Brandon Inge is the longest tenured Detroit Tiger on the roster. Since 2001, he has played his entire career wearing the Old English D.
Beloved by fans, Inge moved to catcher early in his days as a Tiger before being moved to third base. After signing Prince Fielder to play first base and moving Miguel Cabrera to third base, Inge once again finds himself misplaced in the lineup.
Inge loves the city of Detroit and the Tigers organization and does not want to play anywhere else. He said he will only be happy as a consistent starter on the field. Seeing every position locked up with a starter with the exception of second base, Inge asked Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland to give him a chance to win the job there, a position he played in high school.
Both Dombrowski and Leyland jumped at the idea and will give him every opportunity to win the job before the season opener against the Boston Red Sox and would like to see him succeed at yet another position.
However, both men will put the best lineup on the field everyday, with or without Inge. Owner Mike Ilitch supports Inge a lot, but he desperately wants to win a World Series. Ilitch wants to bring a baseball title to the Motor City more than he likes Inge.
Inge has given a lot to the Tigers and their fans, and the club has given him a number of chances to prove himself. Inge’s ability to be an everyday player is questionable and it is time for Dombrowski to cut him loose so both sides can move on.
Inge’s bat is a liability. He was sent to the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens last July where he batted .177 through the season. Upon returning to the major league club, Inge was able to raise his average to .197 but finished the season with 74 strikeouts in 269 at bats. Being the designated hitter this season is out of the question for Inge.
He is an athletic defender and a great teammate to have in the clubhouse, but the contributions he has to offer the team are not as great as some of the other players on the roster.
Danny Worth is one of the players in spring training vying to earn the Tiger’s starting second baseman job. Worth only stepped to the plate 37 times last season. He had a decent average of .270 as he had 10 hits and scored six runs. Worth’s bat would slot him nicely into the ninth spot in Leyland’s batting order.
He also is an athletic defender. Playing in 13 games at third base last season, he had 12 assists, contributed to three double plays and was charged with an error. If given the opportunity to play much more consistently, Worth could produce better numbers in the field as well as at the plate.
Ryan Raburn has played second base in the past and is currently sitting atop Leyland’s depth chart. He is a player the club likes and will find a spot somewhere in the lineup where he fits, whether that is at second or not.
Raburn is most likely better off playing the majority of his time as the DH. Last year, he committed 17 errors in the field, the highest total on the team. While his defensive abilities will probably get him on the field for a good number of games, the team would benefit more if he relieved Delmon Young in left field.
Young does not have great speed but Leyland can still utilize his bat at DH if he switches positions with Raburn. Leyland has said that Raburn’s bat is too important to consistently leave out of the lineup.
After this upcoming season, Victor Martinez is expected to return to the lineup from a torn ACL. In 2010, Martinez signed a four-year, $50 million deal. He had the second highest batting average on the team last season with .330 to go with 12 home runs and 103 RBI.
He is sure to be the everyday DH in Detroit upon his return which could bump Raburn to be the everyday second baseman. If that happens, this season is a good opportunity to improve his defense in the middle of the infield and get him into a good number of games at second.
Santiago is perhaps the best option the Tigers have at second. He has a solid glove as last season he was responsible for only three errors and contributed to 43 double plays. Though he is not a power hitter, Santiago also has a much more consistent bat than Inge. In 101 games last year, one less than Inge played in, he had fourteen more hits and struck out 36 fewer times than Inge. His average of .260 is much better than Inge’s team worst among non pitchers of .197.
The Tigers have so much power in their lineup already that all they need from Santiago is to hit for average. His ability to switch-hit will only help him, especially with Leyland. Throughout his career, Santiago has shown flashes that he can contribute to the team consistently. If he can put together strong play for a number of games in a row early this season, he may be able to start about 120 games at second base, if not more.
Inge stuck with the Tigers through all the ups and downs, the good times and the bad. He had a good run in Detroit, but it may be time for the club to go in a different direction without him.