Before the Kansas City Royals traded Wil Myers, became a juggernaut, and won the World Series, their unofficial organizational motto may have been "trust the process." General manager Dayton Moore was often mocked for using the p-word in the media, especially with how their robust farm system had failed to turn potential into wins. Nobody is laughing anymore, except maybe Moore.
The Detroit Tigers' trade for outfielder Cameron Maybin is a "trust the process" move, but a good one. Maybin is no longer the five-tool prospect that helped the Tigers acquire Miguel Cabrera, but is still a capable defender who has shown enough offensive potential to keep his head above water. He hit .267/.327/.370 with 10 home runs and 23 stolen bases last season, and improved his walk rate and power compared to 2014.
These numbers aren't great, though. Maybin's 94 wRC+ was 19th-worst among MLB outfielders in 2015, but several of those players -- Billy Hamilton, Kevin Pillar, and the like -- were defensive savants that still outperformed Maybin's 1.0 WAR. Maybin was decidedly below average in center field, costing his team 16 defensive runs saved. For his career, he has been a tick above average, at +7 DRS in nearly 5500 innings.
The good news is that the Tigers didn't give up much to get him. Ian Krol was vilified from day one in Detroit, and struggled with right-handed hitters even before he was involved in The Trade That Shall Not Be Named. Gabe Speier pitched well for Single-A West Michigan, but already has Tommy John surgery on his résumé as a 20-year-old. If he does become a solid major leaguer, it won't be for another three or four years. This is a very low cost for two years of an outfielder that can fill several roles.
Exactly which role Maybin will play is the question, and one that may not be answered yet. General manager Al Avila said as much, telling reporters that the coaching staff "will determine Cameron's role during spring training." Whether he is used in some sort of center field platoon with Anthony Gose, or as the starting left fielder, or in some sort of hybrid role between the two, remains to be seen.
Further offseason moves may also determine Maybin's fate. Tony Paul of the Detroit News reported that the Tigers "will shift focus almost exclusively to pitching," meaning they may be done tinkering with their outfield. However, if the right deal comes along, the Tigers could pounce, shifting their focus once again. Offseason plans need to be fungible, and having a fungible roster helps create opportunities for other moves to be made. The Tigers are trying to fill a round hole in their outfield, and Maybin is an amorphous piece who can also fill the square peg role if need be.
This outfield doesn't feel finished, though. Plugging Maybin and Gose into the Opening Day lineup makes for a thin batting order, though a rather rangy outfield. Having Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and others in the lineup takes some of the burden off of left field for offensive production, but it's still a position you expect some thump out of. Maybin has shown flashes of offensive potential, including in 2015, when he hit .289/.356/.418 in the first half. FanGraphs even sees a bump in production on the horizon. However, expecting a 115 wRC+ from a 29-year-old with no extended history of that production is asking for disappointment.
If the Tigers were simply looking to replace Rajai Davis, this is a puzzling move. Maybin doesn't hit lefties particularly well, and costs more than the 35-year-old Davis probably would have per season on a multi-year deal. The two have different skill sets, and the Tigers seem ready to use Maybin differently than they used Davis in 2015.
We're not sure what the Tigers' exact plan is, and that's okay. This is a low-cost move for a player that will help the team to some degree in 2016, with a little breakout potential on the side. There plenty of time left this winter to further address the rest of the roster, and the Tigers still have a fair amount of payroll space to spare. Avila's process isn't off to a flashy start, but it's a start nonetheless.