Viera, Fla. — You begin with the manager, Jim Leyland. He meets with media before and after each game and during those conversations, which are a banquet for between-the-lines junkies, you get a reasonable sense for how the Tigers roster will look Opening Day.
Dave Dombrowski has a separate perspective. He is the Tigers general manager and has what you might call a more clinical analysis of personnel. The differences in how he and his manager talk about players is often subtle and helpful in the guessing game we play days before camp breaks and those final 25 spots are locked up.
This year's camp has been distinctive on three fronts as Dombrowski, Leyland and their staffs prepare to name their sacred 25:
The Tigers have been listening to trade offers for starter Rick Porcello.
The bullpen's potential makeup has been like a dramatic mini-series. Each day (episode) deals with a different story twist built on its central characters, with rookie closer Bruce Rondon maintaining a starring role.
The final outfield configuration is as mysterious today as it was when camp convened six weeks ago.
Olde English Duels
A gut feeling is Dombrowski and Leyland, while basically in love with their team, are afraid things could go wrong in the bullpen. And that concern has every effect on how Dombrowski approaches camp's waning days and his disposition toward dealing Porcello.
But shift for a moment to the team's hottest position duel, which is the fight for a couple extra outfield jobs.
Don Kelly is going to make the team. Fans who want players to hit .300 and who don't care much about other skills or needs are not in Kelly's camp. But he makes it because he can get a hit and knock an occasional pitch into the seats, all while he plays eight positions, and runs and throws well.
The other outfield job is wide open — and complicated.
The Tigers thought they had their right-handed hitting version of Kelly in Jeff Kobernus, a Rule 5 pick who wasn't strong enough to make the Nationals' 40-man roster. Kobernus, though, has not shown he can hit in the fashion necessary for a right-handed bench player who is supposed to spell Andy Dirks.
It is expected, but by no means certain, Kobernus will be sent back to the Nationals, which is policy if a Rule 5 player is not retained on a new club's 25-man roster.
And so who gets that extra outfield/bench spot?
Quintin Berry's chances appear to be slim. He probably doesn't offer the offense, or defense, the Tigers desire.
Matt Tuiasosopo is a newcomer and intriguing. He has hit four home runs in Grapefruit League games. But he has a track record, which is why the Mariners gave up on him. He hasn't hit in a reassuring manner. The Tigers signed him as a minor league free agent. I suspect his new team believes he has feasted on spring camp fastballs and would not have much shelf life in Detroit.
That, at least, has been the clear interpretation here.
It would be no surprise if the Tigers sign, or trade for, another right-handed bat ahead of Opening Day.
Now, for the pitching.
Drew Smyly was terrific in Friday's game against the Nationals. The Tigers do not want him anywhere but in the starting rotation. But Dombrowski also wants a proper ransom for Porcello, which he might not get by the end of next week.
If he makes a deal for Porcello, expect a bullpen arm to be one of the pieces grabbed in a deal that will be dramatic. The Tigers boss is patient and will play his hand into the 11th hour.
Minus a trade? Depending upon how things go next week (Jose Alvarez?) , the Tigers probably will decide Smyly is their best option as a bullpen savior when they today have no serious long-relief specialist.
As for that other contest: closer. Bruce Rondon goes north. Early on, he will be part of a back-end mix. The Tigers will be careful. The kid isn't ready for the ninth inning on Opening Day. But not many hours thereafter you'll probably have your new Tigers closer.
Don Kelly should make the Tigers roster, even though his offense is fairly ordinary. / Robin Buckson/Detroit News
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