Detroit fans are about to get a taste of what life is like without their third baseman.
Batting in the third inning of last night’s 14-inning defeat at the hands of the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge was hit by a Scott Feldman pitch and suffered a broken bone in his left hand.
Inge is batting .263 on the year, adding six homers and 40 RBI. The injury will cost him 4-6 weeks of action and puts the Tigers Division hopes in limbo.
Adding a new hole in the Tigers lineup is not something this team can likely survive and still hope to stay close in a three-team race. Detroit was already shopping for help in the starting rotation and the bullpen before this injury and they have an obvious need at shortstop as well. Third base was probably the one position that they could not afford an injury. Now they have one.
The minor league system is largely devoid of talent when it comes to third. Even with Inge’s often mediocre offensive performances, his glove saves countless hits and runs that are every bit as valuable as the hits and runs he produces with his bat.
Let’s discuss how the Tigers will cover for the injury (after the jump).
In the short term, you might expect utilitymen Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn to man the hot corner, with Kelly getting the bulk of the duty thanks to his left handed bat and his slick glove. Of the two, Kelly is by far the more accomplished defender.
Another option, though this seems less likely, is to shift Carlos Guillen back to third base, whee he played in 2008, and recall second baseman Scott Sizemore to fill in for Guillen at second. Sizemore began the year as the regular second sacker for the Tigers, but was sent back to Toledo after 30 lackluster games.
Regardless of what lineups Jim Leyland decides to run out there, the Tigers season is very much at a crossroads without Inge. If Dave Dombrowski had planned on being aggressive in trade talks to improve his flawed club, he’ll need to re-assess his priorities and factor in Inge’s injury. Suddenly the targeted players now must include someone who can fill-in for Inge as well as adding depth to the lineup.
Should the Tigers look for a stopgap solution, Boston’s Mike Lowell comes to mind as a possible replacement. Lowell, currently on the disabled list, is set to begin a rehab assignment this week and could be activated by Monday. Another possible solution is Florida’s Jorge Cantu or Baltimore’s Ty Wigginton. Either player could fill-in at third, and both have experience also playing second and first, with Wigginton also capable of playing the outfield.
To be honest, none of those three names excites me much.
The Tigers have lost six straight games, and while they sit just 2.5 games out of first, they’ll need to right their ship and fast. If they still plan to add rather than subtract at the trade deadline (or hopefully before), Inge’s loss simply must factor into the plans.
ESPN’s Jayson Stark thinks the Tigers have a real shot at landing Cubs starter Ted Lilly, who would come cheaper than Dan Haren or Ben Sheets, but now the need for another bat has to move higher on the list as well.
Any combination of Kelly, Raburn, and Sizemore can fill out the lineup defensively, but the Tigers, already with too many holes in the order, can ill afford to carry another dead spot in the order. Detroit already gets very little punch from their shortstops and virtually no production from their catchers, there simply cannot be similar results at third base. If Detroit could add a solid bat at short, however, they could ride out the next several weeks without Inge in no worse shape than they had been, and in better shape once Inge returns healthy.
I still believe the Tigers are better suited to sell at this trade deadline, but if they disagree, and it appears that they do, Dombrowski will have his work cut out for him in adding enough pieces to not only keep his club afloat while Inge is hurt, but to catch the division leaders once Inge is healthy. If the shopping list included a couple of arms before, it had better now also include a bat that can play short.