt Snyder
If you have watched enough baseball, you are familiar with the basics required to win.
Strength up the middle defensively, good starting pitching, a reliable bullpen and role players who bring a skill set that can make a difference. The Tiger bench has been something less than productive in the past. We either lack offense, defense, or speed.
But the Tigers have done a good job over the last couple of seasons bringing in guys to improve the overall speed of the ball club.
In fact, at the beginning of the season when we added Cespedes, he brought the elements of both power and speed. And with his acquisition, the team could boast about a long list of players who could run and cause problems on the base paths.
Anthony Gose, Ian Kinsler, Andrew Romine, Joe Iglesias and Rajai Davis are players who still remain that gave the Tigers that much-needed dimension.
But after a disappointing season where the pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen, was so poor and the areas that would garner the most attention in the off-season, the Tigers cannot afford to deplete an area of strength that is still a very important part of winning baseball.
As we run down the list of guys with expiring contracts and we tally up the money we could dedicate to addressing our pitching needs, Rajai Davis gets thrown into the discussion. And he happens to be someone pitchers had to pay the most attention to on the bases. He caused the most stress. He had the most speed.
So, the Tigers have to be careful that we do not deplete an area that has helped us win baseball games. And if we do indeed rob Peter to pay Paul, we need to make sure we pay Peter back.
Rajai Davis has been mentioned as a guy who may not return to the Tigers but I would be very careful before we give up someone who causes so much havoc on the base paths, even as he approaches 35 years old.
Davis can be retained as a relatively cheap platoon or bench player that gives the Tigers an extra outfielder who provides a threat when he plays. He’s a team guy, always has a smile on his face and seems genuinely happy to be playing in Detroit. I wouldn’t have a problem calling him a glue guy or a blue-collar performer, who does the little things that can help win ball games.
So as much as we need pitching, and we need a lot of it, the Tigers better keep the foot on the gas on the bases. The Tigers still have their fair share of guys who slow things down on the base paths. But they tend to make up for it by being the ones who drive in the most runs or regularly hit the ball out of the park.
But speed continues to be a valuable component in sports, including baseball, and the Tigers have worked hard to improve that element of their club. It can be very difficult to win games on nights when you are not hitting the ball out of the park. You have to be able to manufacture runs when you’re not hitting. So you need those players who find a way on base and can really make things happen with their legs.
Letting Rajai Davis go would not be the end of the world for the Tigers, just as long as they are filling his role with the same kind of skill set. But if he’s here already, just sign him.
Players have different specialties in baseball. They make teams because they can really play defense. They make teams because they provide the threat of power off the bench. And then there are players who make teams because they have incredible speed that can turn a single into a double or make pitchers nervous when they are on base.
So when you have that element on your team, make sure you keep it. Speed kills. It always has and always will.