Trading Austin Jackson Would Be Risky For Detroit Tigers, But It Might Work

By Brad Faber
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

With the emergence of J.D. Martinez, many Detroit Tigers fans have been wondering how the team’s outfield will shake out once Andy Dirks returns, which should be in a matter of weeks now. Although the general consensus among fans is that utility man Don Kelly will be the odd-man out, another possibility that has been floated is trading Austin Jackson. Although it would be very, very risky, there is a possibility that it might work.

Jackson is most likely the only Tiger outfielder who could be seen as trade bait. Moving Torii Hunter seems unlikely even though he will be a free agent after this season, and the Tigers need Rajai Davis‘ speed. They also need Dirks’ left-handed bat, even though it is a bat that only hit .256 with a .686 OPS last season. Therefore, if the Tigers are looking to ship out an outfielder, the most likely candidate would have to be Jackson.

Furthermore, it has also been argued that Jackson would probably net the most in return — perhaps even a much-needed bullpen arm.

Since coming to the Tigers in a three-way trade in December of 2009, Jackson has been a streaky, inconsistent hitter. He had a great rookie season in 2010, batting .293 with a still career-high 181 base hits. He was then hit with the proverbial sophomore slump in 2011, but he bounced back and hit .300 with 16 home runs and an .856 OPS in 2012. Then he had another down year in 2013.

This spring, many were predicting he was going to have a breakout season. But nearly three months into the 2014 campaign, his numbers are the worst they have been since 2011, slashing just .249/.315/.367 with three home runs through 68 games. Jackson will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, and if the Tigers are not planning on re-signing him, perhaps it is time to start thinking about trading him.

After all, prospect Daniel Fields may be recovering from a broken hand at the moment, but some have him pegged to be the center fielder of the future. Furthermore, the Tigers also drafted 18-year-old center fielder Derek Hill earlier this month, who should have a very bright future with the organization. Both of these guys raise questions about Jackson’s future in the Motor City.

That said, the biggest danger of trading Jackson at the moment is the question of whether or not the Tigers have anyone who is currently capable of patrolling center field in spacious Comerica Park. Hunter was once a great center fielder during his days with the Minnesota Twins, but it would be illogical for the Tigers to put him back there considering his age and the struggles he has had in right field this season.

Therefore, it would likely fall upon Davis, who has had his own defensive problems in left field this season, and maybe Dirks. Davis has only played three games in center in 2014, but he has played in 446 games out there in his career. Although Dirks has played center field sparingly in his three-year MLB career, he logged 92 games in center during his minor league days. There is also the question, though, of how much Dirks will be hindered by his recent back surgery. So would the Tigers be comfortable with this duo? Only time will tell, but it does seem awfully risky.

There is also the possibility that the Tigers could go with Kelly in center if they keep him around and trade Jackson, but he is hardly anyone’s idea of an everyday player.

Some have also raised concern about the risk of Jackson going on to put up stellar numbers elsewhere, which is a real possibility given the fact that he is only 27 years of age with his prime years right in front of him. However, the Tigers have a win-now mentality. If they believe a combination of Dirks, Davis and maybe Kelly can handle center, they could probably live with Jackson becoming a star down the road if they could get a piece or two in return for him that could help the team win their first World Series in three decades. It should be interesting to see how this situation plays out in the coming weeks.

Brad Faber is a Detroit Tigers writer for Follow him on Twitter @Brad_Faber, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network on LinkedIn or Google

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