What Is The Tigers’ Long Run Plan At Second?


That title has a question mark, because frankly I do not know.

I’m thinking primarily in terms of the 2013 season here, but also through the course of 2012 should the Raburn/Santiago platoon break down due to injuries or poor play. There would seem to be four component questions or possibilities:
i. Go with the guys already on the big league + AAA rosters
ii. Wait for prospects to be ready
iii. Go after a free agent following 2012
iv. Find some way to make a profitable trade

We Tigers fans have been waiting since the season ended (and probably before that, to tell the truth) for Dave Dombrowski to fix the Tigers second base problem. Nothing has been done. For the last few months of the season in 2011 Detroit used a platoon of Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn as a stopgap measure. Nobody particularly liked this situation, so the Tigers spent several months (as did MCB writers) exploring a variety of trade possibilities. Price tags, apparently, were too high. The only decent free agent second basemen were either too old (Jamey Carroll) or coming off 2 down years in the last 3 (Aaron Hill & Kelly Johnson). After re-signing Ramon Santiago to a new 2-year deal at a reserve level salary, they are apparently more than willing to let last year’s stopgap carry over into 2012… and beyond?

Last year’s opening day second baseman, Will Rhymes, is out of the organization. This, of course, is not an oversight by Dombrowski – Rhymes simply lost his confidence and was never going to see another real shot in Detroit. I find that mildly disappointing. As much as I’m uncomfortable with a platoon of below-average second base parts in Detroit, I would have preferred a platoon of Will Rhymes and Danny Worth to one of Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn. Should either Santiago’s bat, Raburn’s glove or the health of either (or Jhonny Peralta) falter – the Tigers do have some similar platoon options involving AAAA guys / marginal major leaguers despite Rhymes’ absence. Worth is still in the organization as a weak side piece. From the left side the Tigers have minor league signees Eric Patterson and Matt Young, two guys who have proven everything a man can prove to a AAA manager but have done nothing to age 28 to impress in the big leagues. From within, Justin Henry should be in Toledo trying desperately to make a case for himself. Henry is a high-OBP second baseman with a solid glove who ruined his progress to the bigs with a bad year in Lakeland a couple of years back but has been otherwise quite good. Any of these guys might turn out to have more to give than they’ve shown yet – or not – but they represent the extent of the Tigers’ “depth” at the position within the organization.

As for option ii. I’ve heard that the Tigers don’t really need a long-term solution due to up-and-coming middle infielders down on the farm. I disagree. In fact I disagree to such an extent that I wrote a whole 1000 word post on the matter a while back. The Tigers do have some decent prospects in the middle infield, but none of them look like good bets to succeed in the majors as early as 2013. For position players in general the Tigers farm system isn’t looking very good and what that means is that we figure to see a lot of AAAA type replacement level filler bubbling up to the 40 over the next couple of years, but any hope of seeing genuinely promising talent to take over any position at all rests on relatively few shoulders.

Option iii is looking a little unfeasible. Before this offseason you might have pictured Howie Kendrick and Brandon Phillips on the market next fall – both of those guys have now been locked up. It’s pretty much inconceivable that the Rangers would decline Ian Kinsler‘s $10 million option and without those big guns, the rest of the class looks worse than this years – and this year’s class was so uninspiring that Dombrowski hardly felt like kicking any tires. What’s worse, this year shortstops were relatively abundant – and if you can’t find a second baseman you like you can always look for a shortstop that would switch positions. The best second baseman on the market next year looks to be Kelly Johnson – this year’s top free agent second baseman and guy I’ve been enthusiastic about – but Dombrowski has clearly not. It’s almost inconceivable that a good year from Johnson would induce the Tigers to pursue him for 2012 when they should no interest at all in signing him to a cheaper contract this offseason. After Johnson you get Orlando Hudson, a guy who could be had for next to nothing from San Diego right now if anybody wanted him. If Dombrowski doesn’t want him now, he won’t want him in a year. Then comes Maicer Izturis, who is probably the best plausible option IF the Tigers need to chase a free agent to fill that void next year. The case has been made here on MCB that the thing to do would be to trade for Izturis now, as he probably isn’t so necessary for the Angels as to come with a high price tag.

Perhaps that’s not the case – or else maybe that trade would already have happened. And it could be that with such a paucity of middle infielders on the market next offseason the Tigers would face stiff competition, and a high price tag, to get Izturis. For my two cents, I’m not all that thrilled with the idea of signing a 32-year-old Izturis (for whom speed and defense is a big part of his game) for 3 years and $20 million or more.

That leaves only option iv., the savior by trade plan. Lets hope Dombrowski hasn’t stopped working on it.