A thank you goes out to one of our readers, who suggested that he would like one of the writers on MCB to tackle the Brandon Inge issue for the 2012 season. Ask and you shall receive sometimes.
There has been some talk about finding a starter for 3B, either through free agency, or through a possible trade. The Tigers last season acquired Wilson Betemit, who hit pretty well after coming over from Kansas City and still could be a possibility. Judging by the playoffs, I am not so sure that Betemit is going to be in the plans for the Tigers in 2012. Betemit, hardly played.
Brandon Inge on the other hand had himself a good playoffs, going 7 for 22 against Texas and New York, slowing down the talk of just dumping Inge after the season. Still, the fuel to the fire that burns for dumping Inge altogether was ignited once again recently. Detroit News writer Tom Gage suggested that with the Tigers financial situation, they could choose to just eat Inge’s contract if they find a suitable replacement.
After giving Inge a two year contract before last season, David Dombrowski now has a difficult decision to make. Inge, a fan favorite is clearly a horse that is limping to the finish line. His utility has always been on the defensive side of things, and even that is beginning to dwindle at this point. His UZR/150, despite being above average still, has dropped drastically from 15.2 in 2006, to just 3.3 in 2011.
Offensively, it isn’t pretty. Despite Inge’s good post-season performance, the Tigers cannot overlook the awful regular season that was in 2011. A .197 batting average and an OPS of .548 isn’t going to cut it. Even if you are Brooks Robinson reincarnated at the hot corner. Considering that 3rd base tends to be a position where teams expect some offense out of, the lack of outstanding defense means the Tigers need to look for improvements.
It has also been suggested that Inge just becomes a platoon 3rd baseman with Don Kelly, and plays against lefties only. A look at his splits suggests that isn’t the most horrible idea ever, Inge hits .265 with an OPS of .800 against left-handed pitchers over his career. The problem with that is his platoon partner is Don Kelly. Given that right-handers usually make up at least 2/3 of the pitchers, that means Don Kelly is going to be playing more often than not. Kelly is fine as a bench guy, but over the long haul, his bat isn’t going to carry the position either. He is just .246 with an OPS of .672 against righties.
While a platoon situation is the lesser of a bad idea at 3B, the Tigers would do better to take advantage of Inge’s “prowess” against left-handed pitchers in another form. That of course is as a back up catcher. Now, I may not be re-inventing the wheel with this idea, but Inge needs to swallow his pride a little and realize that this is where he is needed most. Alex Avila cannot catch as many games next year as he did in 2011, and Victor Martinez is all but useless back there to begin with. The Tigers would need to get just 40-50 games out of Inge as a catcher, and he does have some versatility to play 3B and even LF should the Tigers need him to in a pinch.
I realize that Inge does have bad knees, but this about doing what is best for the Tigers, and it’s time that the Tigers organization makes it clear to Brandon that this what they expect from him. Basically, explain his role is backup catcher and that is it. In the past, the Tigers have acquiesced to his desire to no longer catch. They have showed loyalty to Brandon, signing him quickly last season to a two year deal when they didn’t have to, rewarding him for his long service to the organization.
Brandon Inge as the backup catcher makes the most sense. It allows David Dombrowski to put his focus on getting a full-time 3rd baseman this off-season, while saving Detroit money and time in having to go out and find another catcher to spell Avila.
I know that there is a lot of Brandon Inge fans in Detroit. He is great in the community, and has been here since the rough times of 2003. But if I were the Tigers, and he refused to take the role of backup catcher, I would do as Tom Gage suggested they could, and eat his contract.