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Cameron Maybin is back, but could play a limited role in the Tigers' outfield

Maybin is the only true center fielder on the roster, but Steven Moya is going to play as long as he remains in Detroit.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers activated Cameron Maybin from the disabled list after Sunday's game, but it was Anthony Gose -- not prospect Steven Moya -- who was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. The surprise move leaves Maybin as the only true center fielder on the roster, but it doesn't necessarily mean that he will be starting every game in center field.

When the Tigers acquired Maybin from the Atlanta Braves last November, the former first round draft pick appeared to be in line for a significant role in the outfield, along with Gose and J.D. Martinez. That was before the Tigers signed Justin Upton to a contract that pays him $22 million per season. With Upton entrenched in left field and Martinez in right, Anthony Gose and Maybin were expected to split time in center field. However, Maybin's injuries forced Gose into a larger role, and Maybin figured to have a limited role when he returned to the Tigers' lineup. Now with Gose in the minor leagues, that scenario may have changed, but not necessarily for Maybin.

Consider the following:

  • Justin Upton had not played center field in his eight year major league career prior to last weekend's series in Baltimore, but he's playing there now.
  • Steven Moya played 518 games in right field in the minor leagues, and just 74 games in left field, but he's in the left corner now in Detroit.
  • Cameron Maybin has not played left field in his 10-year major league career since his rookie season with Detroit in 2006. He is a pure center fielder.

Offensively, Maybin, a right-handed hitter, may seem like the obvious choice to hit against left-handed pitching, with either Gose or Moya on the roster. However, Maybin does not make an ideal platoon partner, especially using his career numbers.

Split Avg
vs. RHP, 2015
.276 .323 .370 .692 .305 92
vs. LHP, 2015
.237 .338 .373 .711 .315 99
vs. RHP, Career
.255 .318 .373 .691 .305 93
vs. LHP, Career
.241 .298 .347 .645 .286 80

The Tigers led the league with a .281 batting average against left handed pitchers in 2015, ranked second (behind the Toronto Blue Jays) in on-base and slugging percentages, posting a weighted runs created average (wRC+) of 120, or 20 percent better than the league average. In 2016, the team is hitting just .209/.287/.316 against left-handed pitchers. Maybin can help in that regard.

However, teams are avoiding the Tigers' righty-heavy lineup like the plague. The Tigers registered a league low 22 percent of their plate appearances against lefties in 2015 and are at just 21.8 percent so far in 2016. That is not likely to change, with Victor Martinez being the only real threat from the left side of the plate, at least until Moya's arrival. Moya has as much potential as any Tigers' hitting prospect, and would only be kept in Detroit if he will play regularly.

Maybin's track record suggests below average production against right-handed pitchers, and with Moya on the roster, he may not play very often against right-handed pitchers. Moreover, the Tigers would not have optioned Gose if they believed that Upton could not handle duties in center field on a fairly consistent basis. Using a straight platoon, Maybin could assume the role vacated by Rajai Davis.

If Moya continues to produce against right-handed pitchers -- he hit .314/.352/.647 against them in the minors this year -- he figures to get the bulk of playing time in left field, with Upton in center and Maybin starting against left-handed pitchers and being used as a defensive replacement. Maybin ranked 19th in the major leagues among qualified center fielders in wOBA, wRC+ and fWAR, respectively in 2015. While center field is not traditionally an offensive position, it has been a weak point in the lineup this season.

Defensively, Maybin should hold a substantial advantage in center field. He posted defensive metrics that were unimpressive in 2015, with a negative -7.2 UZR rating and a negative 16 defensive runs saved (DRS). He had been a plus defender up to that point, when healthy, covering Petco park in San Diego. He will need to be strong defensively to give the Tigers a reason to play him more often.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. With a $ 200 million payroll and their playoff hopes circling the drain, the Tigers have been waiting for players to perform as they have in their careers. Meanwhile, they'll try using players in positions they have not played, until they find a winning combination.