DETROIT -- The Tigers made a move to improve their options in center field, but it wasn't one of the veteran names on the free-agent market. Instead, Detroit acquired former first-round Draft pick Mikie Mahtook from the Rays on Wednesday in exchange for a player to be named or cash.
To make room for Mahtook on the 40-man roster, the Tigers designated Anthony Gose, last year's Opening Day center fielder, for assignment. The mercurial speedster, who was set to compete for the starting center-field job despite a turbulent 2016 season, could still be outrighted to the Minors and given a non-roster invite to camp if he clears waivers.
If so, he'll likely remain a candidate for center. At this point, that's what Mahtook is, too.
"His role will be determined," manager Brad Ausmus told MLB.com Wednesday evening. "He's a right-handed-hitting center fielder. How he plays, as well as the other possibilities, will determine who covers center field."
The 27-year-old Mahtook wasn't a full-time center fielder with Tampa Bay, but he played all three outfield positions over parts of the past two seasons in the big leagues, as well as his time in the Rays' farm system. He's a .231 (67-for-290) career hitter over 106 big league games, hitting 12 home runs with 30 RBIs and a .685 OPS.
Mahtook's offensive strength is an ability to hit left-handed pitching, with a .276 (37-for-134) career average off southpaws in the big leagues compared to .192 (30-for-156) off righties. He posted a 5-for-5, two-double game against the Orioles on Sept. 18, 2015.
Like center-field prospect JaCoby Jones, Mahtook played center field in college at LSU. Now he could hold down the spot, either as a regular or platooning with Tyler Collins, until Jones is ready, though Jones could make his case to open the season in Detroit with a strong Spring Training.
"We have a number of scenarios," Ausmus said, "including a platoon."
Whether the scenarios still include a free-agent signing remains to be seen. While the Tigers had reached out to some candidates, including speedy Peter Bourjos, nothing had advanced beyond preliminary talk. The sense among some in the industry was that the team was pursuing a trade.
Mahtook seems to be the deal. But he might not be the end.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.