The Detroit Tigers had a second base problem. That was clear to see. The team's second basemen -- mainly Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn and Danny Worth -- combined for the worst hitting in the league. It wasn't just Raburn, either. It was a package deal. They didn't exactly play stellar defense, either. In June, it looked as if the Tigers might be able to limp through with the position. In July, the trio had mostly reverted to failure.
The Tigers knew they had to upgrade. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said as much in his teleconference Monday night. The problem lay in finding the right one.
"There's not a lot of second basemen available, especially not ones who are good players," Dombrowski said. "There's not a lot of depth at the position, so we really worked hard to try to find one. We definitely tried to address second base."
A familiar face became available on Sunday after the Miami Marlins were swept and fell 11.5 games out of first place in that National League East. That face, of course, belongs to Omar Infante, who came up through the Tigers organization and made his debut in the Tigers' uniform. Try to forget your initial impressions of him. To say the least, he struggled, both in 2003 when he was the team's starting second basemen, and later when he had more time in the minors to prepare. Eventually he was traded to the Cubs for Jacques Jones. Chicago spun him to Atlanta soon after, and there he earned a nod as a member of the NL All-Star team in 2010.
This season, the 30-year-old right-hander is hitting .287 with .312 on-base percentage and .442 slugging average. The average is a bit above his career norms of .276 average, and his isolated power is fully 50 points higher than his career numbers. Looking at his splits, against left-handers he's batting .309 with .852 OPS this year. Traditionally he has had even splits. Tigers manager Jim Leyland has already announced he will bat second against left-handed starters. That seems like a good move to me.
Infante's bat isn't the only big upgrade for Detroit. His glove is solid as well. Infante's Defensive Runs Saved since 2010 of +12 ranks him seventh among major league second basemen. He has been consistently above average in the stat and stands at +5 right now. To compare: Raburn, -3; Santiago, -1; Worth, -4. So Infante will likely be the Tigers' best infielder.
So what happens with the rest of the roster? One imagines that Santiago reverts to a full-time utility infielder role. Danny Worth will probably again draw the short end of the stick, receiving a trip back to Triple-A Toledo. Ryan Raburn will probably be the Tigers' second right-handed bat in the outfield, where his glove is better suited. When Andy Dirks returns, possibly some time in early August if reports are to be believed, Raburn might not have a spot on the roster any more. (There's no guarantees that the light-hitting Don Kelly will keep a roster spot either, though. So that's a story to follow.) How the Tigers handle the moves will tell us more about what they're thinking and what they value.
Infante is owed the rest of his $4 million deal this year and is under contract for 2013. Dombrowski was asked during the teleconference if he might try to extend the deal even further, but he indicated it was too early for that now.
In any case, I argued less than a week ago that the addition of Infante would be a great one for the Tigers. I think this will really help shore up the infield and the lineup for the rest of the season.