July 20th, 2011
The longest-tenured Tiger is about to become the newest Mud Hen. At least partly, it was his decision.
Dave Dombrowski announced after Wednesday’s loss to Oakland that Detroit will designate Inge’s contract for assignment to make room for Wilson Betemit on the 25-man roster once Betemit joins the team Thursday in Minnesota. Inge, in turn, decided that he’ll accept an assignment to Triple-A Toledo if he clears waivers in the next few days.
Inge’s contract through next season all but guarantees he won’t be claimed. That gave him two choices — go to the Hens, or force the Tigers to release him. He would’ve been a free agent then, with a chance to sign with any team. It’s possible he could’ve found a spot right away — he said he had multiple possibilities — but it was also possible he’d have to start out at Triple-A anyway. This gives him a chance to work his way back with the only team he has known in his Major League career, while also commuting from his Michigan home.
Compared with the previous few weeks, when Inge talked at times about feeling good at the plate and not getting results to show for it, he sounded Wednesday like somebody who needed to get right with what he was doing and wasn’t arguing the decision.
“I’m not contributing, and I don’t want to be responsible for holding the team down, either,” Inge said. “So I need to fix it. That’s the way I look at it. I mean, the unselfish point of view is to look around at the other guys. This team has a great opportunity, and I can contribute, and I can help. If I get back to, say, three-quarters of what I did in ’06 or in ’09, I’m going to help this team out tremendously down the road. So hopefully I can get down there and knock the cobwebs out of there and get rolling.”
In the same sense, he wasn’t blaming the Tigers for making the move.
“They’re looking for options,” Inge said. “They’re looking forw ays to get something done. You have to look at it like a GM sometimes. What they did, I’m not going to knock them. That’s fine. I played with Betemit in the Dominican, and he’s a great guy. Obviously in my mind, I know that I’m the best third baseman when I’m playing well. I’m just going to get ready to come back. I’m not asking for my job to just be handed to me. I’ll go down and I’ll play hard, but I just want that opportunity when I get back. This is still my team.”
Inge’s decision came after what he said was a three-hour conversations with his agent, Keith Miller at ACES. It also followed what Inge said was a message relayed to him from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch through organizational channels.
“He wanted me to stay,” Inge said. “It wasn’t something that was disrepect to me. Obviously, this is not coming from his mouth. This is what was relayed to me, that I meant a lot to this city, state and organization. He just wanted me to go down, get myself right and come back up here.”
Inge said he has a good working relationship with Mud Hens hitting coach Bull Durham, who has been in the organization at least as long as Inge has. He also said the atmosphere in Toledo, where he spent a short rehab assignment last month, should provide a lower-pressure setting for him.
“I actually feel like I’m in a good spot right now,” Inge said. “A lot of times, when you get sent down to Toledo, you get away from all the distractions. And right now, the distractions are when you look at the scoreboard and you see .177 and you don’t concentrate on what you should be doing. A lot of times, when you go down there you realize there’s no TV cameras, there’s not as much pressure, and you get a lot more production.”
The Tigers remain on the lookout for a starting pitcher on the trade market, but they decided they couldn’t wait any longer to find some offense at third base. Detroit swung a deal Wednesday to add veteran infielder Wilson Betemit from Kansas City for prospects Antonio Cruz and Julio Rodriguez.
The move fills a void at the hot corner, where Brandon Inge’s struggles — first with mononucleosis, then with his bat and energy level since — had become a lingering issue. It also puts Brandon Inge’s future as the longest-tenured current Tiger into question.
“We like Betemit,” Dombrowski said. “We feel like he upgrades us at third base at this time. We’re in a position where, you know, we’ve scuffled offensively at that spot.”
Once a highly-touted infield prospect with the Braves, Betemit has found a fit as a corner infielder with some pop, bouncing around teams. His .297 averagewith 20 doubles, 13 home runs and 43 RBIs in 84 games last year with Kansas City helped him find a fit there.
That put the 29-year-old Betemit in a position to get a good share of playing time with the Royals at the start of this season. However, he was a placeholder for Royals third-base prospect Mike Moustakas. Once Kansas City called him up last month, Betemit was out of a role.
Betemit batted .281 (57-for-203) this year with 15 doubles, three homers and 27 RBIs. His .750 OPS is 139 points lower than last year, but higher than in any season since 2007.
By comparison, five different Tigers had combined at third base for a .186 average, a .500 OPS, two home runs, 27 RBIs and 79 strikeouts in 334 at-bats.
“He has swung the bat well the last couple years with Kansas City,” Dombrowski said. “He’s a very solid third baseman. He’s got a good arm over there, probably a little bit better left-handed hitter than right-handed hitter, but he is a switch-hitter and he’s got pop on both sides of the plate. He puts fear in us any time he comes to the plate, can drive in a run.
“He’s going to be hitting at the bottom of the lineup, so it’s a spot where all of a sudden you have a guy like that down below that can add, from an offensive perspective, we feel good about that.”
He’ll get a good share of at-bats to build on those numbers in Detroit.
Betemit is working on a one-year contract worth $1 million for the season.
Dombrowski hinted that they had been working on other options at third base. Those options dried up, though, and with Inge’s 0-for-4 game Wednesday dropping his average to .177 on the season, the Tigers made their move.
“It’s a tough situation,” Dombrowski said. “Brandon has done a lot for the organization. We would not have signed him this winter if we didn’t think he was going to come out and he was going to do very well for us, or do solidly. We never projected him to be a .300 hitter, but thought he’s come out and be a guy that could hit .230 or .240 with some home runs and play real good defense and maybe drive in runs. It hasn’t happened this year, and I think we’re at the point where playing him every day, we just don’t see it happening right now.”
The aforementioned contract was a two-year, $11.5 million deal signed last November, which plays a big role in any decision the Tigers make on Inge. Judging from Dombrowski’s remarks, it appears contracts played a role in the Tigers’ trade options as well.
“It’s just come to a point where it’s decision time in the sense that you get to July 31 and you may not be able to make a move,” Dombrowski said. “I was talking to a couple other clubs, but one primarily about a third baseman that isn’t going to go anywhere, so really your choices at third base are really limited if you’re going to do something. So we didn’t want to get caught where we were sitting there and you come to July 31 and all of a sudden you say, ‘Well, he’s still scuffling at this point, what do we do at this time?” It was the right time to make the move and Kansas City was willing to do it.”
Betemit is scheduled to join the team on Thursday in Minnesota, where the Tigers will open a four-game series against the Twins. Dombrowski said they’ll add Betemit to the active roster then. They have the room on the 40-man roster to fit him, but they’ll have to take somebody off the 25-man roster to create space.
Dombrowski also deferred questions about Inge’s future role on the team to Thursday.
Yes, it’s a little early to start thinking about next season, especially when the Tigers technically don’t have a GM or a manager under contract that far ahead yet. But if you’re interested in planning these kinds of things, ESPNBoston’s Gordon Edes suggests an early draft of next season’s Major League schedule — distributed to all 30 clubs — has the Red Sox opening up in Detroit.
From the story:
After three games in Detroit and three in Toronto, the Sox are scheduled to play their home opener Friday, April 13 against the Tampa Bay Rays, who are scheduled to play four games that weekend, including the Monday morning Patriots Day game.
That would put the Red Sox and Tigers in Comerica Park for the first weekend in April. It would also mark the first time since 2008 that the Tigers have opened the season at home. They began this season at New York, last season at Kansas City, and 2009 at Toronto.
When Duane Below takes the mound tonight against the A’s, he’ll become just the third Michigan-born pitcher to make a start for the Tigers in the last 10 years. Jason Grilli was the last, making a couple starts near the end of 2005. Before that, there was Andy Van Hekken, best remembered for shutting out Cleveland in his Major League debut on Sept. 3, 2002. He made four more starts for the Tigers that September and hasn’t seen the big leagues since. He’s still trying, though, for the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City, where he’s averaging about a strikeout an inning.
Grilli, coincidentally, just signed a contract with the Pirates, where he’ll be part of their pitching staff for the stretch run.
As for the Tigers lineup, Jhonny Peralta gets the night off, thanks likely in no small part to his 1-for-18, six-strikeout track record off A’s starter Brandon McCarthy. Brandon Inge is also off after his rough series opener, replaced by Don Kelly. Victor Martinez is 7-for-17 off McCarthy with four doubles, a home run and four RBIs. Left-handed batters are hitting .296 off McCarthy this year, compared with .259 for right-handers.
On Oakland’s side, Scott Sizemore remains out as expected after taking a pitch off his jaw Tuesday night. A lot of juggling going on from there.
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Brennan Boesch, LF
- Magglio Ordonez, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- Carlos Guillen, 2B
- Alex Avila, C
- Don Kelly, 3B
- Ramon Santiago, SS
P: Duane Below
- Coco Crisp, CF
- Cliff Pennington, SS
- Josh Willingham, LF
- Hideki Matsui, DH
- Conor Jackson, 3B
- Kurt Suzuki, C
- David DeJesus, RF
- Landon Powell, 1B
- Eric Sogard, 2B
P: Brandon McCarthy