Back-up plans

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.

Position Starter Backup Backup
C Pudge Wilson Inge
1B Guillen Thames Cabrera
2B Polanco ???
3B Cabrera Inge
SS Renteria Guillen Inge??
LF Jones Thames Sheffield
CF Granderson Jones Inge
RF Ordonez Sheffield Thames

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.

48 thoughts on “Back-up plans”

  1. I wish you were making the roster decisions; unfortunately you aren not. Jim Leyland seems to love Santiago and I really don’t seem him not making the roster.

    When one considers that Raburn also has an option left, you can almost bank on him getting sent down. I think the other thing that hurts Raburn is his glove. Leyland seems to value defense over offense for bench players.

  2. Great post and topic, Bill. I’d agree that Santiago seems to have an inside track due to Leyland’s affection for him.

    The “option” issue has been the deciding factor in the past for players on the bubble.

  3. I think they should keep Raburn up, even if it means letting someone else get away. He’s just so versatile and played well enough last year that he really deserves a shot.

    Also, check out my site as I just posted an interview with Gary Gillette who knows everything about the Tigers.

  4. Santiago will make the team as a back-up to give Renteria a break and used in late innings. Santiago should be able to play 3B and 2B effectively. The odd man out is Raburn unless Inge or Thames is traded. If Inge catches he becomes very valuable as a catcher, 3B and CF when Granderson and Cabrera need a break.

  5. I think Santiago’s defensive ability is very valuable to this team and should not be underrated. Even a quick glance at the Tigers line-up should make it readily apprant that they are not in desperate need of another bat. Santiago should be a no brainer.

  6. If Inge does indeed start catching again, that would be great for roster flexibility the next couple years. If Inge were the back-up catcher, you could take him, Thames, Raburn, and Santiago. That’s about a versatile bench as you could ask for.

  7. If you want to take the best talent with you out of camp, the choice would be Raburn, Thames, Inge, Wilson. Unfortunately all of those guys are righties like you mentioned so that doesn’t help. On the other hand, Raburn and Inge can play pretty much anywhere in the field and Thames can play first so there’s some versatility which is nice. My gut tells me that Santiago makes it ahead of Raburn as the backup 2B/SS/token crappy bat. If Mike Hessman makes the 25 man roster, I will light myself on fire.

  8. Assuming no trades, I’ll agree that Santiago makes the team and Raburn goes to AAA. Raburn’s bat is better than Santiago, but you can be sure that Leyland isn’t going to be looking for offensive threats off the bench. With our current potent line-up, the bench will be all about late innings defensive subs. I’d guess we’ll see quite a few 8th/9th innings with Inge and Santiago on the left side of the infield.

    Tough luck for RR. His play last year was solid and he probably deserves a shot.

  9. This is the first mention I’ve seen of Santiago not making the team. I guess I just assumed he’d make it as the backup shortstop, despite the fact that a Thames/Guillen switch could provide the team with a plan B at shortstop.

    It looks more an more like Raburn is set to be the odd man out, which is unfortunate, because he probably deserves the left field job. Leyland really seemed to have a bias against him and his flexibility, similar to the bias that Placido Polanco’s managers had against him before he emerged as a starter. A versitile players are destined for the bench, regardless of whether they are capable of starting.

    Brandon Inge is not tradeable. It’s going to take a team panicking after an injury, or a hot start, to get him going.

    Let’s also not rule out the possibility of Gary Sheffield starting out on the DL, after having shoulder surgery last fall. It’d be a pretty quick recovery if he were to return for the regular season, let alone returning at full strength.

    While it’s a long shot, I’d also have to imagine Timo Perez as a candidate, especially given how he finished the year.

  10. I recall Raburn playing 2nd with success last year. Or maybe I’m just imagining things.

    Also, can anyone explain the significance of a balanced left/right-handed line-up?

    It seems lefties struggle against lefties more-so than righties struggle against righties. And do lefties really have much of an advantage when it comes to facing right-handed pitchers?

    Right-handed pitchers appear to have more “lights out” pitches for left-handed batters (i.e. Verlander’s curve). I can’t really imagine a dominant pitch with righty vs. righty. Other than a really good slider, perhaps. Maybe it’s just easier to pitch inside. I don’t know.

  11. To those who say “keep Santiago because the lineup won’t lack for offense”: If player A’s fielding + batting is better than player B’s fileding + batting, why keep player B regardless of the distribution of talent?

    I think having the best player is always the way to go.

    Here is the best arguement to keep Santiago:
    Inge will prevent Raburn from getting much playing time. Therefore, the decision to keep Santiago or Raburn will have very little effect on the team one way or the other. Since neither will have much impact they should make the decision that allows them to have the most depth. That decision is to send Raburn down because he doesn’t have to clear waivers.

  12. Well, just to throw this out there in response to Brian – here’s how the lineup shook down in ’07:

    RHB vs. RHP – .276/.335/.436
    LHB vs. RHP – .301/.355/.478

    Judging by those splits, you could make the case that they could use another lefty or two in the lineup.

  13. I really hope Raburn makes the team. If Inge is willing to catch at all, I’d say dump Wilson. You can’t count on the guy being here and ready for Spring Training. I think Santiago’s impact on the team is overrated. I’d be curious to see if Inge could play shortstop. Who knows if he could, but the skill set used at third seems similar to that used at second, plus some range. Who knows, though.

  14. The stats look convincing for our team, Chris. But I’m assuming the the LHB numbers are only from Granderson and Guillen. Possibly Santiago and Perez. And the RHB numbers are probably pulled down from Inge and Monroe, who recently seem to have trouble with anyone on the mound.

    Is there a site to find league statistics with RHB vs. RHP and LHB vs. RHP?

    I apologize if this is a little off-topic and clogging up the comments.

  15. You can find pretty much anything you would want to know from

    Personally, I don’t think it will matter too much if the ’08 Tigers are a little righty dominated. Cabrera, Ordonez, Sheffield etc. pound the crap out of pretty much any type of pitching.

  16. Brian P.,

    I would recommend reading The Book by Tom Tango, Andrew Dolphin, and Mitchell Lichtman.

    It does an incredible job of breaking down Lefty/Righty match-ups.

  17. Here’s some LHB/RHB vs. LHP/RHP info for MLB for 2007 from Baseball

    RHB vs. RHP .261/.320/.407
    LHB vs. RHP .272/.348/.435
    RHB vs. LHP .281/.351/.447
    LHB vs. LHP .251/.323/.385

    Hopefully I got the link right. I think it’s a lock that Santiago will be on the 25 man roster.

    On a side note, I wonder if the Tigers have the desire or foresight to turn one of their half-dozen middle infield prospects into a catcher, since they apparently have none in their farm system. I’m guessing Raburn or any other minor leaguer would much rather be a major league catcher than a minor league infielder. They turned Inge into a catcher, after all.

  18. Is Leyland absatively, posolutely going to go with a 7-man bullpen? With the starting rotation the Tigs have I really wonder if it is necessary. All five starters should be able to deep almost every game – we are talking 5 guys with 200IP potential here. The Twins, for example, go with an 11-man staff almost exclusively, and they seem to get by pretty well even when their starters at the back end aren’t so hot – and they’re certainly not as good as ours. It seems to me that an argument could be made that a 5-man bench would give the team more flexibility than a 7-man bullpen under the circumstances.

  19. I’d be stunned if Leyland didn’t go with a 12 man pitching staff. And a post later this week is going to look at how I think it should be constructed. There are even more issues with options and players out of options in the pen. And if Inge will catch and Wilson isn’t ready it wouldn’t surprise me to see a 13 man staff to start the year.

  20. In the roster alignment you have, I think the ? at the 2nd base backup could be answered by Carlos Guillen if needed. He does have some experience there (albeit not too much) from his time with the M’s in 1998 and 99. That is if both Santiago and Rayburn get sent out.

  21. Raburn deserves to stay, and can play many more positions that Ramon “little stick” Santiago. Inge NEEDS to stay! I am telling you, right now…..Shef will get hurt, and be done. Cabrera moves to DH and presto! Inge is the third baseman throughout his contract.

    Mark it dude….

  22. I’m indifferent on Raburn and Santiago. I think Santiago’s glove is good enough to make up enough or all of the difference between Raburn and his bats.

  23. I know Bazardo is out of options, don’t know the status of Cruceta – both have been touted as being of immediate impact (who else did I miss?). My question is, if they are to be retained simply because they are out of options, doesn’t that indicate a “protection” strategy (similar to rule 5 players); one that seems to go against the “win now” strategy, which after the Renteria, Willis, Cabrera deals is the assumed plan. Anyway, I look forward to billfer’s bullpen post, after which all will be made clear.

  24. Deryl:

    normally I would agree that offense + defense = the player that should make the team. The problem with that thinking in this case is that the bench player will be utilized as a situational player. Therefore, if someone like Santiago excells defensively at a position or multiple positions of need then he becomes more valuable then someone who may be a better “all around” player. Of course, if there were to be an injury and the team needed an everyday player, the thinking would change.

  25. I’m with most people here and I think Raburn is by far the more talented player, but Santiago gives you a solid defensive backup at 2B and SS. I know he doesn’t hit much, but seriously…do we REALLY need any more offense on days when Renteria or Polanco don’t play? I’d rather have someone I can rely on in the field at one of those 2 key positions than yet another bat. I think Raburn should be the first call up if there is an injury, but to me Raburn’s roll will be what Inge’s roll should be on this team. I don’t think you need 2 players playing the same roll. I’m with you Bilfer on all the spots other than this…Inge, Wilson and Thames…given your assumptions.

    My preference would be still to move Inge, then have Raburn on the bench ( and you can keep Santiago on the roster). I have a little conspiracy theory that DD is doing all this talking about Inge becoming a catcher again and keeping him on the team to increase his trade value to other teams. If DD thought a fair deal was out there, he would have dealt Inge by now. So maybe DD is trying to gain some leverage by saying Inge is going to be on the roster out of spring training and that he’s willing to be a utility player may possibly increase his trade value in the eyes of other teams. Just a thought. Anywho, it really doesn’t make sense to have a guy that makes that kind of money to be sitting on the bench when your best team is on the field. I like Inge, but clearly his stock around the league is pretty low right now, which should tell you something.

  26. I guess I’m just having a hard time envisioning the situations where Santiago would be useful. It was one thing when he was essentially subbing for Sean Casey (with Guillen moving to first), but he proves to be a pretty substantial downgrade offensively in this lineup and I don’t think his defense is as stellar as it’s made out to be. Solid yes, but exceptional no.

    What I like about the Thames/Inge/Raburn/Wilson bench, is that on get-away day when Leyland gives half the lineup the day off, putting those 4 in isn’t so bad. Yes, they are all downgrades – hence the reason they are on the bench – but the resulting lineup still isn’t too shabby. Part of that is due to Pudge’s decline, but still.

  27. Sorry that posted twice, I tried the new edit comment feature and apparantely failed miserably. The 2nd one is probably worded a bit more like I wanted it.

    My thing is, if Guillen is going to be the backup, he is going to have have to take reps during BP a few times a week and that could cause some more wear and tear on his knees, which is why he’s at 1B now anyway. I’d be more comfortable with Santiago as the backup SS over Raburn or Inge. But if Renteria stays healthy, he shouldn’t need too much of a break and Guillen wouldn’t need to work there much. So if that is the case, then the need for Santiago is diminshed. I guess I’m kind of seeing your point now.

  28. It really depends on how much Leyland plans on using Guillen as Renteria’s primary backup. I personally don’t think he’ll be using him there a ton. It’s not like he was moved off his best position — he’s downright terrible at SS — so I don’t know why you’d make him the primary backup. It seems to me that Guillen’s at 1B/DH 90% of the year, barring an injury to Renteria.

  29. Barring any major changes with the current bench player candidates (no trades and assuming Wilson can play), the decision on the 25th man really boils down to who is going to back-up Renteria. If they are willing to let Guillen play SS occasionally, then Raburn (2B, LF, RF, CF) would be the logical choice. Otherwise it will be Santiago, since those other guys can’t play SS. The other spots are covered: Thames (LF, RF, 1B), and Inge (3B, CF, C?)

  30. Interesting point, Chris, about DD “talking up” Inge. But in this case, I think they realize, barring injury, there isn’t going to be a trade out there that allows them to unload his contract. If they’re going to pay him anyway, they – and most Tiger fans – prefer to have him around for many of the reasons already mentioned (versatility, defense, injury surance, hometown hero, etc.). While I’m on record as arguing he’s waaaaay overvalued by most Tiger fans as a starting third sacker, he’s an excellent (albeit expensive) utility player, particularly if he does some catching. This also gives him more value, considering his contract (and Y. Molina’s deal), and puts him in line for a job after this season when the Tigers must either re-sign Pudge, promote him, or acquire someone else to start.
    Therefore, I’d bet, as bilfer does, that he stays at this point. In fact, I’d argue that its highly unlikely he is traded, if it hasn’t happened already.

    As for Santiago, I think Leyland likes him (much the way he liked Neifi Perez) and he makes the squad as the backup middle infielder. Leyland views him as dependable defensively and he doesn’t have the same confidence in Raburn (or Inge, who was moved from SS to C when he was drafted because they didn’t like his footwork on the middle infield and I’d seriously doubt he’d be in the middle infield, outside of an emergency). I suspect, however, we’ll likely see many late inning defensive appearances by both Santiago (SS) and Inge (3B/RF/LF), particularly as we have a closer who “allows” the ball to be put into play.

    My call: Thames, Inge, Santiago, Wilson (assuming health) on the bench.

    By far, in my mind, the larger and more pressing question for the bench: who’s the backup catcher if Wilson can’t play? Obviously, Inge is the easy answer, but if he can’t/won’t go back there again or can’t handle it physically/consistently after three years away from it (a very real possibility), then the Tigers are going to have to acquire someone as it’s very unrealistic and unfair to expect more than 120 games from Pudge behind the dish – and even less would probably be better for everyone, so long as we have a viable backup.

  31. Ryan Raburn does have an option remaining…


    A player cannot be optioned without clearing waivers more than three calender years after his Major League debut. It was for this reason that Ramon Santiago had to clear waivers last year. Raburn made his debut in September, 2004, meaning that he would have to clear waivers to be optioned down this year.

  32. You certainly don’t want to give Raburn up on waivers. He could be your starting LF of the future. 26, athletic, versatile, .722.358/.489 career minor league hitter.

  33. Ryan Raburn’s OPS+ last year: 119
    Ramon Santiago’s: 87

    That has to be one heck of a glove to overcome that. And as for the defensive substitution, I don’t see Santiago coming in for Renteria late in games. Renteria’s defense is fine and if the game gets tied up you can’t bring him back in. There has to be a pretty monsterous gap in defensive skill to justify bring a defensive sub.

  34. I don’t think Renteria’s defense is really all that it’s cracked up to be. To me it seems as if he’s living off his reputation more than anything else at this point. To wit – Renteria’s Range Factor was only 4.14 (21st among MLB SS) and his Zone Rating was .800 (18th). Comparatively, Carlos Guillen came in at 4.29 and .807. I realize that these aren’t the be-all and end-all of fielding stats, but you would hope that the guy replacing Carlos would, you know, have better range than him. I for one get the willies every time Guillen tries to make a play in the hole. Renteria will be more of the same, and perhaps a little bit worse considering Miguel Cabrera will be manning the hot corner. That guy gets his uniform washed in concrete before every game. (By the way – Santiago’s RF and ZR were 4.40 and .855 in a limited ’07 sample)

  35. I’ll tell ‘ya one thing……if I have to choose between Timo and Brandon in LF, it sure won’t be Brandon and that goes for RF as well.

  36. Eh. Timo had a nice September but his big league track record is kind of underwhelming. Aside from batting average, Inge and Perez are pretty similar except that Inge plays superior defense and can actually hit the ball out of the ballpark from time to time. In 8 total seasons, Timo has fewer HR (26) than Inge had in 2006 (27). Again, Perez played very well in his September cameo but his chances of making this team are about as good as Michael Richards’ chances of hosting the NAACP Awards.

  37. Since I’m out of the loop and don’t know who Michael Richards is I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt but if Timo is out there in spring training and fielding and hitting like he did at the end of the season, I know who I’d pick. Oh,……now I remember. That Michael Richards, the comedian. Hah! You got me on that one.

  38. I think some people are getting a bit enamored with Raburn and his .304/.340/.507 line last year. I doubt he’ll repeat that, as I think he’s more of an average big leaguer. So when discussing his bat versus Santiago’s glove, the disparity that Santiago’s defense has to make up isn’t as big because Ryan Raburn simply isn’t a 119 OPS+ player, in my opinion.

  39. Mike – I’ll give you that Raburn probably isn’t a 119 OPS+ player, but Santiago’s 2007 was probably more of an outlier with his 87 OPS+. For his career he’s a 63 OPS+ so I don’t think his glove can trump even an average player.

    Plus, I don’t know how good Santiago is defensively. Deryl mentioned that PMR had him a little below average. UZR data from 2003 to the mid point of 2007 has him at -23 runs per 150 games as a shortstop which is actually pretty bad (Carlos Guillen was -8 over the same time period). Sample size is always an issue for Santiago so a grain of salt is in order.

    I don’t disagree that he looks smooth in the field and he’s got a strong arm, but he doesn’t fare well on range.

  40. Well to be honest here, The Tigers will definitely take 2 of those players with ease out of Lakeland.

    1. Brandon Inge, needs to increase his trade value for the trade deadline. Will be the backup catcher if Wilson is back on DL. Also Inge is a super utility guy and could be a valuable asset for the Tigers considering we have many who are old players who might need to visit the DL this season.

    2. Marcus Thames, he will easily be platooning with Jaques Jones when facing lefties. Marcus will also be at least I think so continuing to platoon for Carlos at 1B but less then last year. With Carlos being a switch hitter theres no need for a platoon but with Carlos maybe needing a rest for his knees Marcus is a suitable option at 1B.

    The third is a hard option, Go with speedster Guzman, go with uber utility guy Raburn or do you go with your switch hitting ultra defensemen of Santiago. That will the tough choice.

    My choices:
    1. Vance Wilson
    2. Brandon Inge
    3. Marcus Thames
    4. Romon Santiago

  41. Mike – I’ll give you that Raburn probably isn’t a 119 OPS+ player, but Santiago’s 2007 was probably more of an outlier with his 87 OPS+. For his career he’s a 63 OPS+ so I don’t think his glove can trump even an average player.

    Plus, I don’t know how good Santiago is defensively. Deryl mentioned that PMR had him a little below average. UZR data from 2003 to the mid point of 2007 has him at -23 runs per 150 games as a shortstop which is actually pretty bad (Carlos Guillen was -8 over the same time period). Sample size is always an issue for Santiago so a grain of salt is in order.

    I don’t disagree that he looks smooth in the field and he’s got a strong arm, but he doesn’t fare well on range.

    Good stuff. I hadn’t looked at Santiago’s numbers yet. With the info that Raburn would have to pass through waivers since it’s more then 3 years since his MLB debut, I’d say he has to stay. I’m not advocating for Santiago, just saying that I think a lot of Tigers fans are starting to get a bit disillusioned about what Raburn can do in the majors similar to what Clevlen showed at the end of 06 (Note: Not comparing the two since Raburn has hit at more then one level of pro ball where as Clevlen has had 1 good minor league year in Double-A where I think he was repeating the level).

  42. Guys I could be wrong but I already think

    Dave said that they most likely would be taking (Inge and Wilson of course) Thames and Santiago

    B/c Santiago is out of options and Raburn isn’t

    I forgot where I saw it (it was either in an article or on vid right about the time of the Tiger-fest

    Tough Tough choices they all deserve a spot – chances that one of our players will get injured in ST or April (I don’t want it to happen but it prolly will)

  43. Thread is old and probably nobody will read my comment now, but hey, why not?
    All things being equal, I prefer to keep Santiago in Detroit, Raburn in Toledo. Here’s why.
    Let’s say Santiago is the glove man, Raburn the bat man. We shouldn’t really need any late-inning pinch-hitter (maybe a lefty would be nice, but Raburn is not that) A 9th-inning defensive replacement, however, may be nice. I don’t see anyone else on the team being a viable backup shortstop. Guillen may be emergency-only. We’ll see.
    I think Santiago is faster than Raburn, so he good run for guys like Maggs, Thames, Cabrera, Wilson.
    Santiago is a good bunter, and once a while in a close game, a bunt is exactly what is called for.
    So I conclude that Santiago would be more useful as 25th man than Raburn. Raburn is better off getting playing time and improving in Toledo until the inevitable injury. If anyone besides a catcher is injured, he will be called up. I think that’s pretty certain, especially for Sheffield. Cabrera would become DH, Inge to third, and Raburn sub-utility man.
    However, if we have to pass Raburn through waivers, I say just keep him in Detroit. If he falters, we can probably slide him through.
    Best-case: trade Thames or Inge for a quality reliever, but that’s not going to happen unless DD has incriminating photos of another GM.

Comments are closed.