Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers didn’t leave the winter meetings with anything more crossed off their offensive wish list. They’re still reportedly shopping for a short-term defensive upgrade at shortstop and a right-handed hitting platoon outfielder. They’ve expressed comfort with in-house candidates at both spots – that’d be Jhonny Peralta at shortstop and perhaps Andy Dirks full-time in left field – but remain intent on gauging the market. That, however, raises the question: who is the odd man out?
Assuming we know that the “regular” nine are Alex Avila, Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Cabrera, Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, and Victor Martinez, and that Jim Leyland will stick with the traditional 13-batter roster, then we’re left with four bench spots. Bryan Holaday appears set as the backup catcher with Victor Martinez pegged to serve as a pure DH, so it’s really only three spots that are open. In the mix already are Danny Worth, Ramon Santiago, Quintin Berry, and Brennan Boesch, and that’s before we consider the possibility that a right handed hitting outfielder enters the mix. (Peralta will likely be traded if the Tigers acquire a shortstop – at least, that’s the general opinion and Peralta has apparently drawn interest from other teams this offseason – so he’s not really part of the logjam.)
The question will be whether they decide to keep two utility infielders and one extra outfielder, or one infielder and two outfielders.
Detroit broke camp last year with Worth, Santiago, and Don Kelly on the bench (actually Clete Thomas too(!), but he was designated for assignment rather quickly when Drew Smyly was needed to serve as the fifth starter) – that’s two infielders and one outfielder – but the roster appeared to have more flexibility in it with Ryan Raburn’s “ability” to play both infield and outfield (save the jokes, he’s gone now).
I think it all boils down to whether or not they find Dirks a platoon partner in left field. I don’t really see the sense in holding two replacement level left-handed hitting outfielders on the bench, so I anticipate either Boesch or Berry opening the season in Toledo with the other possibly getting a shot with the big club. The Tigers are apparently committing arbitration-level money to Boesch (not huge dollars, but more than the minimum), so he might appear to have the slight edge (even though it was Berry who won the spot in October). Then again, Berry probably has the most leverage-able asset of any of the potential bench players with his plus speed. Both Berry and Boesch should have options remaining, so either could be stashed away in the minors rather easily.
On the other hand, second base and shortstop are pretty much locked down by Infante and Peralta (or unknown shortstop) so there’s little use for having two glove-only middle infielders on the bench. Peralta may require a late-inning defensive replacement due to his ever dwindling range, so an emergency guy on the bench could be useful, but it’s definitely not a requirement and having one (or not) isn’t going to make or break a season. Both Worth and Santiago appear to be out of options, so neither would be quite so easily retained in the minor leagues.
The answer is going to come down to useful bench skills.
Danny Worth has the best glove of the bunch. Since neither he nor Santiago would be used to pinch hit for any other infielder, defense should be the primary consideration here. If I were performing a bench player draft (given these options), Worth might be my first choice.
Brennan Boesch really doesn’t have any bench skills. He’s a terrible defender, not a speedy baserunner, and lacks on-base ability. He might be useful to some teams as a power bat off the bench, but which player in this Tigers’ starting lineup would you pinch hit him for? Maybe Omar Infante versus a right handed pitcher? Maybe. I think Boesch heads to Toledo.
The right handed hitting outfielder would be a leverage-able asset – assuming he could mash lefties (that’s why he’d be there) – and would almost surely spell doom for Boesch. No use in having Boesch if Dirks is also on the bench part-time. The Tigers are apparently considering “internal options” for this spot even if a free agent isn’t signed. That could mean Avisail Garcia or even Nick Castellanos – though the organization would rather they get full-time at bats in the minors than part time at bats in the majors – or it could mean someone like Ben Guez who, despite not really being a prospect, has hit well in the upper levels of the minor leagues. The aforementioned right handed hitting outfielder will certainly make the 25-man roster, if he materializes.
Quintin Berry’s speed probably puts him on the team. If you’re going to only have replacement-level guys on your bench, you might as well pick guys with at least one plus skill. That’s Worth and his glove and Berry with his speed. Berry had a hard time getting on base down the stretch last year, but when he’s there, he scored as much (or probably more) than anyone on the team. He would be a useful pinch runner on a team that’s otherwise quite slow.
Ramon Santiago could be a DFA candidate unless a right handed outfielder never appears in the clubhouse. Santiago is a switch hitter and has a better track record with the bat than Worth does but, again, pinch hitting will be rarely necessary with the names that will be in the starting lineup. And he’s not really a good hitter either.