Let me describe two different players. Player A is a utility player who can play up the middle of the infield, third base, and some corner outfield in a pinch. He is primarily used as a late inning defensive replacement, and to give some of the starters an off day every once in a while. He can probably be expected to get between 200-250 plate appearances this season. Player B is a utility player who can play up the middle of the infield, third base, and some corner outfield in a pinch. He is primarily used as a late inning defensive replacement, and to give some of the starters an off day every once in a while. He can probably be expected to get between 200-250 plate appearances this season.
Wait, what? Aren't they the exact same player?
The Tigers have a redundancy problem, and their names are Andrew Romine and Mike Aviles. Both serve the same purpose, yet both are expected to be on the 25-man roster when the Tigers break camp.
The Tigers seem to have a fetish for utility infielders. Whether it's putting Hernan Perez on the 2014 playoff roster over Tyler Collins, keeping Perez on the 25-man roster along with Romine at the beginning of 2015, or designating young Daniel Fields for assignment to get 34-year-old Josh Wilson on the roster in September, the Tigers seem to prefer versatility at the expense of functionality.
This philosophy isn't solely on manager Brad Ausmus. This preference for utility infielders has spanned two managers, and now two general managers. When Jim Leyland was at the helm, the Tigers usually kept two such players on the roster. Remember our old friends Ramon Santiago, Will Rhymes, Danny Worth, and Neifi Perez? Heck, even a young Omar Infante played the redundancy role during the 2006 run to the World Series. [Ed.: Don't forget Don Kelly.]
When the Tigers signed Aviles, it was assumed that he'd serve as a part-time outfielder. Then, along came Justin Upton. Now, Cameron Maybin will be the team's fourth outfielder when healthy. With two potential All-Stars manning the corners at all times, it's hard to picture either Romine or Aviles seeing any time in the outfield.
In the infield, Detroit has a pair of studs up the middle in Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias. Nick Castellanos is entrenched at third base; while underwhelming on defense, he's on his way to becoming a very good player himself. When any of them need a day off, either Romine or Aviles would get the call. Castellanos is the only starting infielder that would be lifted for a late-inning defensive replacement. Only one of Romine and Aviles can fill that role.
Last year, Romine averaged 25 plate appearances per month through August. When Hernan Perez was on the roster, he averaged 17.5 plate appearances a month. The Tigers struggle to get one utility infielder playing time, so why keep two, both of whom produce virtually no offensive value? If you combine those two averages into 43 plate appearances per month for one player, then that infielder will rack up just over 250 plate appearances on the season, a reasonable number for the 25th man on the roster.
The Tigers have better alternatives for specialized roles off the bench as well. With one of Maybin or Gose on the bench, neither Aviles nor Romine would be likely to see many chances as a pinch runner. In the event of an injury to a starting infielder, Romine would be the preferred option over Aviles due to his superior defense. And, God forbid, if Jose Iglesias goes down for an extended period of time, Dixon Machado is waiting in Triple-A Toledo.
So, why do the Tigers need both Romine and Aviles? Simply put: they don't.