Tigers finalize two-year deal with outfielder Davis
Veteran speedster to fill right-handed side of left-field platoon with Dirks
DETROIT -- Rajai Davis is a speedster, and he's not afraid to carry the label. He credits Major League stolen-base leader Rickey Henderson as a major influence on his career, likes Comerica Park for its extra outfield space, takes pride in his defense and plans to take advantage of the green light.
And now, Davis is officially a Tiger. The team that had the reputation of plodding on the bases and in the field has now added arguably the fastest man on the free-agent market, continuing its stylistic makeover.
Davis' two-year deal with Detroit became official on Wednesday once he passed a physical. The Tigers introduced him Wednesday evening in an informal news conference in team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski's hotel suite inside the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Hotel.
"We're thrilled to add him," Dombrowski said. "He brings an element that we haven't had a lot of in our organization in recent times with some speed and basestealing ability."
It's an element the Tigers were looking to add going into the offseason. Between Davis' arrival, the Ian Kinsler trade and Steve Lombardozzi's inclusion in the Doug Fister trade, they now have baserunning in abundance.
"I think we are more multi-dimensional," Dombrowski said. "It's been a goal to have. It's not always easy to accomplish."
With Davis' track record, it's a lot to add.
The Tigers will be able to plug in the speedy Davis as the right-handed-hitting half of a platoon with Andy Dirks, as well as a basestealing threat in the late innings of games he doesn't start. Davis' .294 career average and .354 on-base percentage against left-handers, including .319 and .383 last season while filling a part-time role with the Blue Jays, fits what the Tigers were seeking, though his production sometimes came in streaks.
Davis is a .255 career hitter against right-handers, including just .228 (49-for-215) with 48 strikeouts this past season. If he can produce, though, he has the potential to hit his way out of a strict platoon situation, as well as earn starts in the other two outfield spots to rest Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter on occasion.
"This is a performance game," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "If he's playing defense and hitting well, he's going to get more at-bats."
Davis could also run his way through a platoon. Despite playing in just 108 games and getting 360 plate appearances, Davis stole 45 bases in 51 attempts in 2013, and he has racked up at least 40 steals in four of the past five seasons. The Tigers stole 35 bases as a team last season, led by Jackson's eight.
Though Jackson has legitimate speed in center field, that has never translated on the basepaths. The Tigers' best real basestealing threat in recent years was Quintin Berry, who platooned in left field down the stretch in 2012 before being left off the Opening Day roster this past spring and released midseason to open a 40-man roster spot.
The addition fits the philosophy Ausmus brings in as Detroit's new manager. He wants to give the green light to baserunners as early as Spring Training to foster a more aggressive mentality on the bases.
"I want that mindset of, 'Hey, we want to go the extra 90 feet,'" Ausmus said, "whether it's stealing a base, a ball in the dirt, or the extra 180 feet on a single to right or a single to center."
It's a mindset Davis has fostered for years, especially after working with Henderson for a few years in Oakland and Gary Redus coming up through the Pirates organization.
"Rickey was a guy who just went -- a lot," Davis said. "He just goes. I think that was the biggest message that he had. He was aggressive."
The philosophy that attracted Davis to the Tigers, he said, was the motivation to win. Not only has he never played in a postseason game in his eight-year Major League career, he has never played on a team that finished with a winning record.
He had plenty of interested teams, he said, but the Tigers made sense to him.
"Detroit has a history of winning," Davis said. "I'm a winner, and I want to win. I'm just thankful that, at the end of the day, this was the best decision."
Detroit also has a spacious ballpark that plays to his strength.
"I actually enjoy the range of space," Davis said. "It gives me a lot more room to run, and not into walls. I think that's a plus."
The two sides started talks just before this week's Winter Meetings, then picked up in earnest on Monday before reaching an agreement on Tuesday. Davis met the Tigers' contingent in Florida to undergo a physical and complete the deal, then flew home Wednesday evening.
To make room for Davis on the 40-man roster, the Tigers designated right-handed reliever Luis Marte for assignment. Marte missed most of last season recovering from shoulder surgery after appearing in 17 games over the previous two seasons.