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Al Avila spells out Tigers’ center field options

Detroit continues search for Cameron Maybin’s replacement

Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

When the Detroit Tigers traded Cameron Maybin and his $9 million option to the Los Angeles Angels, they created a hole in their lineup where there previously was none, and they’ve been looking for ways to plug that hole ever since.

The Tigers have in house options, such as Anthony Gose, JaCoby Jones, and Tyler Collins within the organization. It’s do or die time for Collins and Gose, as well as outfielder Steven Moya, who all bat left handed, are all out of options and could be lost on waivers should they fail to make the opening day roster. Yet, each of those options comes with questions.

Gose spent most of the 2016 season in the minors. Collins is more of a corner outfielder by trade, and the Tigers would like to give Jones more seasoning in the minor leagues before calling him up to the major leagues on a full time basis.

Tigers general manager Al Avila suggested that the club also would explore external options when he spoke with

“Maybe we can get that guy (a center fielder) in a trade,” Avila said. “Maybe we can wait until January and get a guy to be a temporary fix. Maybe we can plug that hole with a sixth-year minor league free agent.”

Each of the options posed by Avila would involve going outside the organization to fill the need, and each of the options comes with a heavy dose of cost consciousness for a team that might not have the money to give Alex Avila $2.5 million to play as backup catcher. The Tigers have been attempting to reduce payroll while filling the few holes remaining on their 2017 roster, so any trade surely involves more money coming off the books than any salary that would be added. Improving the team while doing so is easier said than done.

Waiting until January means waiting out the market to see what center fielders remain unsigned, who may be willing to take less than they had been expecting on a short term contract. Those candidates include some familiar names such as Rajai Davis and Austin Jackson. Still, one could expect some salary clearing moves prior to the team taking on more payroll, since the Tigers are dangerously close to paying not only a 30 percent luxury tax, but a new surtax should their payroll go over the $215 million mark.

Sixth year minor league free agents generally come to spring training as non roster invitees (NRIs). Every club brings several of these players to camp each season, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, but very few of them actually pan out. Some have major league experience, while others have put in six seasons in the minor leagues, unable to crack a major league roster.

Ideally, the Tigers would trade starting pitchers Anibal Sanchez and/ or Mike Pelfrey and acquire their center fielder, or spend some of the savings to do so. Manager Brad Ausmus supported the idea that the Tigers could go outside the organization for outfield help.

"We have some candidates in-house, but it wouldn't shock me if they somehow got out of house at some point," he said.

Ausmus indicated that there should be no problem between Gose and his former manager Lloyd McLendon following their altercation after Gose was sent to the minor leagues in June which resulted in Gose struggling at double-A Erie for the balance of the season. McLendon is now the Tigers’ hitting coach.

"I think they will work together fine. I don't think there will be any issues. I know Mac will do everything he can to try to get the most out of him. I've always liked Anthony. He works his tail off, almost to a fault at times. I think if he can learn to back off and let the game come to him a little bit with his athleticism, he can be a big-league everyday center fielder."

The Tigers were set to go with a platoon of Gose and Mike Aviles to start last season before owner Mike Ilitch’s pocket book bailed them out and the team signed Jusin Upton. Gose was one of very few on the 40-man roster who was not in the dugout after rosters expanded in September, suggesting he has a steep climb back.