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Melky Cabrera would look great in left field for the Tigers

What does that mean for center field, though?

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Going into this offseason, the Tigers are in dire need of a center fielder. They tried to rely upon Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera after trading Austin Jackson in 2014, but the experiment was largely a failure. They will search far and wide for a full-time replacement for 2015, but it isn't the easiest position to fill.

What if the team were to think outside the box? Would they be better off improving their other outfield positions in order to absorb the decreased value that Davis and company would provide in center field next year? Or is this too outlandish to consider? If the Tigers were to go against the grain, one possible target would be Melky Cabrera of the Toronto Blue Jays.

2014 621 16 73 .301 .351 .458 .354 125 6.9% 10.8% -7.1 -6 2.6
Steamer* 1 0 0 .291 .339 .437 .341 116 6.6% 12.5% - - 0.0
Career 4857 88 520 .286 .339 .415 .330 102 7.2% 12.0% -5.5 -10 11.4

*A very confused 2015 Steamer projection

Who is he?

Cabrera has had enough ups-and-downs for two careers already, yet he is still only 30 years old. The switch-hitting Dominican was signed by the New York Yankees as an amateur free agent in 2001. He made his MLB debut four years later as a 20 year old, but did not see significant playing time until 2006. He hit .280/.360/.391 in 524 plate appearances for the Yankees that season, drawing 56 walks to 59 strikeouts. Cabrera would be the Yankees' primary center fielder for the next three seasons, but was traded to the Atlanta Braves after the 2009 season. From there, Cabrera has been a nomad. He has played for four different clubs in the last five seasons, spending the previous two with the Blue Jays.

Why should we care?

Cabrera has morphed into one of the most underrated hitters in baseball over the past few seasons. He has hit .300 or better three times since 2011, finishing with an .800 OPS or higher in all three years. His best season came in 2012 when he hit .346/.390/.516 in 501 plate appearances for the San Francisco Giants. He would have won the National League batting title going away that year, but was suspended in August for PED use. Cabrera forfeited his opportunity to receive postseason awards that season and did not appear for the Giants during their World Series run.

Normally, a PED suspension during a career year would not be a positive. However, Cabrera has produced similar numbers in two other seasons recently, the last coming in 2014 when he hit .301/.351/.458 with 16 home runs for the Blue Jays. He has proven that 2012 was no fluke, and with the PED cloud still hanging over his head, it may keep some teams away from signing him. Would that drive his price down by a significant amount two years later? Probably not, but you never know.

A switch-hitter, Cabrera hits righties and lefties equally well. He has nearly identical platoon splits in his career, with slightly better numbers against right-handers. Cabrera hit .310/.355/.462 against righties last season, and still had a higher walk rate and ISO against lefties.

Why should we stay away?

If the Tigers sign this Cabrera, this likely signals that the team is comfortable with the idea of some combination of Rajai Davis, Andy Dirks, and Ezequiel Carrera in center field. Offensively, it could work. Cabrera and J.D. Martinez would provide plenty of value from the corners, while a strict Dirks-Davis platoon could be effective. But defensively? Yeesh. Melky was worth -6 defensive runs saved and had a UZR of -5.8 in the outfield for the Blue Jays last season. J.D. Martinez was better at -1 and -1.6, respectively. However, Dirks and Davis are markedly below average defenders in center field. This is particularly important in the AL Central, where four of the five stadiums have spacious outfield gaps.

Likelihood: 1/10

Maybe I'm biased, but I really don't like the idea I presented above. Melky is a great hitter and can be a valuable outfielder -- especially if he's only making $8 million per year like he did in Toronto -- but a decent center fielder can provide even more value without turning the entire outfield into a defensive liability. The Tigers should be able to get by with Martinez and a Dirks-Davis platoon in the corners if they have add a solid center fielder into the mix. I would be surprised to see Melky Cabrera in Detroit in 2015.