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 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.