As Matt Snyder noted here last week, the Detroit Tigers don’t have much this year in the way of headline-grabbing positional battles. With the additions of Torii Hunter, Omar Infante, and a healthy Victor Martinez, the only questions about their everyday lineup regard the ordering of its bottom half. Their bench is another story.
There, only Brayan Pena, signed to replace Gerald Laird as backup catcher, seems assured of a job. Beyond him, the Tigers have 16 players—all the non-catcher position players invited to major league spring training—vying for three spots. A few, like Matt Tuiasosopo and Dixon Machado, probably aren’t viewed as competitors. But even with those more obscure names dropped, the pool of suitors is large and motley, if uninspiring.
Two names on the list stand out, but only for their having guaranteed contracts. Besides $4.4 million, Detroit is guaranteeing nothing to Brennan Boesch and Ramon Santiago going into camp. Ghastly play from Boesch last season earned him a prime living room seat for the playoffs and facilitated the ascent of archaic rookie Quintin Berry. Given Santiago’s decennial tenure on the club and his being a switch-hitter, the Tigers will give him more leeway after an abysmal year. Still, the 33-year-old middle infielder won’t likely provide the defensive range needed with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder on the corners.
Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia are exciting options, but for every part more appealing they are next to Boesch and Santiago, they’re one part less likely to make the team. Both bat right-handed and can play the outfield, qualifying them for Dave Dombrowski’s desired platoon with Andy Dirks. However, the Tigers are currently well-off enough that it doesn’t make sense to throw such unpolished prospects to the major league wolves just yet.
The Tigers have more questionable fourth outfielder candidates still in Don Kelly and Berry. The former has utility on his side, having played seven defensive positions just last season. Kelly also has plenty working against him, namely his left-handedness, his turning 33 in February, his coming off an awful season, and his status as a non-roster invitee. Berry has less positional flexibility, but can offer speed and youth to a team severely lacking both.
Danny Worth and rule-five draft pick Jeff Kobernus will challenge Santiago for the infield utility role. Neither will enliven a roster, but both bat right-handed and play solid defense at a few positions. Kobernus also offers speed and the ability to play in the outfield, making him a legitimate contender to stick if he has a good spring.
This isn’t enthralling stuff, but it’s what the Tigers have given us to look at for their time in Lakeland. Such are the afflictions of following a first-rate team. They have three spots for the taking and no one who fits perfectly on their roster. My guess, barring additions between now and then, is Santiago, Berry, and Kobernus will come north with the club in April.