March 23rd, 2013

Saturday: Did Matt Tuiasosopo just win a big league job?

Officially, the Tigers didn’t name Matt Tuiasosopo to the Opening Day roster. It’s a little early for that. In fact, neither Dave Dombrowski nor Jim Leyland mentioned Tuiasosopo’s name when talking about the decision to send Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus back to the Nationals for $25,000. Still, you had to try to block out the background to avoid the sense that Tuiasosopo has an inside track on making the team.

Here’s what we know:

  • Kobernus is out of the picture. And when Dombrowski and Leyland were asked to explain the reasoning for the move, the answer from both of them was that it became clear Kobernus wasn’t going to make the 25-man roster.
  • Here’s what else Dombrowski said in regards to Kobernus: “We just think somebody else was ahead of him at this point.”
  • Avisail Garcia is all but out of the picture. He isn’t expected to play in either of the next two days, and if the soonest he plays again is Tuesday, then it’s very possible the Tigers make their final decision before then. Leyland said he doesn’t have any meeting planned with Dombrowski yet, but that they could do it after they get back from Jupiter Monday night.
  • Moreover, Leyland made it sound like Garcia’s running out of time. “It would be fair to say the timing of the injury probably put a little bit of a damper on him as far as breaking with the club,” Leyland said. “I think that’s just a common-sense thing. Now, could a miracle happen? I’d prefer not to see the headlines: ‘Garcia doesn’t make the team.’ That’s not the case. It’s just that his injury came at a time where it wasn’t the best of timing. I don’t want to make it sound like we don’t like Garcia or we sent him down. It’s just he’s probably not going to get enough time to break camp. Again, don’t etch that in stone, but I think that’s kind of common sense.”
  • There are no other right-handed hitting outfield candidates left, unless you count infielder Danny Worth. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter already have starting spots.
  • Dombrowski said he feels confident they can fill the right-handed hitting outfield role internally, though he didn’t say they would.

This is what we don’t know:

  • Who is going to be out there on the market next week for the Tigers to acquire? Maybe Casper Wells doesn’t make the Mariners roster. Maybe the Tigers can parlay their depth in another spot, maybe an extra reliever, into an extra outfielder.
  • How far away is Nick Castellanos? If a hot opening month in Toledo can get him to Detroit, how long will the Tigers need an extra right-handed hitting outfielder? Is he the in-case-of-fire-break-glass move if the Tigers struggle through April?
  • What happens to the Tigers’ hope of having a good baserunner on their bench to run for Victor Martinez late in games? Kobernus was supposed to be able to fill both spots, though he didn’t steal a base all spring.

That last point is particularly big for the other open spot on the bench. If the Tigers still want a baserunner, Quintin Berry’s chances of making the team just got better. It’s not that Don Kelly and Danny Worth can’t run; they just can’t run like Berry.

Personally, I think there’s a real chance the Tigers add somebody at the end of Spring Training, like they did with Josh Anderson as a speedy outfielder at the end of camp in 2009 (no, it didn’t work out, but that’s not the point). Otherwise, they would have at least mentioned somebody by name. I also don’t think you cut Kobernus loose unless you actually do feel confident you can fill the spot with Tuiasosopo if you don’t get somebody else.

So, to answer the question that started all this: Did Tuiasosopo just win a big league job? Maybe.

Tigers send Kobernus back to Nationals

The Tigers’ search for a right-handed hitting fourth outfielder just whittled down to the point that Matt Tuiasosopo’s best competition probably isn’t in this camp.

On the same day manager Jim Leyland all but ruled out Avisail Garcia winning a spot on the Opening Day roster, the Tigers returned Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus to the Nationals, opting not to keep him on the 25-man roster.

Amanda Comak of the Washington Times first reported that Kobernus will be back in Nationals camp on Sunday. The Tigers confirmed it after the game.

For those who have forgotten the rules of the Rule 5 draft, teams must either keep their selections on the 25-man roster for the entire season (save for some leeway for DL time), work out a trade to keep him, or offer him back to his old club for $25,000, or half what they paid to select the player back in December.

Kobernus looked like he had a great chance to make the team two weeks ago, getting off to a torrid start at the plate. Since then, his batting average has plummeted, and his playing time in turn. His camp ends up at 11-for-50 (.220) with two triples, no homers, three RBIs, five walks and seven strikeouts.

As for Garcia, he remains out with a bruised left heel, and is not listed on the travel roster for the team’s upcoming two-day trip to Port St. Lucie and Jupiter.

“I think it would be fair to say the timing of [Garcia's] injury probably put a little bit of a damper on him,” Leyland said Saturday morning.

That would leave Tuiasosopo as the only extra outfielder in camp who bats right-handed. The Tigers still have a week left in camp to scan the trade market and waiver wire for options from other teams, a move that might not come until the last minute.

Saturday: Tigers vs. Yankees

Another game for Matt Tuiasosopo in left field, this time against a very good lefty in Andy Pettitte. No start for Jeff Kobernus. Other than that, it’s the regular lineup.

If you’re looking for a test to see if this spring Tuiasosopo is enjoying suggests he can hit in the big leagues, today might be a good start. It’s the time of spring when starting pitchers are usually working towards their regular-season arsenal, which means a lot of everything from Pettitte.

No TV for this game, surprisingly. You can listen on 97.1 FM in Detroit and MLB Gameday Audio online.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Anibal Sanchez, Darin Downs, Bruce Rondon, Luke Putkonen

YANKEES

  1. Brett Gardner, CF
  2. Eduardo Nunez, SS
  3. Ichiro Suzuki, LF
  4. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
  5. Travis Hafner, DH
  6. Juan Rivera, 1B
  7. Ben Francisco, RF
  8. Jayson Nix, 2B
  9. Chris Stewart, C

P: Andy Pettitte, Jim Miller, Cody Eppley

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