As the roster turns
Josh Anderson is a left-handed bat, and he’ll be on the Tigers’ bench. That does not necessary mean he will be the left-handed bat off the bench.
There’s a key point to be made about Monday’s trade. While Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said that Anderson will be on the roster — he’s out of Minor League options, so they wouldn’t have made the trade if they didn’t plan on it — Dombrowski would not say that Anderson takes up the last spot on the roster. That means if the spot Marcus Thames has held for the past few years wasn’t in play before, it certainly appears to be now. And Jeff Larish would seem to be the other one in line for it.
As has already been written elsewhere, players without guaranteed contracts can be cut by April 1 and be owed 45 days’ salary in termination pay — or basically one-fourth of what they were slated to make — rather than the full season. Thames is scheduled to make $2,275,000 this year as part of a one-year contract agreement reached back in January to avoid arbitration. On a team with payroll considerations and lots of guaranteed contracts that can’t be cut, it’s hard to say that it wouldn’t be a factor, especially if all the evaluations are equal.
There’s very likely no way that Larish can match the pure power numbers Thames has put up in his role over the last few years. He ratio of a home run every 13.52 at-bats over the last three years ranks fourth in the American League. There’s absolutely no way that Larish can match Thames’ actual power and raw strength. But he has Minor League numbers that project him to hit for power in the Majors, he’s shown a knack for hitting off the bench, and he’s a left-handed bat for a team that has a predominantly right-handed lineup.
While you can’t rule out a trade, Thames himself has pointed out his situation: He has been on the block at various points over the last three years without a deal. He has also been rumored on the market for much of this Spring Training without much developing. And Dombrowski termed the chances of a trade involving any Tigers outfielder as possible, but not likely.
If the Tigers believe that Larish can provide them with enough of a power spark at the plate, especially in pinch-hit situations, then they could face a very difficult decision: How much is it worth for them to put him on the team? Plenty has been written over the last few years about a power hitter like Thames not having a regular role. But how about possibly not having a roster spot?
There’s only one big upside to Thames being out of the picture in Detroit, and me no longer getting emails asking to guess what Thames would hit over a full season is not it. It’s the fact that Thames could end up in a better situation for him in terms of playing time. Whether he could compete for that elusive starting job is uncertain this late in camp, especially when teams haven’t stepped up and traded for him already. But a long-awaited chance at more playing time, a platoon or more, couldn’t happen to a better guy.