Just a couple of days ago, John Verburg opined on these virtual pages that the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies could potentially match-up on a trade. Philadelphia, with a pair of veterans in Chase Utley and Placido Polanco both battling injuries, are said to be seeking an infielder capable of handling both second and third base. Verburg offered up Brandon Inge as a solution to their problems.
I know I’m kind of the resident Inge apologist here, but I just can’t imagine the Phillies, or any other club, being willing to take on even half of Inge’s money, not when there are AAA players all over the place that can provide a reasonable facsimile of his production.
Heck, on their own roster, they have Ty Wigginton, a man tentatively scheduled to see the bulk of the first base duty while Ryan Howard recovers from a torn Achilles. Wigginton has spent his entire career bouncing between second and third base. If they need to use him to spell Utley or Polanco, the Phillies have both Jim Thome and John Mayberry capable of stepping in at first.
The point of this breakdown of Philadelphia’s roster isn’t to audition for That Ball’s Outta Here, but to show that even a big spending club like the Phillies don’t have to spend on a player they A) basically already have and B) can find much cheaper if they wanted to.
Take a look at the Tigers roster. Inge is a utility infielder at this point, but one that is being paid like a starting third baseman. Ramon Santiago is making more now ($2.1 million per year) than he ever has before, and he’s made a career out of being a utility player. Apart from those two, the Tigers have Ryan Raburn, Don Kelly, and Danny Worth who could all man both second and third base, at least in theory. If you’re looking simply for the players most similar to Inge, look no further than Worth, who provides excellent glove work and limited offensive potential. Look a bit deeper into the Tigers system and there are guys like Audy Ciriaco, who have major league ready gloves, but huge questions about their bat. Sound familiar?
If the Tigers have this many players who can provide what Inge gives them, and do so at a much lower price, why would we assume that any other club wouldn’t have the same kinds of assets? There isn’t a club in baseball that would take on even half of Inge’s salary right now. And that doesn’t even take into account Inge’s 10-and-5 rights that he almost assuredly would not waive.
Sure, trading Inge would potentially free up some salary, but probably not more than $2 million of the $6 million he’s owed. In all seriousness, though, are we to believe that Mike Ilitch is worried about that $6 million? I don’t buy that for one second. This is a guy who not only green-lighted the Prince Fielder signing, but who also okay-ed the release of Gary Sheffield and Damion Easley, and the trade of both Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis, both of which might as well have been released given the money Detroit had to eat to move them.
In other words, money ain’t a thing to Mr. I.
That’s not to say that I think anything has been guaranteed to Inge as far as his role on the team is concerned, let alone his roster spot. Do I think he’ll win the second base job? I do, and it’s because I think the manager, and the owner both have a soft spot for veteran players, especially guys like Inge, who have been here longer than any current Tiger.
But I also think he’ll win the job because he’ll play excellent defense on an infield in dire need of that and that he’ll hit just enough to make himself a viable option. Lest we forget, people have been clamoring for Santiago to get the full-time job for years and he has a career OPS of .658. There just might not be a significantly better option than Inge and, make no mistake, for the Tigers not to try to see some return on their $6 million investment, the alternatives would have to be significantly better. It just doesn’t make sense to part ways over a marginal increase in productivity.
Plain and simple, Inge has much more value to the Tigers than he does outside of the organization. Should be be making what he is? Probably not, but that’s what the Tigers agreed to pay him. There are two ways of looking at this: either you view the $6 million as a sunk cost and simply cut bait on him, which is what the Tigers were willing to do last summer, when they owed him an extra $2-3 million at that time, or you give him a role and let him earn his money. Either way, he’s getting paid.
Knowing that, the club would be foolish to turn him loose when they don’t have to. He’s not standing in the way of a significantly better option (as he was when the club acquired Wilson Betemit last summer), not when Raburn’s bat can play in left field or DH; and that’s assuming you think Raburn is significantly better.
Are there other options? Of course, as I outlined above, but none of those players, Santiago, Worth, or Kelly, can give you much more offense than Inge does, and Raburn is poor with the glove at second.
Mr. Ilitch is a loyal man, almost to a fault, and to think that doesn’t also play a role here is silly. As evidenced by the DFA Inge received last year, that loyalty will not save his career if he doesn’t produce, but it will buy him every opportunity to earn his paycheck in 2012.
There is a place for speculation and I have no issues with those who dream of possibilities when thinking of their favorite club. I prefer to deal only in things that have a reasonable chance of coming to fruition. There are only tow possibilities for Inge and his future in baseball: he’ll play in Detroit, or he’ll be released. He will not be traded.