March 26th, 2007

That's not really why it's called AAA, but …

A lot of stuff today, but an overall theme emerged: Toledo is insurance for Detroit this year.

If any day demonstrated the difference between Double-A and Triple-A ball in the minor leagues, this was it for the Tigers. While Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin start out at Class A Lakeland hoping to make the jump to Erie, you’re looking at a lot of just-in-case scenarios for the Mud Hens. Chris Shelton is the first baseman in case Sean Casey goes down. Brent Clevlen will see time in center field in case Curtis Granderson gets hurt. Ramon Santiago is the shortstop if Carlos Guillen is injured. Zach Miner is the insurance starter, at least until Miller is ready or someone like Jordan Tata has a solid start.

Dombrowski said this morning that he now thinks of a roster as 30-32 players instead of just 25. Leyland said he goes into a season expecting to use somewhere in that range as far as players go. Those extra players end up at Triple-A.

The Mud Hens will still be about development with Shelton, Clevlen and pitchers like Virgil Vasquez. But more than anything, Leyland wants guys ready to step up if the Tigers need some help. Considering the age the Tigers have at certain positions, it’s a pretty big role. You don’t see that kind of role very often at Double-A. Coaches at the Triple-A level have to strike a balance, which is what makes Larry Parrish and Bull Durham (and what made Jeff Jones) so valuable.

Meanwhile, Leyland was pointed and direct in his summary of Chris Shelton’s scenario, suggesting he wouldn’t have had this situation had he hit a little better over the summer, prompting the Tigers to deal for Casey. Shelton was not happy about the move, but this might work to his favor. Alan Trammell used to say around this time that he had no problem with guys getting ticked off when they were sent down, that he liked players who wanted to prove him wrong. Leyland didn’t quite put it that way, saying the manager takes the hit on these days each spring when players get ticked off.

Among Leyland’s comments on Shelton was this: "If we didn’t think Chris was a valuable part of our organization, we wouldn’t have sent him to Toledo. We would’ve released him."

More of note …

  • The Tigers released Felix Heredia because they didn’t see a spot for him helping out the Tigers. He did not ask for his release, but Dave Dombrowski said they wanted to give him a chance to find another place before the season begins. Statistically, he wasn’t bad at all — nine innings, seven hits, two earned runs, six strikeouts — but he didn’t show what he needed.
  • Dombrowski mentioned Tim Byrdak as a left-handed relief option should the Tigers need one later on. He did not mention Joey Eischen, though that might be because Eischen has further to go in his comeback attempt from rotator cuff surgery. Byrdak had bone chips removed from his elbow last year.
  • The more Leyland talks about Ryan Raburn, the easier it is to imagine him getting called up as a utility player at some point this year. That said, if Omar Infante plays to his capability, their skills kind of overlap.
  • Leyland on Bobby Seay: "Bobby Seay was heartbroken. He pitched his [tail] off. He probably threw as many strikes as anyone." He also said Seay pitched better than he did last year, when he made the team out of camp.
  • Though this is usually the week when trades get made and waiver pickups abound, Dombrowski said he isn’t expecting to make any moves. Still, Durbin said he doesn’t consider himself as having made the team until/unless he’s there for the first pitch on opening day.
  • Someone emailed me the other day asking why Leyland is so fixated on taking 12 pitchers instead of 11 and keeping someone like Shelton. Leyland said he doesn’t want to be in a position where he’s exhausting pitchers early on. He said today what he has said before, "I’d rather have 13 than 11."
  • Nate Robertson will stay behind for an extra day when the team heads north. He’ll pitch in a minor-league game in Lakeland Sunday morning, then fly up later in the day.

Last spots

Durbin gets the open relief spot. Neifi gets last spot on bench. Santiago cleared waivers and is optioned to Toledo with Shelton and Miner. Heredia was released. Everyone else sent to minor league camp.

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