The Detroit Tigers will begin Spring Training next month with five players who could legitimately make the 25-man roster as reserve players who have experience playing the infield at the major league level. Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago are the incumbents, but Jeff Kobernus, a Rule 5 draftee, and perhaps even Kevin Russo and Matt Tuiasosopo could push for inclusion on the final roster.
Dixon Machado and Hernan Perez will also be in major league camp as members of the 40-man roster, but neither figure to be placed higher than Double-A when the season begins. Don Kelly, Argenis Diaz, and Eugenio Suarez have also received the invitation to major league camp as minor-league players, but, of those three, only Don Kelly has a breath of a prayer to make the squad — though the fact that he was cut from the 40-man roster just two months ago doesn’t bode well for him.
So five options exist when probably a maximum of two spots remain. If we figure that Jim Leyland will construct his roster with thirteen position players and twelve pitchers just as he always does, we’re left with four bench spots. Brayan Pena will take one of those as the backup catcher — that much is certain — and Quintin Berry is probably the leader in the clubhouse for a bench spot. As much as I love to hate Berry, his speed would be an asset in the late innings, he can defend the corners well enough, and could play center field in a pinch.
The Tigers could very well elect to use one of the two spots on Jeff Kobernus, a Rule 5 draftee who the Tigers sought out via trade. It wouldn’t be a big deal in the end if they weren’t able to place him on the 25-man roster and had to offer him back to the Washington Nationals, but they wouldn’t have tried to get him in the first place if there wasn’t a significant chance he would make the team — a team whose construction hasn’t changed since the Rule 5 draft took place.
Tuiasosopo or Russo could make the team — both have experience playing second base and third base in their professional careers — but their primary responsibility would be serve as right-handed bats and play left field. Neither are terribly likely to make the team at this point, but if they did they could serve as some manner of depth at second base as well. Neither one would appear capable of handling shortstop at all, so you’d still need one of Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth to make the final roster.
And that’s really what it comes down to. One of Worth or Santiago have to make the team, but probably only one can make the team. Of course, it’s entirely possible that either (1) Kobernus doesn’t make the team and is either sent back to Washington, or traded for and kept in the minor leagues, or (2) the Tigers decide that neither Russo nor Tuiasosopo would make good options in as platoon bats in the outfield. If none of those three pan out, then Worth and Santiago both make the roster heading into opening day, if the Tigers decide to add one of those three players to the roster, then either Worth or Santiago will end up cut or traded.
There is the additional possibility of, say, Russo making the team as the only reserve outfielder — clearing a space for both Worth and Santiago — but I would have to think that having Berry on the bench to pinch run would bring more value than having a backup, backup shortstop.
Even leaving out Russo and Tuiasosopo — I’ve probably muddled up this whole post by including them in the discussion — the Tigers have three infielders on the 40-man that won’t be starters and can’t be freely optioned to the minor leagues (Worth, Santiago, and Kobernus); the chances that all three make the squad are zero. Neither Worth nor Santiago would carry much trade value, but either could be dealt for some manner of low-tier minor league player (but in Santiago’s case, you might be eating salary).