Tigers should lure free agents from the Royals to improve outfield

Ben Zobrist will be a free agent this offseason.

Ben Zobrist will be a free agent this offseason.

The Kansas City Royals are the envy of Major League Baseball right now, after claiming their first World Series title since 1985.

The Royals seemingly have everything an MLB club could need, with a lineup full of batters who are capable of extending at-bats and stealing bases to go along with a pitching staff that is strong enough at the first pitch as well as lights out at the back end of games.

Club executives want to build their teams to be more like the Royals while players yearn to play for a club like them.

My guess is that Tigers general manager Al Avila will be one of the MLB front office executives who will try to find players this offseason who fit the Royals’ brand of baseball. It’s a winning product that consists of not only the aforementioned aspects, but also the ability of the squad’s position players to play solid defense.

Two players available on the open market who fit the mold of what the Royals do best are face of the franchise Alex Gordon and utility man Ben Zobrist, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Oakland A’s and played primarily second base in his time with KC.

Both of these guys would serve as upgrades in left field for the 2016 version of Avila’s club, and losing either of them would be a significant blow to the 2015 AL Central champs.

It’s why acquiring either would lead to a win-win situation for the Tigers, and there would be no better free agent scenario than Gordon leaving the team he’s grown up with for Motown.

Gordon is arguably the best two-way player the Royals have had since Hall of Famer George Brett manned the hot corner at Kauffman Stadium — then known as Royals Stadium — from 1973-1993.

Although not the same model of consistency as Brett at the plate — Brett hit .300 or better 11 times and finished his career with an average of .305, Gordon’s Gold Glove play in left along with his ability to record the timely hit and to get on base has made him the best Royals player of the last decade.

The four-time Gold Glove award winner and 2015 Gold Glove finalist, who has recorded the most putouts in left field in the American League each year from 2011-14, would be a big time defensive upgrade over incumbent Tigers left fielder Tyler Collins and fellow free agent Rajai Davis, who played 39 games at the position in what may have been his last season in Detroit.

Collins, who played 37 games in left for the Tigers in 2015, was worth negative three runs in defensive runs saved, according to stats provided by Baseball Info Solutions on Baseball-Reference.com.

If the Tigers bring back Davis, they’ll be inserting a guy into left field who was worth one defensive run saved in ’15. However, in 60 more games played at the position in 2014, the speedster failed to record a positive amount of defensive runs saved.

In fact, he was worth negative eight defensive runs saved in ’14. Additionally, over the course of eight seasons and 370 games in LF, the outfielder has posted a total of negative nine defensive runs saved.

In contrast, the slick-fielding Gordon has been worth 97 defensive runs saved during six seasons and 775 games at the position.

Can you say upgrade?

And if the three-time All-Star becomes too expensive for Detroit’s liking, Zobrist becomes a great fallback option.
Zobrist is by no stretch the gold glove defender that Gordon is. However, when needed, “Zorilla,” a two-time All-Star with the Tampa Bay Rays, can flash the leather. He’s been worth a total of 31 defensive runs saved in eight seasons and 453 games of roaming the outfield, including two defensive runs saved in 111 games in left.

Much like Gordon, Zobrist can also get on base at an efficient rate, recording a .359 on-base percentage in 126 games split between the A’s and Royals in ’15 to go along with a .355 career OBP. He’s also shown an eerily similar ability to hit for power, with a .431 career slugging percentage and 127 career home runs compared to Gordon’s .435 career slugging mark and 134 career long balls.

Those aren’t the only eerily similar offensive stats for the two big name free agents.

While Gordon owns a career .269 batting average and .783 on-base plus slugging percentage, Zobrist possesses a career .265 BA and .786 OPS.

All this tells me and should tell you that Zobrist is one heck of an underrated ball player and a great secondary option for a team, like the Tigers, who has a current void in left and could have one at second base if it decides to deal four-time All-Star second baseman and Gold Glove finalist Ian Kinsler for much-needed starting pitching help.

Remember, the “Zorilla” has played the majority of his career at second base, where he’s been worth 43 defensive runs saved in 616 games.

It’s why if Avila and the Tigers decide to “steal” something from the two-time reigning AL champion Royals this offseason, it should be either the franchise’s veteran leader Gordon or an equally capable clubhouse leader in Zobrist.