On Monday afternoon, in a deal leaked minutes after the trade deadline, the Detroit Tigers traded right fielder Cameron Maybin to the Chicago Cubs. In return, the team is receiving shortstop prospect Zack Short.
Maybin, who the Tigers signed to a one-year deal in February, was intended to serve as part of a platoon in right field, ostensibly splitting time with Victor Reyes while providing veteran leadership and his unmistakable energy to the clubhouse. He served that role well, and hit .244/.311/.415 in 14 games this year. That figures to a serviceable 95 wRC+, which placed him 9th among Tigers hitters with at least 20 at-bats.
This trade to the Cubs marks the end of a third chapter in his long history with Detroit. Originally a first round draft pick of the team, Maybin was included in the deal that netted Miguel Cabrera, before being re-signed for the 2016 season, then shipped off to the Angels. While his third time in the organization wasn’t quite as notable as being a top prospect in the aughts or the beating heart of the 2016 squad, he was exactly what the Tigers needed him to be.
Now, he will take his affable nature and reasonable on-field skills to Chicago to help stabilize the team as they brace for a playoff run. Regular playing time probably isn’t in the cards for Maybin with his new team, but they wanted a fourth outfielder who is great in the clubhouse, and that’s exactly what they are getting.
The player coming back to Detroit in the deal, Zack Short, is the next in a long line of utility men who pass through the Tigers roster. He is a late round pick who scrapped his way to the high minors and earned a place on the Cubs’ 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Short primarily plays at shortstop, but as a major leaguer, he is more useful as a backup who moves around the infield to give everyday players a day off now and again.
From a scouting perspective, the Tigers are buying Short’s track record, not his tools. Neither FanGraphs nor MLB Pipeline are particularly keen on his athletic gifts, with FanGraphs being the more bearish of the two. What they agree on is that he’s not a knockout at the plate — his contact and power are both below average and he’s not a burner out of the box.
Like many in his mold, though, Short squeezes every drop of playable baseball out of his fairly limited physical skillset. He plays hard and has turned himself into a capable infield defender, though not a particularly special one. Baseball America seems highest on his capabilities as a defender, praising his range, instincts, and arm strength.
He also has an excellent eye for the strike zone and walks at an enormous rate, taking free passes in a whopping 16.44 percent of his career at-bats. Unfortunately, his hand/eye coordination isn’t where it needs to be for him to impact the ball with consistency, as borne out by his correspondingly enormous strikeout rate.
“He gets in trouble selling out for power at times and is best when he focuses on contact with a short, quick swing,” wrote Baseball America in response to the trade. “He does have some sneaky strength for his size and can drive a ball out when he connects.”
The Tigers will likely find out the extent of his abilities soon enough. The team has been unable to find a satisfying lineup across their infield after CJ Cron fell to injury. Between experimenting with Willi Castro and Isaac Paredes and trying to get Niko Goodrum out of whatever funk is suppressing his offensive production, the infield takes a different look virtually game to game. Whether it happens soon or down the road, it is entirely possible that Short will find himself in that mix.