Another playoff season for the Detroit Tigers is in the books. And another season tacked on to a nearly 30-year World Series title drought has also been etched in stone. Few teams boast the belly-of-their-prime offensive and pitching firepower that the Tigers do. But as of yet, it hasn’t materialized in the form of a championship. So now, not only does GM Dave Dombrowski have to find Jim Leyland’s replacement, but he also has to fill the roster holes to help this team over the top.
Where does he start? The manager interview list so far looks like Lloyd McClendon, Tim Wallach, and Brad Ausmus, done in that order. Rick Renteria is allegedly next. Both McClendon and Wallach are on the Mariners’ short list as well. Renteria has been rumored to be of interest to multiple teams.
Regardless of who steps into Jim Leyland’s vacancy, the roster is sure to see a larger than expected overhaul.
Let’s look at it categorically in a 3-part article pack. First off:
Can the Tigers lure Omar Infante back
Jhonny Peralta is all but gone as he has been replaced by Jose Iglesias at shortstop. Peralta doesn’t seem opposed to trying his hand as a left fielder, but the Tigers should be. It’s time to move on from Jhonny, despite his postseason surge.
Prince Fielder will be back, despite your desire to see him traded. Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila will also return to their spots on the diamond. Reports are out that fan favorite Brayan Pena will not though. Pena was informed that he will not be back meaning that Bryan Holaday is your new backup catcher. Holaday, a right-handed hitter, has fared well in two brief cameos over the past two seasons and hit .260 with 23 extra-base hits for the Mud Hens in ’13. He won’t be great, but he’ll be a solid backup.
That brings us to Omar Infante and his free agency. Omar is entering his age 32 season and just put up the best offensive year of his career, hitting .318 with 37 extra-base hits. The Tigers would love to have him back while they wait for Hernan Perez or rising star Devon Travis to become 100% ready. One of those two will likely become the future, but that time isn’t now.
The problem is Infante can probably command four years on the open market when the Tigers would likely rather give him two. This recipe in recent years often leads to the Tigers caving in to the certainty of the veteran and eventually trading the prospects out of the system. The model works, not that we all agree with it, but it has been effective.
With Iglesias, the Tigers get a sensational glove at short but a bat that is a few years away from being impactful. Yes, he hit .303 over the full year but just .259 during his regular season time with the Tigers followed by a .231 mark in the playoffs. His bat simply isn’t ready.
If Infante does leave Detroit then the likely byproduct will be a middle of the infield for the Tigers that is both dynamic defensively and oppressive offensively.
My hunch is that Infante returns. Financially, it is doable for now as Peralta’s $6M salary comes off the books as well as the $2.1M that Ramon Santiago stole from the organization in 2013, the final season of his 2-year contract. Infante was only making $4M last year and might see that double with his next contract.
Ideally the Tigers could talk him into two years and $16-18M. On the high side Infante might see four years and $35-40M from a more desperate team. That would be pushing the Tigers’ comfort level, especially with how much they like Perez and Travis, but they have handed out heavy contracts with regularity in recent years.
So with Pena out and Peralta and Santiago likely to be shown the door as well, the infield will probably be Fielder, Infante, Iglesias, Cabrera, and Avila on most days. Holaday will spell Avila at catcher once or twice a week and a utility infielder will have to be located, perhaps from within by the name of Hernan Perez.
The free agent crop of middle infielders is soaked full of the typical names that make you uneasy, such as Brendan Ryan, John McDonald, Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto and the like.
Dombrowski’s top priorities will be to get Fielder’s body and mind in good shape and to re-sign Infante.
Next up, I’ll look at the outfield.
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