Images of the crash ending to the Detroit Tigers' 2014 season are still fresh in the minds of Detroit baseball fans, and the memories are haunting.
In Game 3, the Tigers had the tying and winning runs on first and second base with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Andrew Romine was due up against the Orioles' left-handed closer, Zach Britton. Hernan Perez was called upon to pinch hit, and grounded into an inning ending, game ending, season ending double play.
In the bottom of the eighth inning of Game 2, the Tigers were leading 6-3. Joba Chamberlain loaded the bases and allowed one run, making it 6-4. Former Tiger Delmon Young was called upon to pinch hit for the Orioles, and he ripped a three-run double down the left field line, scoring three runs for the margin of victory, handing the Tigers a 7-6 defeat.
There was more to the series loss than just those two plate appearances, but those two stand out as a contrast in all that went wrong with the Tigers' 2014 season. Detroit's starting pitchers actually outperformed Baltimore’s rotation in the series. But, Baltimore had Andrew Miller, and the Tigers had Joba Chamberlain. Baltimore had Britton, and the Tigers had Joe Nathan. Baltimore had Delmon Young, and the Tigers had Hernan Perez. To pinch hit. With the season on the line.
Delmon Young was signed to a one year contract at a cost of $1 million. He is useful for one purpose: hitting a baseball. That the Tigers could only come up with Hernan Perez with their season on the line and the tying run in scoring position, speaks volumes about what they did not have anywhere on their roster. Someone who could come off the bench and provide anything resembling some offensive production. Surely, they won’t make the same mistake again. Will they?
As things look right now, the Tigers go into the season with a starting lineup that is pretty well set, and four lucky players will make the roster in reserve roles. One will be a catcher, where rookie James McCann will try to claim the roster spot held by Bryan Holaday. Another will be either Rajai Davis or Anthony Gose. A third will be a utility infielder, which is either Perez or Andrew Romine.
The utility infield spot is one of few roster battles this spring in Lakeland. Both Perez and Romine are out of options. Both would earn the major league minimum salary. Perez is younger, but Romine is the better defender, especially at shortstop and third base, where Jose Iglesias is coming back from fractures in both legs. Now, there is some talk about giving the two utility guys some work in the outfield. Why?
The fourth and final bench spot on the roster will come down to either a second utility infielder or a fifth outfielder. If the team is facing a left-handed pitcher, Davis is a superb hitter. If there is a need for a hitter to face a right-handed pitcher in a key situation, there won't be one if both Perez and Romine are on the roster.
I’m not exactly the president of the Tyler Collins fan club, but I would like to see him get a chance to show what he can do. Collins can play any of the three outfield positions if needed, but is better in a corner spot. He bats left-handed and has hit at every level that he has played in professional baseball. In four seasons in the minors, Collins has a batting line of .272/.347/.443 with 39 home runs over the past two seasons.
Collins made the team out of spring training in 2014, only to be sent down to the minors two weeks into the season. He was later recalled in September. In 25 plate appearances, he hit .250 with one home run and four RBI. His big hit was a game-winning, pinch-hit RBI single off James Shields that proved to be the winning run in a 3-2 Tigers’ victory over the Royals on September 20. Collins was not on the playoff roster.
Also on the Tigers’ bench in 2014 was an assortment of Don Kelly, Bryan Holaday, Ezequiel Carrera, Eugenio Suarez, and Romine. In other words, nobody that could hit. In Game 3 of the ALDS, Davis was out with a sore groin muscle, but was used to pinch hit for Kelly, who started in center field. Holaday had earlier replaced Alex Avila, and Perez was called on to hit for Romine. The fact that Romine, Suarez and Perez were all on the roster at all is mind boggling.
When selecting the four players who will make the Opening Day roster on the bench, teams will naturally first make sure that they have coverage at every position on the field, in case of an emergency, such as an injury or need of a defensive replacement. Somewhere on the list of importance should be the idea that the team might need a base hit.
Working against Collins is the fact that both Perez and Romine are out of options, and would have to be designated for assignment and clear waivers before they could be sent to the minor leagues this season. If not traded, the club risks losing them for nothing on waivers, in order to save a roster spot for Collins. The Tigers also have a history of carrying a couple of backup infielders on the roster.
In his favor is the fact that Collins is much better able to hit -- particularly against a right-handed pitcher -- than anyone else that might be on the Tigers’ bench in 2015. That would include Davis, Gose, Perez, Romine, or Holaday. If the team needs a middle infielder, Romine or Perez will do. If they need a catcher, an outfielder, or some speed on the bases, they’re covered.
Between the two infielders, Romine is a more experienced, steadier defender at three positions. Perez has more upside, and is two years farther away from being eligible for arbitration. For this reason, he might be more attractive to other teams on the waiver wire, and more attractive to Detroit in the long run.
This may not seem like a big deal, as far as important roster decisions go. But if the Tigers need someone to get a hit against a right handed pitcher, Collins is the only one who gives them the best option.
What do you think?