Last year, the Tigers infield was a little, um, shakey defensively. After undergoing about 15 different infield alignments in 2008, the Tigers managed to make a few moves that should, baseball gods willing, solidify the fielding situation. Especially on the left side of the field. So, join me if you will, as we run through the Friends of the Big Tilde who play along the basepath…
1B – Miguel Cabrera
The Mig Tilde (ok, we promise not to call him that this year – we’ll find a new dumb nickname soon) had a rough start to his season in making the adjustment to the American League, but his 2nd half numbers were huge – .302/21/70 and his slugging and OPS both made 120 point jumps. CARBrera (see what we did there?) finished up leading the AL in homers and fell 8 points shy of hitting .300 for the fourth straight season. With a full season in the D under his belt and the adjustments made, the expectations are sky-high for the big fella this year. We’re conservatively expecting the Cabrera/Ordonez combo to combine for .450/140/410. MAKE IT HAPPEN.
2B – Placido Polanco
We love Placidome. I’ve done my best to make the Phillies my official National League rooting interest ever since they sent Polanco our way in exchange for the Machette Wielding Gasoline Carrying Madman. (Seriously, how well would Criminal Urbina fit in with the rest of our gas-can bullpen these days?) It’s hard not to expect another .300 plus BA, a smattering of HR, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-70 RBI. And about 150 slap singles. He’s as consistent a second baseman as you could hope to find and hopefully he continues to produce for the next couple of years as he hits his mid-30s.
SS – Adam Everett
NEW GUY! NEW GUY! So, the Edgar Renteria experiment went well, huh? Enjoy the Swedish Chef, Braves fans. You got us again. /shakes fist. Anyhoo, I like Adam Everett in theory. He’s a solid defender and should provide an upgrade in that regard for sure. However, he hasn’t played a full season since 2006 (and neither have the Tigers…) and he’s only hit higher than .250 twice – .256 in 2003 and .273 in 2004. He also played in about 120 games in ’03 and barely more than 100 in ’04. Everett wasn’t signed for his bat though and hopefully the Tigers will have enough offense in the 1-6 spots to make up for what happens 7-9. If we can get 130+ games and something close to .250 out of Everett than this will have been a great success. Expect 120 and .240.
3B – Brandon Inge
The BInge catching experiment has ended at last for our 2nd favorite former Virginia collegian. Much like Everett, Inge isn’t going to be expected to produce a ton at the plate, but he is going to be expected to shore up the 3rd base line defensively. Most Tiger fans already know that part is going to happen, having seen it in the past. The question is, will a happier Inge result in a more offensively productive Inge? Will we get the .240-.250 hitter with 20 plus HR power or the .210-.220 hitter? I’m not expecting Inge to repeat his awful offensive 2008, nor replicate his more slugging 2006. But if we can get .245-.250 and 20 HR out of him, I’m not gonna complain a bit.
C – Gerald Laird
It’s so weird coming into a season without Pudge behind the plate. The guy who made it safe for free agents to sign with Detroit again is still looking for an employer, but we’ve done a fine job of finding new bodies to put in front of the backstop. Laird’s gonna get the start most times and he’s a solid defender with a below average bat. Sounds familiar, eh? Then again, Laird’s 162 game average is .255, but he’s only cracked more than 100 games in a season once, hitting a whopping .224 in 120 games in 2007. He hit .276 in 95 games last year with a pretty fair .398 slugging (24 doubles, 6 HR out of 95 total hits). It’s hard to really have any idea of what he’ll do as the main guy since he’s been splitting the primary catching responsibilities for most of his career. It would be hard not to be pleased with .240 and a handful of homers and maybe 40-50 RBI.
C – Matt Treanor
Perhaps you know him better for having a very hot volleyball playing wife. That’s what I know him best for. Although his career .237/.322/.317 is awfully sexy as well. Treanor, like all Tigers moves this year, was brought in to shore up the defense and to help out as much as he can at the catcher’s spot when and if Laird can’t go.
UTIL – Ramon Santiago
Ramon’s cut out a pretty nice place on the Tiger’s roster as the go-to infield utility guy since returning to town in 2006. He’s hit over .280 off the bench the past two years, but he’s mostly just expected to be a solid glove in relief of Polanco and Everett whenever they aren’t available. Any HR or RBI are nice surprises and hopefully Santiago will continue to grow into a better hitter coming off of a surpring line of .282/.411/.460 in BA/OBP/SLG last year.
1B/3B – Jeff Larish
Ah yes, the young fella that we dubbed Tildish last year for his flowing locks. Larish is fighting for the last IF spot on the roster and probably has the lead in this race thanks to being a lefty batter. He’s got solid raw power and has the potential to be pretty darn good. He’s a more than capable fill-in at 1B or 3B and will be spending some time in Detroit this season, even if he starts off in Toledo.
2B/3B/OF – Ryan Raburn
Will Raburn’s added versatility earn him the final spot on the roster? Or will he show just enough to get shipped off somewhere in the NL where he might be a lot more valuable. Raburn looked great in parts of 2007, hitting over .300 in 138 ABs with a SLG of over .500 and an OBP of .340. With more ABs in 2008 (182), his average dropped to .236 and his SLG fell to .368. He turns 28 this April and his stock is probably not getting any higher. It may be time for the Tigers to make their final decision on Rayburn in the coming weeks.
I suppose there’s an outside chance for Mike Hollimon to break camp if everyone contracts malaria or if Hugo Chavez orders Team Venezuela to return to their homeland….