It is getting to that time of year. The season is winding down, and, all hubris aside, the Tigers are looking like they will make the playoffs. That means time for some roster decisions.
As should be clear, I am a roster guy. I am not much of a stats guy, although I pay attention when others analyze the stats. The occasional wisecrack aside, I also will not pretend to having the creative writing talent of Hookslide, TomduhB, or Joaquin on Sunshine. We are so fortunate to have them grace the site with their efforts.
In my view there are several decisions to be made about the post-season roster, assuming the Tigers' current six-game lead holds up. These decisions will involve both the bullpen and the bench.
Probably the simpler set of decisions involves position players.
In all likelihood, once the regular season ends, the Tigers will send a starting pitcher to the bullpen and free up a spot for an extra position player. So, instead of thirteen position players, the team will likely carry fourteen in the playoffs.
Unless I have missed something, there are eleven position players who are pretty much guaranteed a spot on the post-season roster:
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Andy Dirks, LF (likely to platoon, as he has done all season)
- Alex Avila, C
- Prince Fielder, 1B
- Omar Infante, 2B
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- Brayan Peña, backup C
- Don Kelly, Don Kelly (UT everything).
One could argue that Kelly is no more than adequate as a backup at any position he plays, but the fact is he has exceeded expectations throughout the season and has probably earned a spot on the playoff roster.
Because he has been on the ML roster all year, and is the most tenured position player on the Tigers' roster, you could probably also pencil in Ramon Santiago as a backup utility player, but I think that is a decision that should not be made by default. He is a solid, three-position infielder, but adds nothing with his bat or his legs. Nevertheless, he probably has an inside track on one of the remaining three roster spots.
So, there are either two or three position spots up for grabs. Besides Santiago, the candidates with a legitimate shot to make the playoff roster probably consist of the following:
- Jhonny Peralta. Putting issues of principle aside, he was a major part of the Tigers' offense before his suspension, and if he can contribute offensively while playing a backup role (backup infielder, platoon left-fielder, and/or pinch hitter), he may have something to offer that no other bench player would. Because he was suspended as of August 31st, he would be playoff eligible even though he was not on the active roster on that date.
- Matt Tuiasosopo. His main pluses are that he has been on the roster all season long, can play multple positions adequately (LF, 3B, and 1B), and has had some success at the plate, although the latter has tailed off in a big way as the season has worn on.
- Nick Castellanos. All reports are that he has the potential to be a very successful hitter in the Majors. He has not shown anything in that regard yet since his call-up, and it is evident that he has not yet mastered the left-field position defensively (even assuming he has the tools to do so), but if his bat were to catch fire in the last two weeks of the season he would at least merit consideration, if only as a bench player who could pinch-hit late in a close game. Unlike the rest of the candidates, Nick was not on the active roster (or in Jhonny's case, suspended) as of August 31st, so ordinarily he would not be eligible for post-season play. However, as Tigerdog explained here, because the Tigers had two players (Dotel and Marte) on the DL who have not returned to health, with league permission he could be added to the roster as a substitute for one of them.
- Hernan Perez. Yet another infielder, Perez was added to the major league roster at the end of August with the apparent plan of having him available for the playoff roster. Good defender, but he has not shown much of anything with the bat; likely his main utility would be as a pinch-runner, but note that he is the ONLY player in the mix who fits that description.
Besides Danny Worth, who unfortunately is just not really in the equation (and who is now out for the duration with a separated shoulder), and Bryan Holaday, who would only be added if Avila or Peña were injured, that is pretty much it for position players. If I have counted correctly, that means that five players, Santiago, Peralta, Tuiasosopo, Castellanos, and Perez, are in competition for three slots.
Besides Kelly, I would expect the team to carry at least one player who could play an outfield position, and at least one who could play in the infield. That means a player who can do both has an advantage.
If Peralta, who has never played outfield, manages to prove that he would not be a total disaster in the OF, he would be the most likely first choice, due to his combination of offense and defensive versatility. Even if he is only kept on as a backup infielder/PH, his bat probably gives him an edge; in that case, however, the other two choices may look different.
The other player who can play both infield and outfield positions is Tuiasosopo. In his case, the real question is whether his bat has headed south for the season, or whether he can get it going again. If he does not get chances to hit, he is at a disadvantage because he will not make the roster on the strength of his defensive versatility alone.
The alternative to Tuiasosopo would likely be Castellanos. His obvious downside is that there does not appear to be a defensive position he could play without being a liability. (Say what you want about Tuiasosopo, he is not a great defensive player, not even a Don Kelly-quality defensive player, but he is not embarrassingly bad.) On the other hand, if Nick could start to hit the way some scouts seem to think he eventually can, he would be a legitimate choice, even if as only a pinch-hitter.
Perez and Santiago are pretty much comparable in that they are almost exclusively defensive infielders, and with Iglesias and Infante anchoring the infield they serve little purpose as defensive substitutes. Perez, at least, is a speedy baserunner.
There are still a couple of weeks of baseball left to play, and one of the bubble players discussed here could either fall off the table or seize hold of the opportunity to earn a spot on the roster. Also, there is the outside chance that, as erratically as the bullpen has performed this season, the Tigers may elect to carry an extra bullpen arm, at least during the league portion of the playoffs. Assuming that does not happen and nothing major changes between now and the end of September, which of the five lovely candidates would you be most inclined to leave off the roster?