This is the start what will turn into a recurring feature here on BYB: The Next Relevant Tiger Team, a hypothetical starting roster for a contending Tiger squad of the not-too-distant future. It's an attempt to answer the question of who will be here when we get good again. Eligible players for the team must be on the major league roster already. Promising minor leaguers (Granderson, Verlander) are ineligible, as are players the Tigers might acquire in trade but haven't yet. As players join or leave the team or betray their true stripes we'll modify the roster, and I hope the BYB community, when we get one, will express who it thinks belongs as the season marches on. For now, though, it's a team selected by a committee of one, albeit one who welcomes -- nay, hungers for -- feedback. Today: the infield.
Ivan Rodriguez, catcher. Right off the bat, a tough call. Pudge is 33, and signed for two more seasons. He's been reasonably healthy in his short Tiger career, but he's ancient for a catcher. If the Tigers get relevant by 2007, he'll be on the team, as no one will take his contract, but I'm not sure relevance is coming that soon or that he'll be healthy for the life of his contract. But we'll accentuate the positive, and lead off the squad with the Hall-of-Famer to-be.
Chris Shelton, first base. Shelton can rake, and the Tigers control his rights through arbitration and for the forseeable future. I'm predicting he turns into Sean Casey, though he very easily could become a fulltime DH. I sat behind the dugout at his first game this year, and I thought it was a good sign that he spent much of the game talking to Kirk Gibson and pitching coach Bob Cluck.
Brandon Inge, third base. Inge has turned into a real player, defying all reasonable expectations, and he's been at it long enough and is drawing enough walks to make me think it's for real. Look for the Tigers to lock him up soon.
Carlos Guillen, shortstop. Like Pudge, Guillen is injury-prone and signed through 2007. Unlike Pudge, he's only 29, he's not a catcher, and he's not yet a lock for the Hall of Fame. Guillen looks like he'll be an excellent 125-game player for years to come, which is okay, as that's all Gibson was at his best. The other thing, aside from injury, that could keep Guillen off our mythical squad is a trade; his 3 year, $14m contract makes him an attractive bargain relative to the Cabreras and Renterias of the world, should the Tigers ever need to move him.
--Placido Polanco. A free-agent to be, and unlikely to be resigned, even if he isn't traded in July.
--Omar Infante. Right now, 2004 looks like a fluke and Infante looks like a backup, though I'm still glad we kept him and not Ramon Santiago. Check back in a few weeks, though, and maybe he'll crack this lineup.
--Dmitri Young. The Tigers have an option on him for 2006, and he won't be around beyond that, if he makes it that long. He's lovable, but he makes $8m per and he's at best a league average first baseman. Talk me out of this one. I'm sat to leave him behind.
--Jason Smith. A utility man. I'd imagine he's just happy to be in the majors.
--Vance Wilson. His current line is .106/.222/.106.
The Roster So Far:
C -- Ivan Rodriguez
1B -- Chris Shelton
2B -- [open]
3B -- Brandon Inge
SS -- Carlos Guillen
That relevant infield looks a lot like our current one, reassuringly so. Outfielders next time.