Flexibility. It's one of the things that has made the Angels so good. Chone Figgins is a starter on what I'm still going to call Anaheim, but he plays in whatever spot on the field is open, logging time at second, third, short, and all three outfield positions this year. Robb Quinlan plays first, third, and left. Jeff Davanon and Juan Rivera can play all three outfield positions. Darin Erstad can play center, though he's been the first baseman all year. None of those hitters are as good as Vlad Guerrero or Garret Anderson, but they've all been (at least at times) legitimate major-league hitters. The Angels' flexibility gives Mike Scioscia nearly unlimited options to play matchups, hot streaks, or hunches when a starter like Guererro or Anderson or Adam Kennedy goes down. The Angels are deep, and their flexibility makes them seem a lot deeper than they are -- they are four or five deep at every position, even if a lot of that depth overlaps.
The Tigers, with the return of Magglio Ordonez, are approaching that level of depth and flexibility. Yes, the lineup with Magglio at cleanup, Pudge and Chris Shelton in the middle, and Dmitri Young, Craig Monroe, or Nook Logan at the bottom, looks fierce. But it also has depth, meaning the Tigers aren't relying quite so heavily on Carlos Guillen's knee or Ordonez's generally fragile state of being. Assume the Tigers' first choice lineup right now looks something like this:
That is indeed ferocious. I don't, however, expect a lineup like that to take the field particularly often. Health is one reason. Ordonez, White, and Guillen are still fragile, and they won't play every day, or anything close to it. Another reason is the bench. Two players there are young and need to play: Omar Infante and Nook Logan. A third is defense: Logan patrolling center field might take a lot of pressure off the gimpy White and Ordonez in the corners.
The best news yet is that if any regular -- save Pudge, more on that in a second -- needs to sit or DH, Trammell can replace that player with Infante or Logan because of the Tigers' flexibility. Infante can play second, short, or third. Polanco can play second or third. Monroe and Logan can play anywhere in the outfield. The Tigers are flexibile enough that they can and should build in a rotation of starting position players. For the time being, they should effectively have eleven starters, rotating Infante and Logan through the starting lineup to give the veterans rest and try to pre-empt any injuries. There is even more depth in Toledo should there be an injury or a trade. Carlos Pena is playing fairly well and Marcus Thames is absolutely mashing Triple-A pitching, again.
The hole in the scheme is at catcher, where on the days that Pudge rests -- infrequently so far -- Vance Wilson has been an abominable hitter, 6 for his first 50, with no extra-base hits. While it's reasonable to expect Wilson to approach his career norms -- moderate power, no OBP -- there is another solution in house: Brandon Inge. As recently as last year, Inge was a Figgins-like supersub, but one who also played catcher. Now entrenched as a third baseman, he's attributed his new-found hitting ability in part to his move away from catcher. Inge is probably more valuable as a third baseman and walk machine leadoff hitter than as a part-time catcher, but if it could be done without wrecking his batting, it would be great to move him to catcher on the days when Rodriguez rests. Infante could move to third then, or even Infante, and we'd be replacing Wilson's at bats with Infante's. Trammell might even be able to rest Pudge a little more often, with August and 2006 in mind.