It’s not even March yet. Center field remains vacant for the Texas Rangers, out Josh Hamilton, and the Minnesota Twins, who traded both Denard Span and Ben Revere this winter in the span of a week. The Kansas City Royals are hosting their second annual contest between Johnny Giavotella and Chris Getz for their second base job.
Many other teams around the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues still have everyday lineup spots available. But at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, the Detroit Tigers are pretty well set.
In fact, the Tigers know so well what they’re going to do that manager Jim Leyland announced a tentative Opening Day lineup even before the first spring exhibition game. When the team heads north for their season opener at the Minnesota Twins on April 1, they’ll send out this lineup against a right-handed pitcher barring injuries:RH, Austin Jackson, CF RH, Torii Hunter, RF RH, Miguel Cabrera, 3B LH, Prince Fielder, 1B SH, Victor Martinez, DH LH, Andy Dirks, LF RH, Jhonny Peralta, SS LH, Alex Avila, C RH, Omar Infante, 2B
That’s an offense that has everything you could want. Jackson and Hunter, receiving baserunning instruction from consultant Jeff Cox in camp, provide a tandem spark unlike any Detroit has seen at the top of a batting order this decade. The next three names, Cabrera, Fielder, and Martinez, speak for themselves, giving the Tigers a lineup core rivaled only in Los Angeles by Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Mark Trumbo. The bottom of the order is made up of four solid, everyday players who offer a mix of handedness as well as limited power and the ability to hit for average.
Compare that to their common lineup from last year:RH, Austin Jackson, CF LH, Quintin Berry, LF RH, Miguel Cabrera, 3B LH, Prince Fielder, 1B RH, Delmon Young, DH LH, Brennan Boesch, RF RH, Jhonny Peralta, SS LH, Alex Avila, C SH, Ramon Santiago, 2B
Berry, Young, Boesch, and Santiago are out, and three of them are now competing for spots on a bench which will no doubt see an improvement this season. Hunter, Martinez, Dirks, and Infante have taken their spots, representing an upgrade bigger than the 10,000-pound Tiger statues looking over the field from their perch on the Comerica Park scoreboard.
We’ll see alterations here and there, of course. Brayan Pena will spell Avila when Detroit faces a left-handed starter. Leyland seems unconvinced of Andy Dirks’ ability to play every day. But what the manager laid out last week is a fairly safe blueprint for what the Tigers will look like this year on offense; that’s a comforting thought.