Detroit Tigers: 4 players who benefit from expanded rosters
By Jay Markle
Part of the new deal between the MLB and the MLBPA includes a 29-man roster for the first month the MLB season, so let’s take a look at the Tigers who benefit most.
Baseball has metamorphosed; it had no choice. The season couldn’t be expected to continue as scheduled in the midst of a world plunged into chaos by the illness that has touched almost every corner of the globe. Once deciding to keep calm and carry on was no longer an option, it became crystal clear that the MLB had some tough choices to make regarding what shape the 2020 season would take if it is to exist at all.
One of the choices made by the powers that be was to expand MLB all rosters to 29 players to begin the 2020 season, as reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today. The goal is to play as many games as possible, and many are anticipating that, if the season happens at all, the new schedule will include a large number of doubleheaders. An extra three players on roster will go a long way toward ensuring that regulars are not injured or ground down to the nubs as a by-product. Obviously, the implications of a revamped “Spring Training” and the specifics of expansion rules are yet to be determined, but let’s take a look at three Tigers players in line to benefit from the extra spots.
3B Dawel Lugo
To a certain extent, I feel bad for Lugo. The infielder is perhaps the most disliked player on the Detroit roster, simply for his association with the deal that sent JD Martinez to the DBacks. It also doesn’t help that the Tigers simply refuse to give up on his despite substandard performance in two extended big league trials. It looked like Spring Training this year was probably his last chance with the team – he’s out of options and there’s not room on the 26-man roster for both him and Jeimer Candelario. It’s also pretty unlikely that either would make it past waivers.
Luckily for Lugo (and the Tigers brass that is so loath to let him go), the likelihood of an increased number doubleheaders means that players with the ability to play at multiple positions have increased in value by a significant amount. Lugo, who has primarily a third baseman, could also fill in at second base and has a significant amount of professional experience at short. It’s also possible that the Tigers try him in an outfield corner or at first base. Such an effort would be like killing two proverbial birds with one proverbial stone as the Tigers keep their regulars well-rested and try to find a role for Lugo in the organization.
IF Jordy Mercer
Mercer, who came back to the Tigers after playing for the team in 2019, represented a break-glass option if the duo of Lugo and Candelario both looked bad in spring training. He was taking reps at all four infield positions during spring training as well, indicating the team had plans to transition him to a utility role. As with Lugo, Mercer’s value is significantly increased if the season includes a large number of doubleheaders.
Both players in the battle for third base struggled greatly during the limited spring training action, and with each whiff and weak groundout, Mercer’s chances at being rostered increased. With the expanded rosters taking effect, he’s a near-lock to snag one of the three extra spots being provided. He slashed .325/.356/.516 over the last two months of the 2019 season and his defense at both third and second base were nearly flawless this spring. True, it was with an inflated batting average on balls in play, but he also provides veteran leadership and is already familiar with the team. There are a number of players that could be removed from the 40-man roster without much heartburn to make room for Mercer, and it looks more likely now than ever before.
OF Travis Demeritte
The Tigers acquired Demeritte as the second piece in the deal that sent Shane Greene to the Braves. Joey Wentz, the primary return in the deal, underwent Tommy John surgery this spring and will be rehabbing all year, but Demeritte could see a much more fruitful 2020 campaign. He spent two years proving he’s better than Triple-A competition and was immediately placed in the majors following the trade, but things didn’t go as planned. He played 40 games, slashing .225/.286/.343 and striking out in a third of plate appearances.
All but written off by some fans entering spring training, he was outstanding in his time in the Grapefuit League. It was a brief campaign highlighted by a game where he went deep back-to-back with Miguel Cabrera in two consecutive trips to the plate.
The outfield situation in Detroit became as clear as mud over the offseason and a strange and illness-shortened spring didn’t help sort the situation out. Demeritte may wind up getting an extended audition to upend Stewart’s lead on a long-term spot during the expanded roster phase. Thanks to his tremendous track record in Triple-A and Stewart’s continued struggles in the majors, he has a real shot at doing so, which would make him the big winner among Tigers players during this period.
Hector Santiago, LHP
The Tigers are well acquainted with Santiago, a lefty that has spent the majority of his career with as a division rival of Detroit. He was signed to a minor league deal in January after putting up sparkling numbers in winter ball. Transitioned to relief in 2019, Santiago struck out more batters than ever before. Although his overall performance – 6.68 ERA and 5.89 FIP – was less than exciting, he represents a good depth option for the team, especially in light of the fact that the only left-handed option in the ‘pen is the command-challenged and erratic Gregory Soto.
Though Santiago didn’t have the best spring, the expansion of MLB rosters benefits him in a couple of ways. First, pitching will be far more taxed in the upcoming season than in recent years as players will be expected to perform on less rest than usual. (I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but remember those doubleheaders we were talking about? Yeah.) Santiago represents a long relief/spot start option for the Tigers. Secondly, he didn’t get much of a chance in spring training to demonstrate what he’s capable of. There’s probably very little left in the tank, but it wouldn’t be unlike the Tigers to give the veteran as much time as possible to prove his worth.