Tigers Roster Slowly Coming Into Focus

Over the course of the last five weeks, speculation has been rampant regarding the final composition of the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day roster. With just four days left in Lakeland, the team has cut down to 32 players in camp, but now just 28 have a realistic chance of making the trip north.

Over the weekend, manager Jim Leyland basically put to bed any thought that reliever Joel Zumaya was in danger of being demoted. The Tigers have wanted to see Zumaya throw on back-to-back days, but a rain-shortened game yesterday in Tampa halted that possibility. Zumaya will be there when the Tigers open in Kansas City, as well he should if the Tigers hope to make noise in what figures to be a competitive battle for the division crown.

The decision to keep Zumaya means it’s even less likely that Robbie Weinhardt would make the team. At this point, nothing short of an injury to a reliever can save his trip to Toledo. But Weinhardt has been impressive, and he’ll be first in line for a call-up when the need arises.

Regarding the battle for the final bench spot on the 13 man positional roster, Leyland gave a hint to those who are handicapping the race between utility man Don Kelly, outfielder Clete Thomas, and corner infielder Jeff Larish. “If Larish could play centerfield, his chances would be better.”

What that tells us is that this 3-for-1 race is actually a 2-for-1, which shouldn’t be a surprise. In addition to the flexibility restrictions the Tigers would face by carrying Larish, he also faces a numbers crunch; Larish is a non-roster player, so the Tigers would have to remove another player to keep Larish with the big club.

With Thomas and Kelly, the situation is a bit different. Thomas has a minor league option remaining, and it now looks like the Tigers might use that to keep both guys under team control. If they decide Thomas is to be the 25th man, Kelly would have to clear waivers to be sent down.

The Tigers waived Kelly last June successfully and Kelly stayed with the team, but it’s unlikely he would clear this time. Kelly has shown in camp that he can be a valuable player for any club needing depth at any number of defensive positions. If the Tigers decide to go with Thomas, expect a trade of Kelly to happen before camp breaks, why let him go for nothing if you can get something, anything, for him in return?

There are still a few choices to be made on the pitching staff, mostly involving left handers. We heard last week that the team is trying to find a trade partner for Nate Robertson, which would indicate that they are leaning toward Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman in the rotation. If Nate can’t be traded, I’m guessing the Tigers would keep him and put him in the bullpen.

I’ll explore the ramifications of such a move in a post later today.

Tags: Clete Thomas Don Kelly Jeff Larish Joel Zumaya Nate Robertson Robbie Weinhardt

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