For Tigers, outfield spot could be center of attention

Tom Gage
The Detroit News

Detroit — Put the Tigers bullpen aside for a moment. Like a house requiring work, whatever repair it needs won't be accomplished with the offseason addition of one player.

Center field? One might be enough. But it will remain unanswered for a while from where the addition will come.

It was clear from Dave Dombrowski's comments Tuesday the Tigers have not finalized the general direction they'll go in center field. They're even further away from pinpointing a specific player as a solution.

Making sure it was understood he was listing three priorities "in no particular order," Dombrowski mentioned "another left-handed hitter" third, "our bullpen to be improved" second, and "solidifying our center field situation" first.

And how would it be solidified?

"(With) either a left-handed hitter to go with Rajai (Davis) or somebody to be a full-time center fielder," said Dombrowski — the Tigers president and general manager.

The Tigers had a full-time center fielder in Austin Jackson before they parted with him in the deal that landed starting pitcher David Price at the trade deadline.

After that, the Tigers went with a patchwork solution of Davis, Ezequiel Carrera and Donnie Kelly.

"Raj did all right in center," Dombrowski said. "But he's not a natural center fielder, one of those off at the crack of the bat. But he did OK out there."

Chances are the Tigers would like to come up with something better than potentially "OK."

That might have been why they were so interested in Cuban-born Rusney Castillo, who landed with the Red Sox to the tune of seven years and $72.5 million.

But the fact that, if there had been reciprocal interest, the Tigers seriously would have competed for a promising, unproven player who landed that much of a contract again shows how deep their pockets can be when it's someone they not only want, but feel they need.

Castillo hit .333 with two home runs and six RBIs in 10 games (36 at-bats) for the Red Sox, who will begin paying him more than $11 million per season next year. The deal tops out at more than $14 million in 2020.

Denard Span would be an interesting free agent if, indeed, he becomes a free agent. But after a strong 2014, it's expected the Nationals will pick up the $9 million option on Span's contract.

Beyond that, center field could feature the thinnest talent pool among potential free agents this winter. One possibility, because he hits left-handed and plays center, is Colby Rasmus, who missed a month with a hamstring problem but also fell out of favor in Toronto and started one game in September.

Rasmus has moderate power (more than 20 home runs three times), is a solid outfielder, but is also a .246 career hitter.

As for internal answers, there's no ready help in the minors, and Carrera made some puzzling plays down the stretch.

Carrera started 13 games in center for the Tigers after Jackson was traded, but no doubt will be best remembered for the sensational catch he made in his first start to take extra bases away from Yankees slugger Jacoby Ellsbury on Aug. 4.

It's probably a candidate for play of the year in the majors, but won't come close to guaranteeing Carrera will see any more time in center with the Tigers.

Who will see some time in center? That's the problem. And at this point, they can't say, because they don't know.