Jim Leyland wasted no time revealing plans to allow Brandon Inge an opportunity to compete for the starting spot at second base, shortly after his arrival in Lakeland, Florida for the beginning of spring training. The Grapefruit League season always produces big headlines, but few could have expected an announcement like this to start off the 2012 campaign.
Leyland's announcement comes as a shock to Tigers fans that have already written off Inge's complaints about not having an opportunity to compete for his old position at third base. It's been clear, since Leyland announced a month ago that Miguel Cabrera would be the starter, that Inge's opportunities to make his way back to the corner were null and void.
That said, it seems almost incomprehensible that a guy who didn't hit his weight last year (.197) and spent several weeks at Triple-A Toledo, would be doing anything other than riding the bench this season. Many probably thought Inge would be quietly moving toward the sunset in his career this fall. Inge only played in 102 games last season, driving in a meager 23 RBI, with three home runs. Hardly the type of stuff that earns a declining player greater opportunity down the road.
Yet, here we are again, with Inge getting another shot to make his way onto the roster, possibly as a starter at second base this time. Inge started as a catcher in the Detroit organization, and was moved to third base when future Hall of Famer Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez arrived. He caught a bit again following Rodriguez's departure, and eventually was shifted back to third base.
Inge hasn't logged a single inning at second base in his major league career. Now he's going to have the opportunity to start there this season. Something seems amiss. How can this be?
Detroit's WXYZ television reported that the former third baseman told the Tigers' general manager and president, Dave Dombrowski, that he wants an opportunity to compete for the starting spot at second. Following Leyland's comments to the media, it now seems apparent the Tigers will oblige his request.
Although Ryan Raburn struggled early last season, he finished strong and still managed to hit nearly 60 points higher than Inge at .256. His lifetime .269 average is 34 points higher than Inge's less than stellar .235. He also hit 11 more home runs and 26 more RBI than Inge in 2011.
Raburn has had his struggles out of the gate the past two seasons, but has caught fire following the Midsummer Classic. Inge hasn't caught fire in over three season, and even then, it was a flicker at best. While Raburn's stats certainly aren't out of the park, they are still far superior than what Inge has produced in recent memory. Raburn's potential alone far outweighs anything Inge might still have left in the tank. Inge hasn't hit above .250 since 2006.
For the sake of one final argument, let's compare the best apples to apples possible. Last season, Ramon Santiago, who is arguably the Tigers' most consistent utility infielder since 2006, hit .260 and played in one less game than Inge. While his plate appearances may not be as high, he's also hit no less than .260 over the past five seasons. Inge cannot even hold a candle to Santiago, much less the other crushers in Detroit's lineup.
All said, we've been here before, and we've seen what happens: Inge shows flashes of defensive brilliance, and long stretches of slumping at the plate. The current cycle seems highly unlikely to break from a well entrenched pattern. However, Inge must know something that the rest of the baseball world doesn't, and somehow he's parlayed that into yet another opportunity. How he does it must be baseball's best kept secret.
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