Henning: Tigers 2016 roster is all but set
Lakeland, Fla. — Not often do the Tigers arrive at spring camp with their seating chart essentially decided.
For better or worse, that’s pretty much the case in 2016. The roster is all but set. Injuries can shake up plans, as could good or bad performances that necessitate some rearranging. But otherwise, it is a roster that has taken on a surprising degree of finality six weeks ahead of Opening Day in Miami.
“Not a ton of spots open,” manager Brad Ausmus acknowledged Wednesday as the Tigers got ready for a morning of rain and a menu of indoor workouts at their Tigertown complex.
The team today is all but a done deal on the position side:
James McCann, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Nick Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, Justin Upton, Anthony Gose, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Romine, Mike Aviles.
The starting rotation is likewise established, at least until further notice: Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Mike Pelfrey.
The bullpen is about the only area still in flux. A couple of slots are fluid. Practically speaking, Bruce Rondon and Bobby Parnell will duel for one spot. Shane Greene and Drew VerHagen probably will decide another. Otherwise, it’s Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy.
To repeat, injuries happen all the time in spring camp. So, it’s more than likely a tender arm or a strained groin or a bad hamstring will affect at least one of the above showdowns.
But with more clarity than you would find in camp during most Februarys, this figures to be Ausmus’ bunch when camp closes in Lakeland on April 1. The irony, perhaps, is that this is a team with more depth — more roster-worthy players — than the Tigers probably have crafted in some years.
Depth is welcome on any big-league club. But it will create complications by the time everyone heads for Miami.
Catcher, for example. Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter whose left-handed bat gives him an essential edge over Bryan Holaday. Holaday has exhausted his minor-league options and can’t be shipped to Triple A unless he clears waivers, which would not happen. And that means he is all but certain to be traded at the end of camp.
Another casualty of 2016’s numbers game figures to be Tyler Collins. He was all set as a fourth outfielder in 2016, and a handy option with his left-handed bat. That is, until Juston Upton was signed a month ago and Collins became squeezed. Maybin is sure to be the winner as a fourth outfielder because of his greater utility in center field and left field.
It leaves two more spots on the position side. Andrew Romine is a slam dunk because of his versatility in playing shortstop or pretty much any place in the infield. Mike Aviles also will make the team as a super-sub who can play the infield and help out, if absolutely necessary, in the outfield.
The Tigers this week signed Casey McGehee as a contestant in their infield sweepstakes, but there is no expectation — perhaps even on McGehee’s part — that he will be with the team on Opening Day. He ranks as insurance at Toledo, a man who can play third base in the big leagues if required and operate as a sterling clubhouse veteran (McGehee’s reputation is almost sacred) for Mud Hens manager Lloyd McClendon.
McGehee has enough years under his belt that he could opt out of his Tigers minor-league deal if he doesn’t make the big-league team, which is the same arrangement open to Parnell, the right-handed reliever who signed last week with Detroit.
But there’s a difference in the two situations. McGehee played last year in Japan and knows the Tigers realities. He realizes Triple A could be an initial stop but that an injury, which happens too often during a 162-game season, could in a heartbeat put him on the pavement to Detroit.
The X factor
Parnell wants a ticket to the big leagues, and in a hurry. If he doesn’t make the team when it breaks camp, Parnell likely would stay with the Tigers only if he saw merit to perhaps strengthening his arm at Toledo (he had Tommy John surgery in 2014) and waiting, probably a short time, for a Comerica Park call-up.
The Tigers signed Parnell with hopes he makes the club. They have a minor-league option remaining with Rondon and would have no problem allowing him time to marinate with the Mud Hens, if that became the wiser course.
Greene is the pitching staff’s X factor. If he pitches during camp with the polish he might have recovered following last summer’s arterial surgery, he would be a percentage bet to crack Ausmus’ bullpen corps. If he pitches extremely well, he might displace Norris or Pelfrey as a starter, with perhaps Pelfrey heading to the bullpen, and, plausibly, Norris returning to Triple A if he is seen as needing a bit more time in the bushes.
That’s about as much drama as the Tigers are entertaining a few days before Grapefruit League games begin. For a change, this team has its position contests all but settled. Happier for Ausmus and his boss, general manager Al Avila, the Tigers have potential spare bullpen parts — good ones.
I don’t remember the last time that scenario greeted a Tigers team notorious for its back-end breakdowns. Doubt the front office, which had gotten a bit tired of some bad habits, remembers as well.
Lining ’em up
A look at the expected 25-man roster for the Tigers:
■James McCann, C
■Miguel Cabrera, 1B
■Ian Kinsler, 2B
■Nick Castellanos, 3B
■Jose Iglesias, SS
■Justin Upton, LF
■Anthony Gose, CF
■J.D. Martinez, RF
■Victor Martinez, DH
■Cameron Maybin, OF
■Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
■Andrew Romine, IF
■Mike Aviles, IF/OF
* Likely competing for one of two remaining spots