Every week Kurt Mensching offers up some Tigers opinions with The Detroit News. Every week I will tell him how wrong he is.
Let’s not panic.
Do the Tigers have an every day center fielder? No. Do they have a strong rotation of young arms they place to use in the role? No. Did they trade a good center fielder for a sub-par pitcher who has already been optioned to Toledo? Sure, if you want to be all logical about it.
Did you read the opening line, though? Let’s not panic.
The Tigers’ seeming lack of direction or plan for center field has been one of the most befuddling aspects of the offseason. The fall, when Al Avila traded Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels for Victor Alcantara, people saw it as the first sign of house cleaning, and that perhaps the Tigers would be stripped down to the posts and rebuilt from scratch.
By the time spring training rolled around in February, Maybin’s trade still had folk scratching their heads. Rather than making the team stronger by opening up space for a better player — like they did by bringing on Alex Avila rather than sticking with Jarrod Saltalamacchia — the Tigers still had a gaping hole in center field with no obvious solution to plug it.
Fast-forward a month at it would appear that that solution is a four-man lineup of Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Collins, Anthony Gose, and JaCoby Jones. The addition of Jones on that list comes with an asterisk, because by almost all accounts he will be starting the year in Toledo and only getting a call up if he shows marked improvement in his plate discipline.
This sounds like a build up to some serious doom and gloom, but it isn’t. Believe it or not, the Tigers are fine. The platoon of mediocrity that has been established four hundred feet deep in Comerica’s outfield will not be the cause of Detroit’s ruin. None of the men slated to take on the role are going to replace Cameron Maybin, but they also didn’t result in a potentially damaging hit to payroll. They don’t have the speed Maybin offered on base, but Nicholas Castellanos appears to be making a push to be the Tigers’ running man this year, and Andrew Romine has shown some heads up initiative on the basepaths.
If we look purely at Collins, Gose, and Mahtook as our most likely one-two-three punch in center, none have the kind of career numbers to match what the Tigers lost in Maybin. No one is disputing that Cameron Maybin was the better player. He was also injury prone, and missed a huge chunk of games during the 2016 season. What did the Tigers do then? They relied on a utility platoon. Collins played 29 games in center last year, and the results were... not great. His UZR and DRS were both in the negative (-1.8 and -4 respectively, where a 0 is considered average).
“Not great” is still better than nightmarishly bad, though. Compared to someone like Dexter Fowler, Collins’ numbers are actually much closer to average than terrible. Which is what brings us to the bottom line of what the Tigers need from the middling of the order: average. Detroit needs these guys to be as close to “just okay” as possible. These are not the guys whose bats will win the season, and their gloves are a lot closer to rust than gold, but if their powers combined can equal a 0 WAR, the team will be no worse for it. Gose has a +1.9 career WAR, Mahtook a +0.1, and Collins a -0.3. Their powers combined, like a knock off Power Rangers Megazord, are worth a +1.7 WAR. Cameron Maybin’s 2016 WAR with the Tigers? +1.9.
It’s just okay enough.
They won’t dazzle. They won’t break records or earn any fun platoon nicknames. Yet Collins, Gose, and Mahtook might prove to be precisely the level of adequate needed in order to keep the Tigers going towards the 2017 postseason.