Detroit Tigers News

Expanded Roster Means Little to Jim Leyland

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When Johnny Damon was claimed by the Red Sox in late August he had a decision to make. Instead of waiving his no-trade clause and returning to Boston, Damon chose to stay in Detroit. Part of his reasoning was that he was given an assurance from Jim Leyland that he would no lose playing time down the stretch, even as the Tigers were out of playoff contention.

Leyland has been true to his word with Damon, giving his DH no more than his usual number of scheduled days off. As a matter of fact, Leyland has maintained his status-quo for every position, even as his dugout has become much more crowded.

The Tigers have never done much with expanded rosters, at least since Leyland came aboard, and this year is no different. When the calendar turned to September, teams have the option of using active major league rosters of up to 40 players.

The Tigers made two moves on the first of September, recalling reliever Robbie Weinhardt and purchasing the contract of long-time minor league catcher Max St-Pierre. When the minor league season concluded on Labor Day, the Tigers made just one more addition; INF Scott Sizemore.

In the seven games that have happened since Labor Day, Sizemore has seen action in exactly zero of them. St-Pierre, for all the fanfare surrounding his debut on a big league roster, has played in all of two games, none in the past week. This even as Gerald Laird has been sidelined with a bad back.

Weinhardt has seen his fair share of action, but that shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Prior to being sent down to Toledo on August 20, Weinhardt had seen significant innings out of the Tigers bullpen, that he has continued to do so since coming back to Detroit is expected.

The natural reaction my many, I would guess, is that Leyland is doing his organization a disservice by not using the young kids to “see what they have for next year.” St-Pierre is a great story, but he’s a non-prospect, so stowing him away on the bench is no big deal to me. Alex Avila needs the at bats far more than St-Pierre does and he’s been getting them in spades of late.

Leyland is also using a platoon of Casper Wells and Brennan Boesch in right field, both guys could be in play for a big role on next year’s club and neither one is taking at bats away from a veteran thanks to injuries to Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen. Even Don Kelly has seen increased playing time this month, usually splitting duties with Ryan Raburn, though he has filled in for Miguel Cabrera as well.

The one guy that you could argue has been under-utilized has been Sizemore. The Tigers handed him an everyday job out of Spring Training and he did very little in his first chance. By the time he made his next appearance in a big league game, Will Rhymes had taken over as the second baseman, and Rhymes has remained there, ahead of Sizemore on the depth chart, ever since.

Of the two, Sizemore seems to have the higher ceiling. He’s two years younger than Rhymes, he’s bigger, and he has a better minor league track record as a hitter. Rhymes, however, bats left handed, plays much better defense, and has shown the ability to handle the bats at the big league level. At 27, he’s not old and he could conceivably be a productive major leaguer for several years. The one concern the Tigers would have could be that his small frame may not be able to handle the rigors of full-time duty, an argument they have made to justify keeping Ramon Santiago in a reserve role.

If we assume that the Tigers will pick up the option on shortstop Jhonny Peralta for next year, Santiago will once again serve as a backup at both short and second. He could take part of the load off of Rhymes and serve as a 70-30 platoon mate. This would allow Rhymes to get the lion’s share of the duty at second without wearing down and keep Santiago in the lineup a good deal of the time as well, as he also will get at bats at short.

What this probably means for Sizemore is either another season in Toledo, or perhaps a ticket out of town via an off-season trade. Sizemore is still a highly thought of prospect so there should be no shortage of team that would like to have him. If the Tigers decide that he’s is not their next second baseman, they should move him on and try to get value in return. The Tigers seemingly always have a major trade in the works during the winter meetings and I could easily see Sizemore serving as a part of  such a move.

The bottom line is that in 145 at bats, Rhymes has a .303/.353/.379 line and in 117 at bats, Sizemore has a line of .205/.282/.282. While neither of those ample sizes are more than a quarter-season, Rhymes has obviously done much, much more with his opportunity than Sizemore did with his.

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