For almost as long as Brandon Inge has been with the Tigers organization fans have been reminding each other about how he was in Detroit when times were bad and he saw it through for the team. They say things like, "He deserves it" and "He's earned it."
Fact is, the bell rang on Inge's career long ago.
Brandon Inge has served as his own poster child since the 2009 All-Star Break regarding the need for the Tigers to improve at third base. There he watched a breakout first half of the season begin to unfold into a disastrous second half. The next year wasn't any better.
Last season he failed to answer what should have been his final call at third base. And still, he was given another opportunity, another chance to make good on something he has failed so many times before.
He hit an abysmal .197 last year, and has accomplished only slightly better for his career at a meager .235. He hasn't hit as many home runs in the second half of 2009 and all of the past two season as he hit in the first half of his only All-Star season three years ago. Needless to say, he's fallen off the shelf.
For the Inge fans who will cry out in response and say he's such a good defender, I agree—he isn't bad. But he isn't Gold Glover either. This makes his lack of stick even more reprehensible.
In the time since the ink started to dry on the newly sealed deal between the Tigers and Prince Fielder considerable attention has been placed on slugger Miguel Cabrera's move from first to third. Granted, in a Tigers uniform the only position that Cabrera has ever filled in the lineup was at first base.
Can Cabrera play third after being away from that soon forgotten shotgun feel of small white rockets being fired at you from all different angles? A fair question that seems to be on the mind of every good strategist around baseball as well as other American League coaches and team executives.
Third base is not first base. While most third basemen can make the transition from third to first, like Cabrera did when he came to the Tigers, the same doesn't hold true for the transition from first to third.
There's an old baseball saying, if it ain't broke don't fix it. So what do you do when it can't be fixed, when its really broke? You do what Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski did—you replace it.
What you don't do is make excuses, something way too many Tigers fans have done for far too long in defense of Inge's consistently poor play. The rub however is that Inge apparently doesn't see the reality of his lackluster contributions to the club over the past several seasons either.
Inge is upset because reality may have finally kicked him in the pants. Jim Leyland and the Tigers are finally stirring the pot a little. Actually, they stirred it a lot two weeks ago. Hell, they dumped the kettle out and started over. Who knows? This could have been the plan all along, Tigers owner Mike Illitch and team executives played it so close to the vest we may never know.
As a result of Fielder's signing, Inge has indicated his unhappiness with Leyland's auto-pilot decision to move Cabrera to third.The fallout from Inge's positioning for playing time at third base has been contained so far, even though he clearly feels the stinging from reality's slap in the face during Leyland's press conference.
Here's another chance for a reality check—Dombrowski's move to pick up Fielder while the rest of the baseball world was taking an afternoon siesta gave Leyland all kinds of options that didn't include the lingering Inge.
Despite his best efforts during last season's ALCS, the Tigers have dealt with Inge wearing kid gloves and delivering a soft blow approach to his situation beyond an acceptable waiting period.
At some point it becomes put up, or shut up.
Checking in with reality again, its pretty hard not to argue that Inge's worth to the Tigers has been withering on the vine for some time now. Everyone seems to want to take a tip-toe approach to the situation.
The reality is that Cabrera's move to third makes perfect sense for a Tigers team that's looking to fill gaps. When a plant dies, you dig it up and plant something new.
Bottom line, Inge is not a major-league caliber everyday player anymore. Truth is, he may never have been. Could he fulfill a role as a utility infielder? Sure. Is that what he wants? No.
Hence, the crossroads we are at in this argument against conventional wisdom. Statements like the one above are not measurable, they are about feelings, not facts. The need for a better third baseman in Detroit is a fact. Look at the statistics—conventional wisdom shies from those facts because it discredits its value. This is a major reality flaw.
Letting go can be the hardest thing to do. But its time for Inge to shake loose his self-imposed shackles and realize his ability to contribute in any more than a cursory way has long since passed.
Even I have to put a disclaimer in the hat. I'd feel guilty not throwing Inge a life preserver to stay afloat in the rocky seas of spring training this year. He's talking about wanting to start at third. What he needs to think about is how to grab a roster spot period.
He'll be pushed so he better step-up. If he doesn't answer the bell this time the only person he has to answer to is himself. It will be time for that lonely in front of the mirror discussion when the world you know has faded away and its time to begin a new chapter of life.
Inge has contributed, and in this case the importance should fall squarely on the word "has." He no longer does and he hasn't in quite some time.
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