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Tigers rumors: Detroit ‘seeking additional center field’ help

With Mikie Mahtook at the top of the depth chart, the Tigers are looking for help in center field.

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers appear to be a team on the cusp of transition. With a few assets that could make them contend for a wild card spot, mixed with a few that could hurt their chances, the 2017 season could be a make-or-break year for the core of the Tigers’ roster. According to a report, the Tigers are looking to address one of their most dire needs though: center field.

After trading Cameron Maybin to the Angels this offseason for 23-year-old pitching prospect Victor Alcantara, it is Mikie Mahtook who now sits atop the depth chart in center field. While Mahtook has generated some positive value in previous seasons with the Rays, it has been in limited at-bats and primarily against left-handed pitching. The former-first-round-pick is a platoon bat at-best, with slightly-above-average defense.

Another contender for the starting center field job could be 24-year-old prospect JaCoby Jones. Jones, the prize of the Joakim Soria trade circa 2015, has had his defense lauded by Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus. Jones was up for a cup of coffee with the big club in 2016, racking up 28 plate appearances. Unfortunately, he failed to impress and struck out in 12 of his trips to the plate. In his 15 at-bats this spring however, Jones is slashing a much more respectable .333/.375/.708.

The Tigers have had some bad luck with center fielders ever since Austin Jackson’s injury-shortened 2013 campaign. Since then, Tigers’ center fielders have ranked at least in the bottom-half of the league—if not the bottom-third—in productivity according to FanGraphs’ metrics. Since then, a mix of Avisail Garcia, Rajai Davis, and Anthony Gose have left the Tigers’ in a troubling spot. Especially considering the corner outfielders employed during that time don’t have the best defensive range either.

Whether a deal can be struck with another team during spring training remains up in the air. However, both Angel Pagan and Sam Fuld remain available as free agents and both could help the Tigers.

Pagan has never been an especially productive defender, and, at 35, there’s no reason to think he will improve. Trusting Pagan with full-time defensive duties might be ill-advised, though adding his switch-bat to the lineup would be advantageous while perhaps using a roster spot to carry a defense-first outfielder.

Fuld is also 35-years-old, but has generated above average defense over his past two seasons. The problem though, is that Fuld sat out all of 2016 with a shoulder injury. Furthermore, his bat seemed to be on the decline stage of his aging curve already in 2015, but perhaps that was a result of a shoulder ailment that wasn’t yet diagnosed.

Neither option is especially tantalizing, and the Tigers may be best-suited to go into the 2017 season giving a shot to the young Jones every day. However, a bad April could quickly spell changes for Detroit, so there’s quite a bit riding on the early productivity of this team.