Entering spring training, every year there are position battles. The Tigers as an organization have relatively very few heading into 2012. We could debate whether or not that should be the case, but the fact of the matter is, players like Brandon Inge, Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn, and Gerald Laird are all destined to have a spot on the team. The only true battles will be waged for the 5th rotation spot, some playing time in the OF (mainly LF), and the last spot in the bullpen.
That isn’t good news for guys living on the fringe, who have no more minor league options left.
The Tigers currently have 4 players on their 40 man roster who don’t have any minor league options left. What does that mean? Well, besides options being almost as complicated as the U.S. tax code, in layman’s terms, it means that if these players don’t make the team, they must pass through waivers on their way to Toledo.
Balester, a big right-handed pitcher acquired in a deal for Ryan Perry, seems to have an inside track on one of the bullpen spots. Five spots are all but assured, and David Dombrowski earlier this off-season already suggested they expect Balester to make the roster. It’s highly unlikely the Tigers trade a former first round pick in Perry for a guy that they will try and slip through waivers later on. Unless Balester implodes to the point of throwing baseballs over the screen, he is going to be on the Tigers roster.
Don Kelly of course has very little worry. Even if he is outplayed by guys on the roster, he is going to be getting some starts at 3B and LF for the Tigers this season. His defensive versatility means that he is going to be on the roster, and probably playing quite a bit more than he should.
Pauley is a more likely candidate of the two to make the roster, having had some success the past couple years with the Seattle Mariners. He will be in a battle however. If we assume that Balester will be in the long man role, the Tigers could be looking for an occasional multi-inning reliever in the 6th and 7th innings. I don’t see the open reliever spot getting many high leverage opportunities, so Pauley and his lack of stuff might not hurt him in that regard. His main competition is likely to come from Luis Marte, one of the 5th starter candidates (Duane Below), or potentially even Brayan Villarreal.
Thomas has been relatively quiet the past couple of seasons. He has been the victim of some injuries and an expanding K rate. He does offer some on base ability, and his defensive prowess in the outfield is probably second on the team to Austin Jackson. This battle is likely to come down to Thomas and Andy Dirks, who performed pretty well as a rookie last season with the Tigers. This is where being out of options actually may help a guy. Dirks, who is a second year player, has options remaining, and if the competition is a dead heat, the Tigers may give the nod to Thomas.
It should be noted that even if one of these guys without options doesn’t make the team, it doesn’t mean the Tigers organization will lose them. There is a reason that they are on the fringe after all. I do think that Balester, Kelly and Pauley would all get claimed if put on waivers, but Thomas I am not so sure. Especially if he has a rough spring.
This could be somewhat of a crossroads for Clete Thomas. I do believe he has some utility on a major league roster for someone, but at the age of 28, time is running out for a guy who has been somewhat of an afterthought the last couple of seasons. A good spring could help him as much as anyone.