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Mailbag: Who is the Tigers' center fielder in 2015?

Who should play center field for the Tigers in 2015? Why does our bullpen stink? Where does bench depth come from? These questions and more in this week's mailbag.

Spoiler alert
Spoiler alert
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

This is quickly becoming my favorite feature of the week. Thank you for all of the great questions, and please keep them coming! Remember, you can contact us on Facebook, via Twitter, or by emailing bybtigers@gmail.com!

There are a million ways to go wrong with this question, so let's pick a name that no one else has mentioned yet: Angel Pagan. He's a humongous risk -- he's 33 and just had back surgery in September -- but the Giants have a few arbitration raises to pay and would probably like to re-sign free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Gregor Blanco has shown that he plays a mean center field, and he's still under team control for three more years. This makes Pagan expendable, and getting out from under the last $22 million of that contract gives GM Brian Sabean the flexibility he needs this offseason.

Is it a great idea? Of course not. In case you missed it in the last paragraph, Pagan is 33 years old and had back surgery in September. It's just an idea. Pagan has put up a .757 OPS and 116 OPS+ with 54 stolen bases in three years for the Giants. His glove isn't great and probably won't get any better, but a healthy Pagan is a better all-around option than most of the other names being floated around the internet right now. Plus, the ability to take on that contract might get the Tigers a discount in trade talks.

To have depth, that means you have quality players who don't fit into the chalked-up 9-man starting day lineup. Other than having a platoon of two players with differing skills (left/right, defense, speed, hitting, etc), how do you see this team acquiring depth? Can they acquire a starter and bump the current guy down to the bench? Acquire them directly? Or are we stuck hoping that the farm system hasn't been depleted enough to produce?

Dan

One of the big misconceptions about depth is that everyone else has a bunch of potential All-Stars on their bench. This isn't the case. Having depth isn't about hiding a bunch of talented players from everyone else, it's about maximizing the talent that your players have while minimizing their respective flaws. There's nothing wrong with having a bench guy who only does one or two things extremely well. Take Jarrod Dyson, for example. Does anyone want him to be our full-time starting center fielder next year? Of course not, but using him in a part-time role to maximize his skills -- speed and defense in spades -- has resulted in 7.9 WAR in under 1000 career plate appearances.

The Tigers' problem is that most of their bench guys do a lot of things somewhat well, but not at a high enough level to start. Don Kelly can play a bunch of different positions, but he's a career .232 hitter and isn't an elite defender at any of those positions. Ramon Santiago was the same sort of average-ish talent, but in infielder form.

Give me four Quintin Berrys instead. Berry only did two things well (run and clap) but he did both of those things insanely well. Ezequiel Carrera was on pace to match Berry's WAR total in half the plate appearances in 2014 -- and he's a better defender -- but then he decided to dive at a ball he had no business diving for. J.D. Martinez was a middling outfielder with amazing power before he Bruce Banner'd the rest of the AL Central. Andrew Romine will probably be an excellent utility infielder next season. Even an Alex Avila/James McCann platoon has potential to be quite effective.

What I guess I'm saying here is that the process isn't necessarily wrong. Injuries, trades, and amazing luck turned what could have been a halfway decent bench into three starters. Carrera and McCann sat in the minor leagues for most of the season while Kelly and Bryan Holaday struggled to produce at replacement level (they combined for -0.5 WAR). There is potential here. Find a center fielder, and your bench in 2015 could be Carrera, McCann, Romine, and Rajai Davis. There still isn't any power there, but there's plenty of speed and a pair of great gloves. Replace Carrera with a thumper in the Marcus Thames mold -- I wouldn't say no to Mark Reynolds -- and you've got power, speed, and defense to play with.

The success of the Giants and Royals prove that small ball can be a disruptive force and lead to wins. But only if it's backed up with a shut down bullpen. In the previous year the Red Sox displayed speed on the base paths coupled with a tough-to-hit pen plus some pop in their bats. Do you think Dombrowski will attempt to latch on to this trend this off season?

Robert

There seems to be a common theme among the teams you've listed, and it isn't small ball tendencies. A great bullpen seems to have morphed into the new market inefficiency, something that I noticed last year when Billy Beane was buying up every bullpen arm he could find. The Red Sox get credit for bucking the "proven closer" trend when they signed Koji Uehara, but remember that they also traded for both Joel Hanrahan* and Andrew Bailey.

Here's where the Tigers' process is wrong. HookSlide pointed this out a month ago, but the Tigers have tried to plug free agents into bullpen roles before they even have them signed. Jose Valverde and Joe Nathan were signed to be closers. Joaquin Benoit was signed to be a set-up man and it took everyone else failing miserably at their jobs to change that. Joba Chamberlain earned the setup role by performing well -- a novel concept, it seems -- but then didn't lose it when he failed to perform later on. Al Alburquerque can't get out of the sixth inning. Meanwhile, you have Buck Showalter using his bullpen guys like bullpen guys (i.e. whenever it makes sense, not at pre-determined intervals) because nobody is expected to fill a specific role.

We know that this is a problem, though. As for the small ball part of this equation, I think we saw the beginning of that transformation in 2013. Exit Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, and Matt Tuiasosopo. Enter Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, and Rajai Davis. Everyone gushed over Brad Ausmus' emphasis on aggressive baserunning during Spring Training, and I don't even know if it was his fault that the team was running into so many stupid outs early on. They adjusted, and still finished as one of the best teams in baseball in taking extra bases when available. This team will still be a "get 'em on and drive 'em in" club at heart until Miguel Cabrera retires, but surrounding him with speed isn't the worst idea in the world.

*Ironically, the Red Sox gave up reliever Mark Melancon in the Hanrahan deal. Melancon has been worth 4.3 WAR in the last two years, while Hanrahan was worth -0.6 WAR before he missed 18 months due to Tommy John surgery.

The line between "likely" and "unlikely" to be traded is forever blurry when Dave Dombrowski is your general manager, but I'd say Eugenio Suarez is a decent bet to be in another organization in 2015. He's young, can clearly pick it at shortstop, and has decent potential with the bat. The Tigers tend to put all of their eggs in one basket when they believe in a young player -- Nick Castellanos and Bruce Rondon are prime examples -- and Jose Iglesias seems to be the next guy on that list. Despite a lackluster finish to 2014, Suarez could be an interesting trade piece because of the attributes listed above. He will need to be packaged with someone else interesting for a bigger piece, but something like a Suarez for Jon Jay trade (with filler thrown in on either side) wouldn't be shocking.

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