The Detroit Tigers are about to have to make some serious roster moves. Opening Day is officially less than two weeks away and, as usual, Detroit can only take 25 players north.
Most of the spots are certain. Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, and Torii Hunter comprise the outfield starters. The infield is set in stone with Alex Avila, Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta, and Miguel Cabrera. The DH spot belongs to Victor Martinez. That’s your regular nine Tigers.
Starting will be Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez. The 5th guy will either be Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly.
Bullpen locks include Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit, Al Alburquerque, Phil Coke, and Brayan Villarreral. There is also no reason to think that Bruce Rondon hasn’t shown enough to make the club at this point as he turned in yet another stellar outing against the meat of the Washington Nationals’ order today.
So this leaves four offensive bench slots and one relief hole to fill. Here’s my best guess as to the bench.
Reserve Outfielders – Don Kelly & Jeff Kobernus (although Matt Tuiasosopo is making a late bid)
Reserve Infielder – Ramon Santiago
Backup Catcher – Brayan Pena
What the Tigers should do is immediately find a trading partner for Santiago. Danny Worth is not only better defensively (by a wide margin), but he’s faster in a pinch-running role, and his bat is awfully close to what Santiago can produce, if not already ahead of it. Worth is a better roster add than Santiago, hands down. Ramon has one year left on his deal but a versatile player like him should be attractive for one of many teams looking to shore up their infield depth at this point in the spring.
As for the Kobernus v. Tuiasosopo (we’ll call him ‘Tui’ from here on to help aid in the prevention of carpal tunnel) debate, it is an intriguing one. Kobernus has impressed the Tigers this spring but is hitting just .229 now. Tui has put on a bit of a show lately and is making the Tigers consider keeping him. Both players can play multiple positions with Kobernus adding a lot more speed. Tui has shown tremendous extra-base pop from the right side with three homers and five doubles in just 35 at-bats. He does strike out a lot and is a downgrade defensively from Kobernus.
To be sure, Jim Leyland would love some thump on his bench, ala Marcus Thames of a few years ago. Put him in enough times and he’s bound to ‘run into one’. Remember that? Leyland didn’t have that a season ago and wants it. Tui could be that guy. So will it be lightning or thunder that wins out? Today, I still say Kobernus, but ask me again tomorrow.
Regarding the all important 5th starter spot, I think that Rick Porcello has earned it and that isn’t meant to take anything away from Smyly, a pitcher that I love dearly who has had a strong spring. GM Dave Dombrowski and Leyland have both softened their stance of late on this issue. Early in camp, the clear message was that neither would be sent to Toledo or the bullpen, period. That is no longer the case.
They have both pitched so well that Detroit simply can’t trade Porcello and Smyly could be a huge value piece as the long reliever. So there you have it. Porcello is #5 and Smyly is the long man and first guy up when one of the other starters goes down with an injury.
If Detroit is absolutely adamant about Smyly not being in the bullpen then he will start the year in Toledo, which seems to be a true injustice. If he goes to AAA then Darin Downs is probably the 7th bullpen arm and he’d be a good one at that.
We’re getting closer.
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