The Detroit Tigers could look to shore up center field by signing ex-Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings as spring training nears.
Unless a signing or trade occurs in the next couple of weeks, the Detroit Tigers will enter spring training without a great option in center field. Tyler Collins could see the majority of reps against right-handed starting pitchers and possibly Mikie Mahtook or JaCoby Jones could serve as a platoon partner against left-handed pitching.
This is problematic because Collins’ defensive range is better suited for a corner spot and neither Mahtook nor Jones have proven themselves to be reliable big league hitters (Collins hasn’t really either, for that matter). A rebuilding club might be able to get by with that sort of platoon, but it’s not ideal for a team hoping to find themselves in the postseason hunt come September.
The Tigers might have another option. Free Agent center fielder Desmond Jennings is looking to sign with a ball club soon, according to an article by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
"“DJ is healthy and could be signing with a team by the end of the week,” said Mike Fiore, VP of The Boras Corp., which represents Jennings. “He wants to play and is looking forward to having a good year.”"
It’s not clear which teams, if any, are particularly interested, but the Tigers could certainly use a more reliable option at one of the most difficult defensive positions in the field. Whether or not Jennings fits that description remains to be seen.
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As Topkin notes in the article linked above, Jennings was released by the Rays last August after multiple stints on the disabled list — and an apparent lack of on-field hustle — caused the team to sour on him.
The now-30-year-old Jennings has logged 100+ big league games in just three seasons since first reaching the major leagues in 2010. His career batting line is .245/.322/.393 — an acceptable mark for center field — but, due to injury, he’s accumulated only 333 plate appearances in the last two seasons.
As is the case with any free agent the decision would come down to cost. Jennings made just over $3 million with the Rays in each of the last two season. The Tigers probably wouldn’t need to pay that much to land him, however. Austin Jackson, who has a better career track record (and is also coming off an injury), was forced to accept a minor league deal from the Cleveland Indians.
It might make sense for the Tigers to pursue a similar arrangement with Jennings. Maybe something like a minor league deal with a base salary of $1-2 million (if he makes the major league team) with incentives of another million or two if he plays, say, in 120 or more games.
A contract offer like that could make sense for both sides. Jennings gets an opportunity to prove himself on the field and the Tigers aren’t on the hook for much unless he shows himself to be both healthy and (relatively) productive.