Lakeland, Fla. — Manager Brad Ausmus has spent more time pondering his batting order this offseason than just about any other aspect of his team. He has analyzed and dissected it from all angles.
And Thursday he presented his tentative findings.
"It's probably the one thing I've looked at the most," he said. "And right now I can tell you with all certainty that I am not sure."
Part of the uncertainty, of course, comes from the health concerns of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, both of whom will miss a good chunk of spring training recovering from ankle and knee surgery, respectively.
Clearly, when they are ready to go, they will hit third and fourth in the order. But other than that, the Tigers batting order is under construction.
"What can we do to make our lineup better with the personnel we have," Ausmus said. "How can we squeeze the most out of our lineup? It's a little bit of a crapshoot because some guys have good years and some guys have bad years. You are trying to look at it from a broad perspective based on what they've done in the past.
"I have not decided anything, I really haven't."
He has mentioned some of his ideas — like possibly hitting Alex Avila second against right-handed pitchers. He's also torn on who will bat leadoff.
"If you were to put a gun to my head right now, I would say Ian Kinsler would lead off against righties but not lefties," Ausmus said.
Rajai Davis or Anthony Gose could be candidates to leadoff against left-handers with Kinsler batting second in that scenario. He is also trying to figure out the best spots for potential RBI producers J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes.
"Trust me, I am looking at a lot of factors," he said. "In terms of how many at-bats each slot in the order gets, knowing as you move down in the order you get fewer at-bats. What slots in the order come up with most men on base?"
He's dissected this like a sabermetrician.
"How many times guys on our roster have scored from second base on a single and how many times they haven't," he said. "How many times they have scored from first on a double and how many times they haven't."
It can get complicated, especially when you factor in guys coming off surgery, including shortstop Jose Iglesias who missed all of last season. Even something that seems to make sense on paper, Avila hitting second because of his .345 career on-base percentage, isn't so cut and dry.
"Brad mentioned my hitting in front of Miggy because I've been able to get on base," Avila said. "But the thing is, you wouldn't expect the guy hitting in front of Miggy to be walking a lot because you are going to see more strikes.
"Torii Hunter (who batted second the last two years) never walked much because he knew he was going to get a pitch to hit. He was swinging that bat."
So the logic behind Avila batting second because he will see pitches and get on base might be flawed, though with more fastballs to feast on, Avila's batting average may increase.
"You just don't want to be a quick out," Avila said. "You don't want Miggy going up there with two outs and nobody on and the pitcher having thrown four or five pitches. You don't want Miggy going up there thinking he's got to take a pitch. You want him going up there ready to hit."
There is another complication with Avila hitting second, too.
"You want a guy who can score from first on a double," Avila said with a chuckle. "I don't know how many times I'd be able to do that."
Part of the fun this spring will be watching Ausmus toy with various batting lineups. It could be a while before anything gets set in stone.
Around the horn
Ausmus admitted he has some trepidation about shortstop Iglesias, who missed last season with stress fractures in both legs.
"There is a little bit of concern there," he said. "Concern more about the long haul than some specific incident happening. I'm just worried the thing might sneak back up on us over the course of a few months if we don't pay attention to it."
… Ausmus reiterated that minor leaguers Jordan Lennerton and Aaron Westlake will get the bulk of the spring training reps at first base while Cabrera recovers. Avila will get some, too, but Ausmus said he hoped not to play Avila at first during the season. As for the designated hitter, Ausmus said, "We could use it to get Iglesias a few more at-bats and keep him off the field so he's not consistently pounding at shortstop.
… A bit of routine housekeeping, the Tigers officially signed 11 players to one-year deals Thursday: right-handed pitchers Angel Nesbitt, Jose Valdez and Drew VerHagen, lefties Blaine Hardy and Kyle Ryan, catcher James McCann, infielders Iglesias and Dixon Machado and outfielders Wynton Bernard, Daniel Fields and Steven Moya.
Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky