Detroit Tigers: Center Field Alternatives After Missing Out on Rusney Castillo

Regardless of how far the Detroit Tigers came in their pursuit of Cuban prospect Rusney Castillo, they missed out on adding the highly regarded center fielder. Castillo is heading to Boston. With Austin Jackson shipped out as part of the David Price trade, the Tigers are in need of a center fielder, if they don’t go after one to help their postseason run, then they will almost surely try to acquire one in the offseason. Here are some options.

Options for Right Now

The Internal Guys: Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera

Detroit got spoiled by Austin Jackson—a superb fielding, centrally based outfielder who hit for some pop. Sure, he struck out a ton, but at least he contributed in other categories. The Tigers now face reality without their once-longtime center fielder. Any disapproval of his replacements’ play has been answered with the question “Well, would you rather have David Price or not have David Price?” and while’s it’s fantastic to have Price, the team could use a center fielder. I’m not saying the trade shouldn’t have happened, but Detroit need a center fielder, and his name isn’t Rajai Davis or Ezequiel Carrera. Both can cover miles of ground, but aren’t close to the defensive player that Jackson was for the Tigers.

Davis has filled in admirably in center, but his best position remains in left field. This gives Brad Ausmus flexibility in picking his lineup—flexibility that Detroit has relied on and will need to continue to rely on.

While Carrera isn’t as strong defensively as Jackson, he isn’t good offensively as Jackson or Davis. Yes, he brings speed, but his hitting hasn’t been on par with the rest of the lineup. A .220 hitting center fielder with speed might play on a young team auditioning players, but on a team with championship aspirations like the Tigers, it simply isn’t good enough.

In 24 games, Carrera has a total of three extra base hits—two doubles and a triple. Jackson accumulated four extra base hits alone over the course of three games against Diamondbacks.

*Note: I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece if the Tigers were still in first place in the division, but new additions or better play is needed to pass the Royals. It’s also nearing panic mode in “Tigerland.”

The Current Trade Market: Various

With the non-waiver trade deadline come and gone, players must now pass through waivers before being dealt. The bad teams get first crack at players, so because of that and other factors, it’s unlikely that a player would fall through the cracks. However a number of players have passed through waivers with no teams claiming them, and are available to be dealt anywhere. According to MLB Trade Rumors, these players include outfielders such as Shin-Soo Choo, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rios, Matt Kemp, Brett Gardner, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. Each is a unique player, but all of them have one thing in common—they’re owed a lot of money.

In addition to being owed a collective 164 million dollars over the next six years, Choo and Granderson just signed deals with their respective teams this offseason. It would look bad for future free agents assessing their options to see that a team traded a player just months after signing him to a long contract. Choo has also played exclusively in both left and right field this year while Granderson has predominantly played right. Granderson has extensive experience in center; just ask any long-term Tigers’ fan, but his salary makes it hard to justify a reunion.

Rios falls in a similar boat defensively seeing as he hasn’t played centerfield since 2011. Plus, he’ll be 34 at this time next year and doesn’t have the power he once possessed.

The Dodgers’ trio of representatives on the list are harder to quantify trading. They aren’t exactly hitting the cover off the ball with batting averages of .247 (Ethier) .271 (Crawford) and .277 (Kemp). Ethier has played center field this year, but his batting line and hefty contract make a move unlikely. Crawford, on the other hand, isn’t a centerfielder. He never played the position extensively, as evidenced by the last time he was in center field—seven innings of a game six years ago while he was with the Rays.

Kemp may be the closest thing to a “goldilocks” fit. Not only does he play center (he’s won two Gold Gloves there), but if he can get his production near where it was during his accolade filled year of 2011, the Tigers would have another elite bat to hit in a lineup that features a handful of them. The red flag is that Kemp hasn’t played a full season since 2011 and is owed north of 100 million dollars over the next five seasons.

The Dodgers are also in the thick of a pennant race of their own, and with Yasiel Puig as the only other starting caliber outfielder on the team, it seems unlikely that LA would part with any of their three contractual albatrosses.

Finally, there’s Gardner. From a skillset standpoint, the Yankee outfielder would fit perfectly in Detroit. He has played 333 games in center field over the course of his career. He is a threat on the base baths with 179 steals over nearly 750 games—and, to top it all off, he hits for power. Albeit power closer to that of Rajai Davis as opposed to Miguel Cabrera, but it would be an upgrade. But similar to Kemp, Gardner’s contract calls for a lot of money. The Yankee outfielder is owed close to 50 million over the next four years, not including a 12.5 million team option for 2019. The money and the fact that the Yankees trail Detroit in the wild card standings may make a trade near impossible.

Splurging cash on one of these previously mentioned outfielders would seem counterproductive—especially after trading Prince Fielder and Doug Fister in cost-cutting moves. It would also seem odd considering the team will likely hand one/both of David Price and Max Scherzer a massive contract extension.

It’s unclear what Dave Dombrowski will do with the Tigers center field situation. Maybe Rajai Davis will prove he can play there full time. Maybe Ezequiel Carrera will hit. Who knows. But reinforcements via trade or Cuba are unlikely this season. If nothing is done, expect the Tigers’ GM to make a move for a center fielder this winter.

 

All stats courtesy of http://www.baseball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

 

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