Looking for a right-handed bat to bolster their bench, the Detroit Tigers acquired the versatile Jeff Baker from the Chicago Cubs for two players to be named later on Sunday.
At first glance, it might seem like a minor transaction, but the Tigers believe that the 31-year-old Baker can help a lineup that features the booming bats of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder but often struggles against left-handed pitching.
Entering Sunday’s game, which ended as a 10-8 victory over Cleveland, the Tigers led the majors versus right-handed pitching with a .276 average but were 10th in the American League against lefties with a .248 mark.
A fourth round pick out of Clemson University in 2002 by the Rockies, Baker has never registered more than 333 plate appearances in a season, but he is a career .304 hitter versus left-handed pitchers and has a .275 average and a .771 OPS against them this season.
Baker gives Tigers manager Jim Leyland flexibility since he can play first base, second base, third base and the corner outfield positions.
Without Victor Martinez, who is not expected to return in 2012 because of a knee injury, the Tigers have been vulnerable against lefties, even with Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young in the lineup. Detroit expected to get production against left-handed arms from Raburn, but the 31-year-old outfielder has a .172 average in 198 at-bats, including a .165 mark versus lefties.
Raburn was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to August 1 because of an injured right thumb, prompting the acquisition of Baker.
General manager Dave Dombrowki’s trade for Baker plugged one of Detroit’s few holes. Last month, the Tigers acquired right-handed starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante for top pitching prospect Jacob Turner and promising minor league catcher Rob Brantly.
The rotation now features Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Sanchez while the bullpen is strong with Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and left-hander Phil Coke in the late innings.
Any lineup that showcases Cabrera and Fielder in the heart of the order, and a tablesetter with speed and power like Austin Jackson, is going to score runs, but the Tigers will potentially face tough lefties like CC Sabathia and C.J. Wilson if they reach the playoffs, so bringing in a proven veteran like Baker might not be such a minor transaction.