Before we start part 4, I'd be remiss in not linking to another Tigers preview underway at the Mickey Tettleton Memorial Overpass.
Even though Beefshower listed me (!) as one of his enemies (Just who is on Beef's enemies list? Big Al, Jason Grilli, Lynn Henning, Sergei Kirov, Leon Trotsky, and Sovnarkom Molotov. I always thought I had something in common with Trotsky. We're both Marxists! I love "Duck Soup" and "A Night at the Opera!"), I have to say it's well worth reading. Such as his describing Gary Sheffield's base running smarts...
It was like having Alex Sanchez again only exactly the opposite.
I've decided to save for last what concerns me the most, the bullpen. So part 4 of my half assed Detroit Tigers preview covers their bench.
As I write this, Jim Leyland as yet to officially name the 25 man roster. Much as the final bullpen spot is still in the the air, which is another reason I'm holding off on the pen, the same can be said for the final position player on the roster. Not that it will make a ton of difference, as the 25th man who makes the team out of spring will only be in Detroit for 3-4 weeks, at most. Once Curtis Grnaderson is healthy, someone is going down.
OF/1B/DH - Marcus Thames: I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again. Give Thames 500-600 AB's, he'll go deep 40-45 times, guaranteed. Though he may not break the Mendoza line with with his BA if he started for an entire season, I'll take 40+ bombs from my corner outfielder anytime. A modern day Dave Kingman/Rob Deer type always has value.
Not that will ever happen with the Tigers, as Thames seems destined to forever be a bench player. (If only he hit left handed, there would have been no need to acquire Jacque Jones) I'm fine with that, as the Tigers would never get enough value in return in any trade involving Thames.
What he does bring off the bench is Ruthian power with a knack for hitting bombs at the most opportune times. I know, I know, there's no such thing as being "clutch." Either you can hit, or you can't, no matter the situation. But Thames does seem to hit more than his fair share of taters when games are still in doubt.
I'll be mighty sad the day Thames is no longer a member of the Detroit Tigers. But as long as he continues to make the deep fences of Comerica appear to be of Little League depth when called upon, Thames will have a role in Detroit.
IF/OF/C - Brandon Inge: Great fielder, iffy hitter, an All-Star bitcher and moaner. We all know Inge's capabilities as a player. If he accepted the role, Inge could be a Tony Phillips for a new millennium, getting 400+ at bats, while playing all over the field.
The bigger issue though, is Inge's quest to be traded. He's a throwback kind of player...If you are talking about the Inge of 2004, who complained bitterly about losing his catching gig when Pudge Rodriguez was signed. Now he's unhappy over occasionally catching. Ironic, you think?
But his value to the Tigers was shown even before the season started by his taking over center field in the absence of Granderson. Inge is the equivalent of 2 bench players, thanks to his versatility. On the field, he won't hurt the Tigers at any defensive position. But off the field, before Leyland did a little bud nipping, and toned him down, Inge was the equivalent of an angry Gary Sheffield in New York, without the talent to hit.
The Inge story will be one of the underlying constants of the Tigers 2008 season, at least up to the trading deadline at the end of July. If he shows he can hit, Inge may be the main bargaining chip in the Tigers obtaining a bullpen set up man for the stretch run. If he doesn't, Inge will remain a super-sub, as the Tigers will otherwise be unable to trade what's become an albatross of a contract.
IF/OF - Ryan Raburn: Is it safe to call Raburn Brandon Inge lite? Inge without the attitude? Inge without the anger? Inge with a better bat? Yeah, I do think it's safe...
Raburn can play every outfield position, along 2nd and 3rd base, all capably. He has done a little catching in spring training as well. If Raburn has to catch in the regular season though, it'll be due to something awful having happened to the Tigers catching corps.
Raburn has also shown he can hit big league pitching. When he came up last summer, Raburn started to hit, and never stopped. He's a lock to make the team in 2008, and should be in the bigs to stay. So what's the problem?
Raburn still has a minor league option remaining. He could be sent down, and the Tigers don't risk losing him on waivers to another team. Which could makes him extremely vulnerable later in the season, if there are bullpen or injury issues.
I hope it doesn't come to that, as Ryan "Inge-lite" Raburn has shown he belongs in Detroit.
IF - Ramon Santiago: For whatever reason, Leyland loves to have a no hit/good field shortstop on his roster. (Such as The Black Hole of Suck) All the Marlboro Man asks of that SS is to hit .230 while fielding flawlessly as a backup middle infielder, and occasionally pinch run. Nothing more, nothing less. Santiago fills the bill to a T.
He's probably the best fielding SS on the roster, but as he swings a wet noodle for a bat, Santiago will never be a major league regular. Well, he was a regular for one season. A dark, horrific, scary time we in Detroit care not to ever mention again...
OF - Clete Thomas: I know next to nothing about Thomas, other than he's a good fielding outfielder who K'ed a ton in the minors. Yet he's caught the eye of the Cigarette Smoking Man this spring, and with the Tigers short an outfielder thanks to Granderson's fractured finger, (And with Inge possibly catching) Thomas could be on the verge of temporarily making the team. He's ticketed for either Toledo or Erie the moment a roster spot is needed.
C - Dane Sardinha: Same as Thomas, I know little about Sardinha. He's a no hit/good field catcher, and not really a true prospect, as his upside (I'm being wildly optimistic here) would be as a major league backup. From all I've heard, Sardinha is big league ready with the glove, but when Santiago is a greater threat at the plate...Well, 'nuff said.
But with the return of Vance Wilson from Tommy John surgery still quite a ways off, and the notion of Inge as a backup catcher still a hot button issue, Sardinha has a chance to make the Tigers' roster.
(Edit 3/30/08: Clete Thomas is the winner of the golden ticket, as he starts the 2008 season as a Detroit Tiger. Dane Sardinha was sent to the Tigers' minor league camp on 3/29)
Overall: The Tigers have as good and deep a bench as any team in MLB. There's a ton of versatility with Inge and Raburn able to play several positions. All Raburn has done since his call up last year is hit, and we all know what Inge can and can't do. Santiago is an excellent fielding SS. If he's needed to play for an extended period, the Tigers have a powerful enough lineup to cover for Santiago's weak bat. Thames a threat to go deep every at bat, while adequate, at best, in the field.
But backup catcher remains an issue. Is Inge willing to don the tools of ignorance? What of Sardinha? Will Wilson be the same quality of backup if he recovers? And there's always Inge's trade demand. As long as the Tigers win, I doubt it's an issue. Otherwise, it could get messy down the line.
But as things stand, if the Tigers believe Inge will be fine as a backup catcher, Thomas makes the team for a few weeks. If not, Sardinha becomes the backup behind Pudge, and someone else goes down (Raburn? A pitcher?) when Granderson is healthy.
If you want to know more about Thomas and Sardinha, and Tigers prospects in general, I suggest you head over to Take 75 North, and read up...