The I-75 shuttle has been running at full capacity the last few weeks, and the Tigers have even developed a new I-96 shuttle for pitching reinforcements. The Tigers have another doubleheader this Saturday, so the shuttle will continue to run. But come Monday the calendar turns to September, and the active roster can expand to up 40 players.
If the Tigers were not contending this would be a good time to evaluate prospects. Instead they are fighting to regain first place, and the prospects seem to be more of a bug than a feature.
Where could the Tigers use help? Well the starting pitching is a glaring need. By starting Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer, the Tigers managed to allow more runs in two games than they had in over 60 years. Until Anibal Sanchez is healthy and the doubleheaders are replaced with off days, a starter can stick around. A second starter is needed to be ready if Verlander's shoulder barks.
Catcher is another need, though Alex Avila has survived the foul tips better this year. While he does not hit for average, at least he draws walks and hits for power against right-handed pitching. He does neither against left-handers. Ausmus is afraid to pinch-hit for Avila, especially before the late innings, as there is little insurance if Holaday is injured. Using Victor Martinez typically means losing the DH spot, and emergency catcher Don Kelly has so many other possibilities. With another true catcher on the roster, Avila could be replaced by a pinch hitter at any time.
Andrew Romine's triple-slash line of .216 / .268 / .271 is envious of Avila's line against southpaws. A better hitting utility infielder could add a timely hit in the September pennant race.
Nick Castellanos had seven hits and two walks in four games over the weekend, but his glove rates below average. An Ultimate Zone Rating of -10.5 shows risk that his defense could be the difference in a critical game down the stretch. A defensive-minded third baseman could be a late-inning replacement in close games, freeing Don Kelly to roam the outfield.
The outfield feels crowded even with the departure of Austin Jackson. The all-offense lineup is Torii Hunter, J.D. Martinez, and the platoon of Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera. A true centerfielder would be a great call-up, if one is hiding in Toledo. Otherwise, a glove to replace Hunter and/or Martinez in late innings could help.
More speed could help. If Carrera starts in center, and Davis in left, then who can pinch run? A speedster on the bench could steal a valuable base.
A bat with power would be handy to have on the bench for late inning pinch-hitting. Everybody wants one, and they do not grow on trees.
Given how this team bunts, a bunting specialist is a thought.
That makes a starting pitcher and about five position players, leaving room for nine more relief pitchers. Hopefully that is more than enough arms.
Of course teams do not expand the active roster all the way to 40. Next we will examine the call-ups made in previous season.