This offseason could be a wild one for the Detroit Tigers. We fans have already been through the wringer, and the trade talks surrounding Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander have only gotten louder. This Tigers roster could look a lot different in 2017, and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. With how close the Tigers were to the playoffs last season, many fans aren’t happy with the idea of cutting payroll this winter.
However, nothing has happened yet, aside from the Cameron Maybin deal. The Tigers still have a very talented roster in place for 2017, and could compete for a playoff spot (and more) if things go their way. They might even be better, considering they should get more innings from starters Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd.
There’s still one big hole, though: center field. The current options available range from inexperienced to just plain bad, and the free agent market is shallow at best. There is plenty of time for the team to fill this void, but what’s the fun in just waiting around for the Tigers to do something?
This week’s question: Taking the most ridiculous names out of the equation (we’re not getting Mike Trout, y’all), who would you like to see playing center field for the Tigers next season?
Brandon: Kevin Kiermaier. Give me the best defensive center fielder in the game. In two seasons, Kiermaier has saved 67 runs in centerfield. We have quite a few fly ball pitchers and one of the largest outfields of any ballpark. Kiermaier makes the rotation and the bullpen look a lot better by himself. He's under control for four more years, and exactly the defender I've always hoped for. His bat is just average, but he is left-handed and doubled his walk rate in his second full season. The problem is that J.D. Martinez probably doesn't appeal enough to the Rays to get him. You might have to include Matt Boyd to even pique their interest.
Nolan: Ender Inciarte is exactly the blend of speed and defense Detroit needs. He's basically Anthony Gose but with a good glove in center.
Jacob: What I want to see done in center field completely depends on what that Tigers do with the rest of the roster. If Al Avila decides it's time to hit the big red button labeled "REBUILD" and tears it all down, then frankly, I don't care who's in center. Maybe sign a few minor league free agents or grab a center fielder in the Rule 5 draft, and let said player(s) battle in spring training with Jones and Wynton Bernard. Let the best man win! If Al decides he wants to compete, then I'll side with most of the people who wrote offseason plans and ink Jon Jay to a 2 year deal and let him have center field. He's a lefty with good defense and not a liability on the bases. Later in the year, if/when Jones has proven he has Triple-A pitching handled, platoon them.
Ashley: In my shoot-the-moon but still sort of feasible dreams: Kevin Kiermaier. In my "more likely realistic" mindset, someone like Michael Saunders, just coming off an All-Star season who can be had for a relatively low price tag. Maybe Rajai Davis if he's willing to sign on for one or two years at a not-astronomical amount. But really... Kiermaier.
Eye of the Tigers: I too would love Kevin Kiermaier. He just won his second career Gold Glove at age 26 and he's arguably the best defensive center fielder in the game after Mike Trout. Baseball Reference has him at 3.0 defensive WAR in 2016. Realistically, I would like to see what Tyler Collins could do with a starting job. He wasn't bad in the final weeks of the 2016 season, and I think he could really benefit from our major league hitting and fielding coaches. In the 46 games he played in the second half, Collins batted .259 and hit four home runs, had 14 RBI, and drew 13 walks. He also hit three triples. He is a decent player now and with some guidance, I feel he could do quite well at the MLB level.
Kyle: Perhaps the Tigers could convince Austin Jackson to come back at a cheap price. He signed a $5 million deal last season and is due for lower contract because of injury concerns, which might make him worth the risk. He knows Comerica Park well and posted positive DRS and UZR numbers when he was with the Tigers, and he showed improvements in his strikeout and walk rates last year before getting hurt. It's possible that his better days are behind him, but he also has a decent ceiling and could potentially fit in nicely at the top of the lineup like the good old days.
Rob: This probably won’t happen, but Kevin Pillar would look great patrolling Comerica Park’s large outfield. Pillar is coming off a three-win season and won’t come cheap, but the Blue Jays have a couple of potential replacements in Dalton Pompey and Anthony Alford waiting in the wings. Meanwhile, Pillar’s offensive numbers took a step back in 2016 and he’s just one year away from arbitration. The Jays have the money to keep him around, but could also use him as a trade chip to bolster the rest of their roster. A trade package centered around J.D. Martinez and a prospect or two might be enough to pry Pillar away, depending on how the Jays feel about Pompey.
Of course, the Tigers could also do the same with Pompey and see how that works out.
Patrick: If the Tigers are going to move an expensive contract, Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers is a young center fielder on the rise who could help the team at minimum cost for several seasons. He made the All-Star team in his rookie season in 2015, but cooled off after the break, then bounced back with a .246/.352/.495 performance in 2016 for an .847 OPS and a wOBA of .360 with 25 home runs. He brings a left-handed power stick to the lineup, but he will only come to Detroit in a fairly major trade.
John: What I'd really like to see next year is a better hitting JaCoby Jones primarily playing center with Tyler Collins there to platoon with him. Jones is performing well in the Arizona Fall League (which I realize is very hitter-friendly), coming into this last week with an .806 OPS, and after hearing of the Cameron Maybin trade seems pretty eager to get his shot. Al Avila hasn't ruled out the possibility that some combination of Jones and Collins could end up in that role.
If we're talking best-case scenario regarding realistic options, I can't think of anything I'd rather see than Jones finishing the AFL with good numbers, having a strong spring training, and making the step to being an inexpensive, serviceable option in center for 2017. I know this is an improbable situation, but without getting too absurd that's the best situation the team could probably hope for. That said, I can't say I'd be uncomfortable with the team going out and picking up somebody like Jon Jay on the cheap and settling the situation without making us all sit through spring training praying to God that one of the unproven talents in the system proves themselves worthy of the task.
Jeff: A realistic option is Alejandro De Aza, who could be had for a couple of million dollars. He had a down year last year at .205/.297/.321 with a 72 wRC+. However, since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, he has been around an average performer (between a 97 and 106 wRC+ hitter). If he can get back to being that type of hitter again, he can act as a stopgap and veteran presence until JaCoby Jones or someone else is ready. Unfortunately, we are at the point where we have to go bargain hunting and hope something works out.