As disappointing as this season has been for the Detroit Tigers, with games such as last night's that you just can't bear to see through to the finish, you can't say that it's a boring team to follow. Because almost every day, there's some off-the-field announcement regarding a roster move, position change, or other such shuffle that Jim Leyland employs as he tries something - anything - to get his squad to try and play up to expectations. Different third basemen, different left fielders, different designated hitters, different set-up men in the bullpen, etc. Jimmy's trying everything!
Maybe we can start a recurring series of posts here, titled "What Will Jim Try Today?" (I reserve the right to think about it. And also to consider wristband merchandising opportunities.) Yesterday's installment of "WWJTT?" concerned the Tigers' catching situation, as Leyland announced that Pudge Rodriguez would now be getting every other day off, alternating behind the plate with Brandon Inge.
Well, why not? Pudge's numbers have been in steady decline since mid-May (when he was batting a season-high .278/.324/.413), now hitting .245/.286/.349, which is the lowest his average has been all season. Leyland believes that's partially due to Pudge playing so many games (52) at catcher, and he might just be right about that. But this might be a chicken-vs.-egg scenario, as well. Is Pudge's energy being sapped by having to squat behind the plate so frequently? Or are his batting skills just diminishing, and the only reason he's really in the lineup is because of his defensive talents?
Early in the season, many of us were wondering why Pudge was catching so frequently when Leyland had previously been so conscious of giving him some rest. A big reason for that, of course, was that the Tigers really had no viable back-up at the position, especially while Inge had to be dragged behind the plate kicking and screaming.
Now, Inge not only has realized that catching isn't so bad, but has also seemed to embrace the possibility (inevitability?) that he'll be Detroit's starting catcher next season, with Pudge moving on to the next team willing to give him a contract. And that is surely another motivating factor behind Leyland's decision. (It certainly can't be because he thinks Inge is a better hitter than Pudge.) The Tigers have to figure out if Inge really can be an everyday catcher again. And if they get their answer in the affirmative sooner rather than later, maybe Pudge even becomes trade bait for a team in need of catching help.
At Mack Avenue Tigers, Kurt beat me to the other point I was going to make about this decision. This might be the first indication that Leyland is beginning to realize the 2008 season is a lost cause. If Detroit was 10 games over .500, would he be flip-flopping catchers? Even if Pudge was hitting as badly as he is right now? Maybe Leyland would try to get Pudge some more rest, but to this extent?
But perhaps the key words in Leyland's announcement yesterday were "for a while." He didn't say the Tigers would rotate catchers for the rest of the season. And as Billfer and Lee remind us, Leyland has changed his mind frequently after making such decisions. Really, the only change he's stuck with is playing Miguel Cabrera at first base. This could all change next week. Hell, maybe we should expect to see Carlos Guillen playing catcher at some point. He's already played almost everywhere else, trying to accommodate Leyland's various whims.