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Roster contraction will require two moves from the Tigers on Monday

Despite the early struggle, the decisions are still somewhat tricky.

Colorado Rockies v Detroit Tigers - Game Two Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

After opening the season in April with 28-man rosters to alleviate the strain caused by the lockout and late start, teams will have to cut back to the usual 26 players on Monday. Considering how poorly the Detroit Tigers have started, one would think they’d easily have a few players to jettison. However, the decisions are a little tougher than they might appear.

The obvious answer is to cut down the bullpen. The Tigers have been running with a 10-man relief corps in the early going. Trimming back to the usual eight would get them into compliance. The issue is that most of those guys are actually pitching pretty well, and not all of them have options.

MLB was set to limit teams to 13 pitchers on the major league roster by May 2nd, but a partial reprieve was granted. MLB and the Players Association (MLBPA) agreed to allow a maximum of 14 pitchers on active rosters through May 29 due to the shortened Spring Training period. Then the 13 pitcher limit will apply starting May 30. The Tigers currently have 14 pitchers on the roster and 14 position players on the active roster.

With Eduardo Rodriguez, Tarik Skubal, Michael Pineda, Beau Brieske, and Tyler Alexander currently in the rotation, here’s the current nine-man bullpen as of May 1. We’ll still include Tyler Alexander in the rotation for the moment, although a switch of roles with Wily Peralta may be in the immediate offing and a couple rough starts.

LHP Gregory Soto

RHP Michael Fulmer

LHP Andrew Chafin

RHP Alex Lange

RHP Joe Jiménez

RHP Jacob Barnes

RHP Will Vest

RHP Wily Peralta

RHP Drew Hutchison

So unless they want to option two position players—which isn’t happening—one of the relievers must go. Drew Hutchison holds a 1.74 ERA, but his peripherals are very shaky. Joe Jiménez has been fairly good to start the year, but Jiménez does have one option left. Barnes has been effective but his peripherals are suspect with a miniscule 10 percent strikeout rate, but as a minor league free agent signing, Barnes doesn’t have options remaining. He also does have a few quality major league seasons under his belt recently, whereas Hutchison is seven years removed from the years when he was a promising young starter for the Blue Jays. From the options remaining perspective, Will Vest is the likely odd man out. The problem is that Will Vest has been one of the club’s top relievers through seven appearances.

The preference here is probably Hutchison or Barnes. Neither has been impressive. Hutchison could catch on somewhere else, but there’s still a fair chance he would ultimately lands back in the Tigers’ system should they want to hang onto him. A 17 percent strikeout rate against a 14.9 percent walk rate isn’t impressing anyone, and the 31-year-old right-hander doesn’t have much of a track record to bank on. Barnes likewise could get picked up somewhere, and is probably more valuable to the club long-term.

So Hutchison or Vest, probably.

Then the Tigers need to trim a position player. One solution is to end the three catcher experiment. The Tigers have carried both Eric Haase and Dustin Garneau through 21 games. Haase’s ability to play solid corner outfield, combined with his huge power against lefties, makes him more of a utility player than the average backup catcher, but the Tigers don’t appear to love him behind the plate. Don’t expect AJ Hinch to give up the ability to move Haase around very easily. The other problem is that Garneau doesn’t have options remaining—nor does Haase, for that matter—and until you get to top catching prospect Dillon Dingler at Erie, the Tigers don’t really much catching depth beyond veteran Ryan Lavarnway. Seems likely Hinch will want to hang onto Garneau as long as possible.

The positional option that seems likeliest is to send Willi Castro back down to Toledo to work on his outfield defense. That would leave Grossman, Meadows, Baddoo, and Hill as the outfielders, with Haase getting starts against some lefties, and then Harold Castro as the lone spare infielder, other than playing Miguel Cabrera at first and moving Torkelson around in an emergency. Hinch could theoretically choose to send Baddoo down as he’s struggled mightily at the plate, but it’s doubtful they want to pull the plug so early in the season just to keep Willi Castro on the bench.

This might all be slightly complicated by the fact that Grossman was hit in the right hand by a pitch in Sunday’s game against the Dodgers and had to leave the game. Preliminary reports are that it was just a bit of a nasty contusion rather than a broken bone, and that should keep Grossman off the injured list, but it doesn’t mean he’s necessary going to be good to go in the Tigers two game set against the Pirates on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dropping Willi Castro right now might not be ideal if Grossman needs a couple days off to heal up, though the Tigers could roll with Meadows, Hill, Baddoo for the moment as well, with Haase as the fourth option out there. Assuming Grossman will be good enough to go after the off day Monday, Willi Castro looks like the most likely choice here.