It has been over four months since the Detroit Tigers traded center fielder Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels. Sadly, they might still be looking for a replacement. While the Tigers have a few in-house options available in Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Collins, and JaCoby Jones, they are still looking around the league for another potential option in center field, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.
Given how their in-house options have performed this spring, the Tigers’ continued interest in outside options is understandable. Mahtook is just 1-for-18 with zero extra base hits in Grapefruit League play, and Tyler Collins’ 2-for-14 performance is not much better. The Tigers have also expressed some frustration with Mahtook’s offseason weight training regimen. Anthony Gose is 4-for-15, but faces long odds to make the big league club since he is not on the 40-man roster. JaCoby Jones has impressed defensively, but would still benefit from more minor league seasoning to hone his plate discipline and pitch recognition skills.
Fenech did not offer any specific names that the Tigers may be targeting, but I wouldn’t get too excited. A blockbuster trade likely would have happened already — the Tigers won’t suddenly be willing to part with their top prospects after sitting on their hands all winter — and the free agent market has been picked clean. Fans expressed frustration as the Tigers watched several other players sign minor league deals with teams, and it’s hard to blame them.
One potential option could be Sam Fuld, who is currently a free agent. Fuld is batting leadoff and playing center field for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. His team’s surprising performance — they are already through to the second round after just two days of WBC play — could help serve as an audition for him to sign with a major league team. Fuld is a career .227/.307/.325 hitter who missed the entire 2016 season after having rotator cuff surgery in April. He has been worth +32 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in his eight-year career, but most of that value has come while playing corner outfield positions.
Trade options are a bit harder to narrow down. The Tigers and San Diego Padres were in talks at one point about center fielder Travis Jankowski, who might lose some playing time to top prospects Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe. Jankowski compiled 1.1 rWAR in 131 games last season, and projects as a plus defender with excellent speed and solid on-base skills. His bat is still a bit suspect, and he managed just a .646 OPS despite an 11 percent walk rate last season.
The Tigers could also look to trade for any of the players they initially passed up on the free agent market. Former Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings hasn’t impressed so far with the Cincinnati Reds, and is not likely to supplant Billy Hamilton on the Reds’ depth chart. The same could be said for Drew Stubbs, who is currently in camp with the Minnesota Twins. Fans hoping for a reunion with Austin Jackson might be disappointed, though; he has yet to appear in game action with the Cleveland Indians so far.
Unless the Tigers surprise and make a big move, they may be better served relying on their internal options. Mahtook and Collins could potentially form a respectable platoon, though their defense may leave something to be desired. Gose and Jones will provide solid depth, especially if the former can rediscover the production he had against right-handed pitching in 2015. None of the players currently available offer much of an upgrade, and a last-minute move could put them in even more of a roster bind than they already find themselves in this spring.