Monday, January 28, 2008

Brandon Inge, reluctant Tiger

Brandon Inge finally cleared the air with the Tigers, and spoke to the media today, much to the relief of Lynn Henning and David Mayo. An uneasy truce now exists between Inge and the Tigers, as it appears all attempts to get similar value in trade for their former starting 3rd baseman have been exhausted, and Inge has agreed to step into the super-sub, uber-utility man role.

According to the Freep's Jon Paul Morosi, Inge isn't all that happy, but won't make waves.

Inge didn’t hide his frustration at losing his job as Detroit’s starting third baseman – “I’m not happy about it,” he said multiple times – but said he would accept a super-utility role.

“I want to play as much as possible,” Inge said. “I don’t care about the money. I want to play because I care about the game and I love playing. I can’t stand sitting on the bench. I don’t care if it’s third base, first base, catcher, outfield – if anyone needs a day off, I want to get as many at-bats as I can.

Inge is looking at this the wrong way, thinking of this as a demotion. If anything, it makes him more valuable than ever to the Tigers. I'll bet that Jim Leyland treats Inge as the 10th starter, so to speak, and will play him most every day, while giving someone a day off. 400 AB's is not out of the question. The super-sub role worked well with Inge in 2004, and it worked even better with Tony Phillips in the 90's. I don't see why it couldn't work again.

I went back and looked at the positions Phillips played when he was bouncing all over the field, and doing so effectively, from 1990 to 1994. (I'd forgotten just how good Tony Phillips was as a Tiger. His lowest OBP was .364 in 1990, with a high of .443 (!) in 1993)

1991 was the apex of Phillips' maneuverability: OF-56, 3B-46, 2B-36, SS-13, DH-18, getting 564 AB's.

In 2004 Inge was quite Phillips-like: 3B-73, C-39, OF-28 (Including 19 games in CF), getting 408 AB's.

In my mind, that's an EXTREMELY valuable player.

WHAT? Come off the bench? For $6 million a season?
I'm insulted! But if you're gonna make me...

Inge will never be as good at the plate as Phillips, but he's even more versatile in the field thanks to his ability to catch. That ability may also be Inge's ticket back into the starting lineup. With backing off his previous stance, and now willing to don the tools of ignorance, I'm thinking that Inge will be the Tigers starting catcher in 2009.

Obviously, this depends upon Inge not getting traded, and Pudge Rodriguez continuing to decline, and/or pricing himself out of the Tigers plans.

It makes too much sense. Inge is still under contract for 3 more seasons. He's proved capable defensively behind the plate. His career averages of .240, 16 HR's and 66 RBI aren't acceptable for a starting 3rd baseman, but as a catcher? With today's diminished offensive expectations? That's better production than most MLB teams get from their backstops.

You have to believe if Inge remains on the roster, the Tigers are thinking exactly the same thing.

Morosi brings up another interesting topic. If Inge is on the opening day roster, who's the odd man out?

Inge’s role on the club should remain an intriguing storyline throughout spring training. Prior to the acquisition of Cabrera, the Tigers’ bench seemed likely to include Wilson, utility infielder Ramon Santiago and outfielders Marcus Thames and Ryan Raburn. Now that Inge has effectively joined that group, club officials could be faced with a difficult decision for the final roster spot.

We know how much Leyland loves the glove of Santiago, and the power of Thames. I think they're safe. Thus, 1 of 2 things will happen. Inge starts the season as the number 2 catcher, and Vance Wilson goes on the DL, as he may not be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. It's not a long-term solution, but it buys time in order to trade/send down/cut someone.

Barring a trade/injury/act of God or Leyland, the likely move, unfortunately, is Ryan Raburn starting the season in Toledo, as he has an option left. He doesn't deserve it, as Raburn did nothing but hit the ball hard in 2007. But that minor league option is something the other bench candidates don't have.

But we're getting waaay ahead of ourselves, as it will all shake out in spring training. All I can say is this...

With Brandon Inge remaining a Detroit Tiger, with all the flexibility he brings them, they are a better team today than they were yesterday, when Inge was on the trading block.


  1. I was hoping they wouldn't be able to get value for Inge, for purely selfish reasons.

    He's my favorite Tiger, and I didn't want to watch him play for another team, even if they would let him start.

    Just call me a horrible person. :)

  2. Brandon:

    You've got every right to be bitter and frustrated about your treatment from the Tiger's organization. You've obviously given 110+% throughout your career in Detroit and you deserve better. I completely understand your stance that this is far more important than the money involved. You want to contribute in a meaningful way, and you have demonstrated your ability to do so over the past several years.

    Keep your chin up. We anticipate that your contributions to the 2008Tiger's campaign will be far more significant than you might expect.

    Thanks for all you've done to advance Detroit's baseball program. You have a large base of support out here, as I am sure you recognize.

    John Voorhorst -- Ann Arbor

  3. I LOVED Tony Phillips. Outside of the Whitaker-Trammell-Gibson holy trinity, he was my favorite Detroit Tiger. Because he made himself into a good hitter, and could play anywhere he was needed on the field.

    I would be thrilled if Brandon Inge ended up being the same sort of player for the 2008 Tigers.