The Tigers are fortunate to not have any positions really up in the air when they head to spring training. At least not for the starters. The bench on the other hand has a number of candidates competing for limited spots. Marcus Thames, Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, Freddy Guzman, Mike Hessman, and Ramon Santiago are all gunning for what amounts to 3 bench positions. How will it shake out?
Let’s start with some assumptions. These could be wrong, or you may disagree, but this is where I’m starting from:
- Brandon Inge will break camp with the team
- Vance Wilson will not have to start the season on the DL
- Marcus Thames doesn’t get traded
Those assumptions leave very little wiggle room. With a bench of only 4 players that leaves only one spot up in the air.
The only position where the Tigers don’t have an established player to back-up is second base. I thought about penciling Inge in there, but seeing as he has never played the position and he’ll be busy re-learning to catch, that position provides the least amount of comfort. With that in mind that last spot likely goes to either Ramon Santiago or Ryan Raburn.
The strengths and weaknesses of the bench candidates are below:
- Marcus Thames: Thames has big time power, and other than 2007 has shown an ability to take a walk. He also has a new contract meaning that Thames is still in the team’s plans. The downside is that he plays the positions lowest on the defensive spectrum and he is another right handed bat. Still, Jacque Jones needs a platoon partner in left field and Thames would be the first choice.
- Brandon Inge: Unlikely to be moved and both Inge and the team need him to re-establish his value. He becomes very important if Wilson isn’t available.
- Ramon Santiago: A Jim Leyland favorite for his defense and a switch hitter. Or at least a batter who stands on both sides of the plate. Out of options, but probably not a big risk to be claimed on waivers either.
- Ryan Raburn: Very versatile and has a better bat than you’ll typically see on the bench. But again, like the rest of the team he hits right handed. He has options which could work against him, though it probably shouldn’t.
- Mike Hessman: Excellent defender at the corners, but yet another right handed bat. Leyland seemed to take a liking to him, but he has serious contact issues. Short of an injury to a corner player, I don’t see a way the Tigers could justify putting him on the 25 man roster.
- Freddy Guzman: Guzman is out of options which could work to his advantage. Also to his advantage is that he’s a left handed hitter, and he’s fast. But he also plays outfield where the Tigers have some considerable depth already. He’s out of options though and has an outside shot of coming North, but he seems more like a September call up type of player.
If I’m responsible for the roster, I take Marcus Thames, Brandon Inge, Vance Wilson, and Ryan Raburn given the assumptions above. Raburn would most likely end up thirsting for at-bats as the majority would go to Inge. Still, that bench gives you a pretty solid combination of offensive pop and defensive flexibility. This would require passing Freddy Guzman and Ramon Santiago through waivers though. Santiago has cleared a number of times and I don’t see that being a problem. As for Guzman, I’m not sure. The Rangers could claim him back I suppose, but I don’t see that as being too big of a concern.