Mensching: Tigers could give Collins chance to stick

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

That the Orioles came to an agreement to bring Chris Davis back to Baltimore for the next few years would seem to be reason for optimism for those who’d like to see Yoenis Cespedes back in Detroit.

It probably shouldn’t be.

Not only is the idea that Cespedes is suddenly going to run out of options and all but grovel to play baseball back in Detroit a ludicrous thought in its own right, the Tigers have signaled again and again they’re happy about their outfield situation.

Which, let’s be frank, sounds a bit disconcerting on the surface.

Some combination of Anthony Gose, Cameron Maybin, Mike Aviles and Tyler Collins will likely make up two-thirds of Detroit’s outfield, and a look at those names doesn’t exactly make one feel warm fuzzies.

The decision to stick with what they’ve got appears to have been made, though. So let’s try to see this from the Tigers’ eyes.

Already stuck near the luxury tax — and possibly over when you account for the fact they’ll have to make a few additional moves during the course of the season — the Tigers could choose to pair Collins with Maybin and get league-average production at the plate.

Against right-handers Collins hit .264 with a .318 on-base percentage and .421 slugging. Using the sabermetric stat wRC+, weighted runs created based where 100 is a league-average batter, Collins came in just above league average against right-handed pitching (101).

Maybin’s wRC+ against lefties came in just a tick below average (99). He only batted .237, but he walked in 13 percent of plate appearances for a healthier .338 OBP to make up for it. He slugged .373.

The pair may even be able to put up above-average numbers in 2016 when you consider Maybin spent parts of the past few years injured and Collins has just two partial seasons of major league experience under his belt. Growth should be expected.

Perhaps a different hope is that a healthy Maybin can hold down center field more often than not and that Collins bats better against left-handed pitching than he did last year. In that case Gose coming off the bench as a defensive replacement or pinch runner gives some flexibility to what has been a weak bench in recent years.

So, from the Tigers’ point of view, without spending a dime extra, the roster might be acceptable and give them wiggle room to fix any flaws that arise. You can’t expect to have an All-Star player at every position and have to take a long-term look before making any pricey additions.

They already have more than $100 million tied up in 2017 in just five players and $100 million in 2018 tied up in four.

Imagining owner Mike Ilitch to be a bottomless fount of money might be fun, but it’s hard to picture this team being able to write blank checks yearly.

Beyond that, 2016’s success will be more decided by the pitching taking a big step forward than whoever is filling out the outfield. That was Detroit’s biggest issue in 2015, and GM Al Avila spent most of his budget to fix the problem during the offseason.

You can be forgiven for finding an outfield platoon less than an ideal solution. Who wouldn’t rather see Cespedes back patrolling left field, showing off a big arm and hitting frequent towering home runs?

But putting together a roster that gives the Tigers their best chance to win this year — acknowledging that you have to have the flexibility to deal with a season’s unexpected plot twists — and beyond means every decision has consequences.

Right now, those consequences might look just a little too steep.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.