Depth Charge

Despite yesterday’s lineup, the Tigers are on the verge of experiencing something strange and unusual – organizational depth. With the return of Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen expected in the next several weeks, Trammell will start facing some tough decisions as to who plays.

Of course Trammell has faced tough decisions in the past. There were all those nights in 2003 when he was filling out his lineup card and having to decide who should start – Kevin Witt or Ben Petrick. Or last year when he had to decide who to hand the ball to in the bullpen, Al Levine or Esteban Yan. This year, with the return of the injured Venezuelan’s, Trammell has a cadre of guys who have proven (or are proving) they can play well at the major league level.

Since Ordonez went down, the Tigers outfield of Rondell White, Nook Logan, and Craig Monroe has played admirably. The defense has been quite good, with Tiger outfielders committing only 6 errors. Rondell White and Craig Monroe rank second in zone rating at their respective postions.

Offensively, Nook Logan’s success, while nowhere near what a health Ordonez can produce, has helped to temper the blow of losing Maggs. The problem has been that Marcus Thames hit so poorly, so that when Rondell White had a day off there was such a dramatic dropoff.

With the return of Ordonez, Logan will see a decrease in playing time. However, when White (or Ordonez) will need a rest, Monroe can slide from centerfield to the corner, and there is a solid backup.

Additionally, waiting in Toledo are Curtis Granderson, and to a lesser extent David Espinosa.

The trade for Placido Polanco has greatly bolstered an area of need for the Tigers. The middle infield was supposed to be all set. However, Guillen’s recovery, Infante’s struggles, and the inadequacies of Ramon Martinez and Jason Smith left the Tigers with quite the hole. Now, with Polanco in the fold, Guillen on the verge of returning, and Infante turning it around (I know it’s only a week but it has been encouraging) the Tigers have the makings of a nice rotation in the infield. Add in the fact that both Polanco and Infante could spell Brandon Inge at third (or allow Inge to move to center).

Guillen, Polanco and Inge don’t make Infante expendable. They allow Trammell to rest guys and still field a solid team.

At first base, the rotation of Dmitri Young and Chris Shelton seems to be working. Neither are the defensive stalwarts that Carlos Pena is, but neither have really been detrimental defensively. They are making the plays they are supposed to make. As for Pena, he seems to be putting things together in Toledo hitting 333/444/493

Yeah, still no depth there. Vance Wilson has been very disappointing. His career number suggest he should do better (254/308/384), but he’s basically been a void in the lineup this year. Unfortunately, there isn’t help available in the minors either.

The Rotation
The four main starters have all done a great job, and give the team a chance to win everytime out. Dombrowski did a good job of signing minor league free agents in the offseason to build up Toledo’s rotation. One of those signings, Sean Douglass will make his first Tiger start tomorrow. The Tigers also have Kenny Baugh pitching effectively at AAA and he could be next in line if injury or ineffectiveness befalls any of the starters.

Going a little deeper in the organization Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya are both having phenomenal seasons. While neither is probably ready for the rotation right now, both are getting close. If Verlander can continue what he started in AA, and Zumaya can continue to improve his control, both could be candidates for September call-ups or rotation spots next year.

Meanwhile, just because Wil Ledezma struggled as the 5th starter earlier this year, it doesn’t mean his career is over. He’s still young, and still has the tools to be a good pitcher.

Even with Ugueth Urbina leaving, the bullpen is still strong. Franklyn German is throwing strikes, Fernando Rodney and Chris Spurling are recoverd from last year’s surgeries, Kyle Farnsworth is the pitcher everyone hoped he could be, and Jamie Walker continues to be one of the better lefty relievers in the league.

Another offseason minor league signing, Doug Creek, has only allowed one of 12 inherited runners to score.

Whether or not the Tigers can maintain this depth remains to be seen. Jason Johnson, Rondell White, Placido Polanco, and Kyle Farnsworth are all key contributors this season that are pending free agents. However, with Maggs and Guillen’s return, the emergence of Shelton, and some help waiting in the minors, Trammell should be able to rest his starters and still field a capable team.


  1. Mark

    June 24, 2005 at 11:39 am

    Seeing this team above .500 without Guillen and Magglio has been such a pleasant surprise. I can’t wait to see how this season plays out.

    With that said, I hope to see Infante emerge as one of the better ‘backup’ middle infielders in the league. If Guillen comes back fully healthy and ready, the pair of him and Polanco will be great, but it will be that much better to see Infante cover one of the positions on days of rest for the starters. Lets just hope that shoulder holds up long enough for him to make the throws from SS.

  2. Sam Hoff

    June 24, 2005 at 11:59 am

    My take on the 3 of the 4 free agents, Johnson, White, and Fransworth is that they are all expendable pieces. Let’s remember that White’s nickname is RondDL White and he is not getting any younger. Johnson has yet to put together a full year of good production (1/2 way there now, but I am still not in love with him). Farnsworth has a carreer 4.78 ERA and has 4 horrible years in 6 previous seasons.

    I like Polanco (though, my god he has a big head? I’d like to see a roookie card to see if the melon has grown (aka Barry Bonds?)). He has always been able to hit for average and get on base and is an outstanding 2B man. That being said, I still think Infante is going to be a real good ML player, so Polanco, may to be expendable).


  3. Leelanau Sports Guy

    June 24, 2005 at 12:29 pm

    Good article. I like what the Tigers future is looking like as well. The Polanco trade is looking better every day. A healthy Guillen and Maggs will really help the lineup. The problems Trammell will have in filling out lineup cards will be a good one to have.

  4. Boston Fan in Michigan

    June 24, 2005 at 4:15 pm

    Ugh, no catchers in the wings, huh? Makes the Boston resigning of Varitek look more intelligent, even with the length and heft of the contract… seems like the whole league is pinched for catchers these days. Pudge is awesome, but he won’t last forever. I know Inge can play it, but I don’t like risking his bat by putting him back there. Not a good situation for the future, or if Pudge gets injured.

  5. dan

    June 24, 2005 at 11:23 pm

    As you point out, the catching in the Tigs system is absolutely horrible. Easily the weakest position from A-AAA. Let’s hope Chris Robinson can progress quickly next year.

  6. Chris

    June 25, 2005 at 5:34 pm

    At the moment, Max St. Pierre down in Erie is the best hitting catcher in the system at .283, 9 2b, and 3 hr. The problem, he’s 25 and is in his 5th year at AA Erie and he just hasn’t hit. I doubt he will emerge as anything better offensivly than a Vance Wilson.

    Dusty Ryan and Andrew Graham, the two best young catching prospects before the season, are both hitting under .200 for the season at low-A West Michigan.

  7. Steve Lazeroff

    June 26, 2005 at 8:09 am

    While a good or great catcher is always a bonus if there are other players who can play its not that critical. Since Pudge has arrived so have bunch of free agents, prospects and experience on the roster players. With out a bunch of holes to fill, Dave can be shrewd in how he fills that position when pudge retires.