Michael Conforto: The Detroit Tigers Next Potential Move

potential detroit tigers free agent target michael conforto
Credit: Robert Sabo

The Detroit Tigers definitely made a splash in signing shortstop Javier Baez to a 6 year, $140 million deal. It was disappointing to some fans who wanted Carlos Correa or Trevor Story. One thing it brings them in flexibility in payroll to make another move. A move that could really put a finishing touch on the off-season and help the Detroit Tigers contend soon and make their line-up legitimate such as signing Michael Conforto.

Opening

First things first, we know Baez brings excitement to the game. He has a great power-speed combo, along with multiple Fielding Bible awards, and he has averaged a 6 WAR per 650 plate appearances since 2018. And he’s is still only 28. The thing that has made Baez inconsistent though is his hyper-aggressive plate approach. This led him to only a 59 OPS+ in the shortened 2020 season.

His swinging strike percentage was over 10% higher than league average since he entered the league, as well as his contact%. His aggressive approach has led him into his near MVP 2018 season but has also been a determent as by wRC+ and OPS+ he’s only about 3-4% above league average in his career.

A good proxy for plate discipline, in my opinion, is K%-BB% because if you are a smart passive hitter but overly patient they will both be higher, and if you swing aggressively but smartly then your K% will still likely be lower because you are making good swing decisions. Think of a guy like Jose Altuve, who swings often at the first pitch and is considered a great hitter despite his aggressiveness. He has roughly a 5% K-BB% in his career.

The issue for the Tigers is Baez joins Jonathan Schoop as one of the top four hitters on the team, and Schoop is also famous for a low plate discipline and bad swing decisions.  Baez has a 24.5% K-BB% and Schoop has an 18.3%. Now Baez isn’t expected to improve that, but it is something that if focused on in training can be improved slightly — but that’s if it doesn’t take away from his current game.

Robbie Grossman, who is among the lead leaders in walks, helps the Tigers get on base. This wins them games, but they need to add another impact bat who gets on base to help. Baez and Schoop can then sit in the middle of the order to drive these guys in.

Let’s play a game

Player A

127 OPS+, 3.5 WAR/650 PA, 30 HR/162 games, .259/.364/.473 average slash line, 592 games

Player B

127 OPS+,  4.5 WAR/650 PA, 29 HR/162 games, .277/357/.484 average slash line, 500 games

These numbers are since 2017. Player B gets a positional WAR boost. Player A is Michael Conforto and Player B is Carlos Correa. Conforto is less valuable sure, but he also plays a different position that hurts him. With the bat, these two are similar players. Since the Tigers have addressed their shortstop need and have a great defender there, Conforto is the cheaper option that Tigers should be able to afford — not to mention that he has been more durable.

After 2020 Conforto looked to possibly and even better hitter but he had a down year in 2021, something most projection systems see him being able to bounce back from. He also has a 2:1 K:BB ratio which is a lot better and a high OBP so he can both get on for the power hitters and take care of business himself, helping shore up the line-up of one of their bigger weaknesses that they have currently.

Another solid thing about Conforto is in recent years he has improved against left handed pitchers, though he still has a platoon split that would play a minor effect sometimes.

Conforto also could be given just a 1 year prove-it deal that would be more than affordable for the Tigers for around 20 million or possibly a 2-3 year deal for around 20 million a year. I am wondering if the Tigers could offer a 4 year, 80 million dollar deal that he would jump at. Conforto isn’t a superstar but he’s another guy that keeps the line-up going.

He has no standout metrics but he has been a consistently solid hitter in his career. Corforto is a good approach at the plate and a good swing that produce solid numbers. He is slightly below average in right field but he would shore up the mish-mash of Tigers outfielders available as well.

Potential Opening Day Lineup

1. LF Robbie Grossman

2. 3B Jeimer Candelario

3. RF Michael Conforto

4. SS Javier Baez

5. 1B Jonathan Schoop

6. DH Miguel Cabrera

7. CF Akil Baddoo

8. C Tucker Barnhart/Eric Haase

9. 2B Harold Castro

Conforto also wouldn’t lose much power at Comerica as his homers tend to fly and he has a solid LA/high percentile exit velocity combo and last year is xwOBA signaled bad luck. If he can get the ball off the ground more then he would be even better too. He’s not Carlos Correa with his insane tools but he isn’t far behind with his bat. He may be just what the Tigers need.

The Tigers could also sign another starter pitcher with the money saved and figure to add possibly one relief pitcher. But, I think Conforto would be the investment, or bang for their buck if they go shorter term. I’m not worried about the fact when Riley Greene comes up there would be four starter caliber outfielders.

Depth isn’t bad to have and those situations tend to work themselves out anyways via injury, play, and so on. I am confident Michael Conforto would become the Detroit Tigers’ best outfielder, at least until Greene starts to break out.

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