DETROIT -- While one former Tigers center fielder is headed to a division rival, another is staying in the mix. Anthony Gose, who opened last year manning center at Comerica Park before ending the season at Double-A Erie, cleared waivers on Wednesday and was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo.
The news came on the same day that Austin Jackson, Detroit's primary center fielder from 2010-14, agreed to a Minor League contract with the American League-champion Cleveland Indians. The soon-to-be 30-year-old will go to Major League camp with the Tribe, competing alongside second-year center fielder Tyler Naquin, while providing insurance in case Michael Brantley struggles as he comes back from injuries.
Though the Tigers have an open competition in center, after trading Cameron Maybin to the Angels in November, they never emerged as a serious suitor for Jackson, who's looking to re-establish himself after a meniscus tear limited him to 54 games with the White Sox in 2016. Nor have the Tigers shown major interest in fellow free agents Peter Bourjos or Michael Bourn.
At this point, last week's trade for Mikie Mahtook from the Rays is the Tigers' lone big league move for a center fielder. While general manager Al Avila has said center will be an open competition in Spring Training, the Tigers have the makings of a platoon between the right-handed-hitting Mahtook and the lefty-batting Tyler Collins.
That competition is again expected to include Gose, who was designated for assignment last week to make room for Mahtook on the 40-man roster. The speedy, 26-year-old Gose opened 2016 in center, batted .209 (19-for-91) with 38 strikeouts in 30 games, went to Toledo in mid-May shortly before Maybin's return from the disabled list and then went to Erie in July following a squabble with Mud Hens manager Lloyd McClendon.
McClendon has since become the Tigers' hitting coach. Gose has now become a non-roster player, though the team has not yet extended an invite to big league camp.
"That's water under the bridge," manager Brad Ausmus said last month. "Those kind of things happen in baseball, where there are certain disagreements or certain people don't even get along. Most of the time, media doesn't know about it. Guys just don't get along and they don't talk to each other. So that does happen.
"I don't think that would be the case here. I think Mac and Gose will be fine together."
As for other free agents, payroll remains an issue for the Tigers, even as free agents begin to look at Minor League deals and non-roster invites to camp. Though Jackson's deal with Cleveland isn't guaranteed, it is nonetheless heavy on incentives. According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Jackson will make $1.5 million if he makes the big league roster, and up to $4 million if he reaches all incentives.
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.