Within the next few days, the Tigers will be making their initial roster moves, optioning a number of players to the minor leagues in preparation for the 2014 season. Opening day is March 31, and the team must cut the list of players down from 40, plus the 16 non roster invitees (NRI) down to the 25 man major league roster.
In 2013, the Tigers made their first roster cuts on March 11, when they optioned Ramon Cabrera and Dixon Machado to double A Erie, and Melvin Mercedes to High A Lakeland. The club then optioned Casey Crosby to Toledo on March 15, and four more players were optioned on March 19.
By opening day, 15 players will have to be optioned or released from the 40 man roster, or placed on the disabled list. The final cuts are generally made just a couple of days prior to opening day, when the team breaks camp.
New manager Brad Ausmus may have about the same timetable as Jim Leyland, or he may work a bit differently, but if the calendar is in sync, the first cuts would be made on or about Monday, March 10, with more cuts to come within a week or so after that.
Among those expected to be optioned sooner, rather than later, are new roster members Steven Moya, Eugenio Suarez, Jordan Lennerton, and pitchers Jose Valdez and Melvin Mercedes. As the number of pitchers is reduced, so too will the number of catchers. Ramon Cabrera is likely to be sent down in the first round of cuts.
NRI's are in Lakeland with a shot to make the team, but decisions on those players also tend to come fairly quickly. As the projected starters and those likely to be on the 25 man roster get themselves into game shape, they use more and more of the plate appearances.
The team is not restricted from calling some of the players back, even after they've been optioned. So, we could see them again in a game before the Grapefruit league season is over. Players who wind up at triple A Toledo are usually among the last to be optioned.
There are potentially a few roster spots that could open up as roster moves are made. For example, Evan Reed is out of options, so if he doesn't make the team out of spring training, the club would have to either trade him, or designate him for assignment and putting him through waivers before releasing him or outrighting his contract to the minors. Chances of Reed clearing waivers would not be very high, but you never know.
March 15, or 16 days prior to opening day, is the date by which the club must release a player with a non guaranteed contract and pay him one sixth of his salary. Such a player can be let go prior to opening day for one quarter of his salary. Phil Coke would seem to be the only player in this situation.
Andy Dirks will be headed to the disabled list, so they can replace him on the 25 man major league roster with another player. If they want to add a player to the 40 man roster in his place, however, he would have to be placed on the 60 day DL. In that case, he would not be eligible to rejoin the team for 60 days. He is expected to miss twelve weeks.
The 25 man roster appeared to be all but set prior to Dirks being shut down for back surgery. But now, there is not only an open spot on the roster, but an opening in the starting lineup.