Detroit Tigers: Four Potential Under-the-Radar Bench Additions
By Ben Rosener
With the Detroit Tigers’ roster in a transition stage before spring training starts, there is some uncertainty as to which players will fill out the team’s bench.
Andrew Romine and/or Dixon Machado seem locks, as does one of the Anthony Gose/Cameron Maybin/Tyler Collins trio. Reserve catcher Bryan Holaday will also make the team.
While all of those players will play some kind of a role for the Detroit Tigers in 2016, teams can always use depth. Especially when that depth can be called upon to pinch-hit and deliver in a close, meaningful game.
Here are four recently-available players who could help the Tigers in 2016.
Utility players can add a lot of value to a team, just ask Detroit’s brass. Andrew Romine’s 2015 WAR of 1.6 was higher than that of both Jose Iglesias and James McCann. Detroit has seen players like Don Kelly and Romine fill in at a number of positions, so why not add another?
Jul 20, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third basemen Sean Rodriguez (3) makes a throw to first for an out against the Kansas City Royals during the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Flexibility is becoming key in the modern game, and Sean Rodriguez brings a great deal of it to the ballpark. The utility player made multiple appearances at six different positions for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015, including everywhere in the infield. Rodriguez also played both corner outfield spots while posting a -0.1 dWAR. While that number won’t win him a Gold Glove any time soon, the fact that he can fill in at a number of positions gives him tremendous value.
What’s more, Rodriguez isn’t like the light-hitting Romine and Kelly. The former Pirate has a career 49 home runs and averages 10 per 162 games. Romine and Kelly have 27 home runs, combined. Rodriguez also averages 20 doubles per season, Romine and Kelly average eight apiece for every 162 games.
In addition to brining some pop, Rodriguez can contribute on the bases. While his numbers haven’t shown it in recent years, the free agent has stolen double-digit bases twice in his career.
With Machado knocking on the door, Detroit could opt to move on from Romine and pair the team’s latest prospect with Rodriguez on the bench.
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In terms of metrics, Wilin Rosario is not an amazing defensive catcher, or fielder in general. In fact, the catcher has led the league in past balls three different times. Where he does bring value to a team is with his bat.
Rosario burst onto the scene in 2012 when he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in the National League. During that season, the catcher hit 28 home runs, drove in 71 runs, hit .270 and posted an .843 OPS for the Colorado Rockies.
However, his defensive deficiencies have led him out the door in Colorado. The Rockies recently designated Rosario for assignment after a failed stint at first base.
Regardless of defense, the now-former Rockies’ player belongs in the American League. With the Tigers he could log at bats as the designated hitter while also logging some time at first base. While Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera will continue to see the lion’s share of plate appearances at designated hitter and first base respectively, Rosario would provide the team with a capable substitute who could do some significant damage in limited playing time. The player has a career .286 batting average as a pinch hitter. His power (62 home runs from 2012 to 2014) would give Detroit a pinch-hitting option that the team has lacked in recent years.
Like with Rodriguez, there is value in a player who can field multiple positions while bringing offensive upside.
Rutledge brings that value.
While he can’t play the same number of positions that the former Pirate can, Rutledge can play second base, third base and shortstop.
In addition to the defensive flexibility, he can also stuff the stat sheet. Per an 162 game season, the former Red Sox player averages 23 doubles, seven triples, 11 home runs, 53 RBI and 12 stolen bases. In a somewhat similar vein as Rosario, Rutledge would give the team an additional slugging bat off the bench.
The Detroit Tigers may be set with Ian Kinsler, Dixon Machado, Jose Iglesias and Andrew Romine up the middle, depth can never hurt. Rutledge can make an impact in limited playing time.
Sep 11, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Justin Ruggiano hits a grand slam home run in the ninth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Rounding out the list is Justin Ruggiano, a left-handed pitching masher and prototypical platoon outfielder.
The 33-year-old is a career .272 hitter against lefties. His .856 OPS against southpaws is solid, and the outfielder has shown he can do damage in limited at bats. His batting average as a pinch-hitter is a dependable .261, but what’s more impressive are his stats in the 2012 season.
Ruggiano hit .330 against lefties (and a healthy .305 against right-handed pitching) en route to mashing 13 home runs and driving in 36 runs in only 91 games. During that span he also swiped 14 bases while posting a .909 OPS.
Going on that season alone, it clear to see that the outfielder can get it done without being in the lineup everyday. He continued to prove this point in a 21-game stint with the Dodgers in late 2015. Ruggiano hit .291 with four home runs, 12 RBI, 12 runs scored, four doubles and two stolen bases in only 60 plate appearances for Los Angeles.
Next: Four Potential Under-the-Radar Pitching Additions
After a dreadful 2015 campaign, the Detroit Tigers need all the help the team can get. The team’s bench looks like an area where upgrades could pay dividends in 2016. Should any one of these players join the team in a low-risk, somewhat-high reward deal, it will be a win for the Tigers.