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Mailbag: Could Andre Ethier play center field for the Tigers?

Would we want Andre Ethier in Detroit? Is A.J. Burnett a potential fifth starter? Does B.J. Upton have the worst contract in baseball? It's offseason rumor time in this week's mailbag!

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

It's not exactly baseball's Christmas -- we'll reserve that honor for Opening Day -- but everyone has wish lists during the offseason. Today's mailbag features lots of trade rumors, most of them made up. But that's the fun part! Remember, send us your questions for next week's mailbag on Facebook, on TwitterIs, or via email at!

Call me crazy, but this could work. Ethier has two big knocks on his resume: he can't hit left-handed pitching, and he's under contract for a gazillion dollars. Luckily for the Tigers, they have a ready-made platoon partner in Rajai Davis. Ethier mashes right-handed pitching to the tune of a .304/.383/.506 line in nearly 3600 plate appearances. Davis has a .358 on-base percentage and .808 OPS against lefties. Crudely mash those two together and you're looking at close to an .850 OPS from your center fielder if the Tigers stick to a strict platoon. That is awesome.

Unfortunately, defense is also important. Davis grades out as a league average defender in center field -- speed makes up for a lot of deficiencies -- but Ethier isn't exactly an ideal option to be covering Comerica Park's vast dimensions. It makes me feel better that Ethier beat out everyone else in a crowded Dodgers outfield to be the team's center fielder, but that's like crowning the best player on the 2003 Tigers. Only two teams had a worse defensive rating from their center fielders in 2014: the Cubs and the Astros. That is not awesome.

Yes, the contract is also a mess. He is due $53.5 million over the next three seasons, and has an easy-to-hit $17.5 million vesting option for 2018. That would be too much money for Victor Martinez, let alone an outfielder who hit .249/.322/.370 last season. However, assuming the Dodgers eat a sizable portion of his deal, Ethier could be a decent investment in the right situation. Is this the right situation? Given the Tigers' other options, it might be. Ethier would be much more attractive option on a one or two year deal, but the length of his current contract might help drive the price down.

Keep the needle handy, though. I might change my tune after the first fielding blunder of the year.

A.J. Burnett is definitely an option the Tigers could consider for their fifth starter, but I don't necessarily think that he's a good one. He will be 38 on Opening Day next year and is coming his worst season since he left New York in 2011. Home ballparks play a big role with Burnett, and Comerica Park is spacious enough to be hopeful. However, it is still more hitter friendly than PNC Park, and Burnett wouldn't have Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte behind him to chase down anything hit in the air.

Then, there's the cost. Burnett turned down a $12.75 contract option with the Phillies for 2015, and while he might take a discount to play for a contender, he won't take that big of a cut. He is only a year removed from an excellent 190 inning season with the Pirates, but aging pitchers are ticking time bombs. The Tigers already got caught holding one hot potato. They don't need another. Does Burnett have a chance to bounce back? Absolutely. But without the elite defenders he had behind him in Pittsburgh, I think it's a long shot.

If the Tigers are going to sign someone outside the organization to be their fifth starter, I would rather see them take a flyer on someone like Brett Anderson or Justin Masterson. Pick up the guy who has the potential to give you an ace-level performance if everything goes right, not the proverbial "innings eater." The Tigers should be able to get 180 mediocre innings out of their farm system for far less money than someone like Burnett will cost.

Odds are the bullpen gets addressed first, but not for the reason you would think. With most positions and starting pitchers, many free agents will wait until the top guys sign their gaudy contracts in order to up their negotiating position with the teams that didn't fill their need. For example, someone like Brandon McCarthy is probably not going to sign before Max Scherzer. Seeing what the big fish sign for helps other players pick up higher salaries and leverage teams who need another starting pitcher.

I don't have any evidence to back this up, but it seems like there is too much supply and not enough demand with bullpen arms. Unless you're one of the very top guys, players will probably sign with anyone who gives them a decent offer in order to guarantee their spot on a roster. If Phil Coke turns down a semi-decent offer from the Tigers, they could just as easily go out and sign one of six other lefties with nearly identical numbers. Look for the Tigers to pick up someone on the cheap fairly early, but don't expect to be wowed.

I have loved the idea of Chase Headley in a Tigers uniform for years, and the small sample we saw from him away from Petco Park in 2014 only intensified that feeling. Headley was worth nearly three wins above replacement in 58 games with the New York Yankees. While that's a bit absurd to project going forward -- we're talking Mike Trout WAR totals here -- he is clearly benefitting from hitting in a normal(ish) home ballpark. The .659 road OPS in 2014 is a concern, though.

Generally speaking, I like the idea of being flexible with the current roster. I don't know if moving Castellanos is the right thing to do -- reports suggest that he wasn't any better in the outfield when he played there in the minors -- but I think that the Tigers should explore any and all options available to them. Ideally, they would find the best player available at the right price and then find a way to make everything fit.

This is the same mindset that the team had when they signed Prince Fielder. They already had a first baseman in place with Cabrera, but found the best player they could -- at a ridiculous price, unfortunately -- and then found a way to make it work. Remember, Cabrera and Fielder were worth a combined 11.6 WAR in 2012 despite some awful defense on both sides. Picking up a guy like Headley instead of just signing a random outfielder is the same type of solution, but with better defense (and hopefully a better contract) attached.

No. The idea of acquiring Gattis is tempting for several reasons. He is under club control through the 2018 season, he is an underrated defender, and he has 43 career home runs in just over one full season's worth of plate appearances. His average isn't great and he doesn't walk much, but that's a lot of power and he's 28 years old (so you've got him controlled through his prime years).

The problem is that B.J. Upton has been so friggin' bad since he joined the Braves. He was somehow worth 0.4 WAR in 2014 despite a 74 wRC+. Don Kelly was a better hitter last year. And for all of his faults, Don Kelly is not owed $46 million over the next three seasons. Is there a chance that Upton magically snaps out of whatever has plagued him and he returns to his 3-4 WAR form? Sure. But there's also a chance that James McCann matches Gattis' career 138 wRC+ against left-handed hitters. Both of those situations are highly unlikely, but giving McCann a shot at a platoon role without crippling the payroll is the much more attractive option here.

The fun part of this exercise is finding the tipping point. Would you do it if roles were reversed and Gattis mashed against right-handed pitching? How much money would the Braves need to chip in before you said yes? Who are the players the Tigers lose in this deal? There are a number of different scenarios -- both legitimate and entirely fake -- that could play out, and it's fun to consider the possibilities. This is the beauty of the early offseason. Embrace it, because the actual signings spoil everything.


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