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Henning: Tigers' final roster spots undecided

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers infielder Andrew Romine, who has a career .236 batting average, must pass through waivers if he is sent to the minors.

Bradenton, Fla. — Spring camp's days are dwindling, and so are Tigers roster spots for 2015.

Only a couple of seats are unsettled as manager Brad Ausmus and front-office boss Dave Dombrowski prepare to gather staffs and make final decisions on a 25-man crew ahead of Opening Day.

At issue, in terms of position players, are bench spots. One probably is settled, with rookie catcher James McCann expected to win over Bryan Holaday and become Alex Avila's co-pilot behind home plate. Holaday likely will be stashed at Triple A Toledo. And based upon health issues that typically crop up for catchers, he's all but certain to play in Detroit, perhaps early this season.

A less crystallized picture surrounds the three-man chase for two remaining bench jobs on Ausmus' regular-season roster.

Tyler Collins, Hernan Perez, and Andrew Romine are the contenders there. What isn't clear, perhaps even yet to Ausmus and Dombrowski, is how the slots will be defined and manned.

One plan clearly is favored by fans who want a power bat on the bench. Collins is the easy and only choice there. He hits left-handed and can clear a fence, which was obvious last September when he smashed his first big-league homer beyond the center-field wall at Cleveland. He also can play three outfield positions. And so, today, Collins is probably the favorite, even if fifth outfielders aren't always necessary.

Perez and Romine are where things become sticky. They essentially have the same skills in that each can play three, or even four, infield positions. The Tigers have sought this spring to make them even handier by introducing each man to the outfield.

Ausmus upped the ante Wednesday when he said either Romine or Perez could also work as the emergency third catcher. This news item arrived after the skipper and Dombrowski decided knee-repaired, 36-year-old Victor Martinez never again will catch for Detroit.

Out of options

This continual reference by Ausmus to Perez and Romine and how both players could win an Opening Day reservation has created a minor ruckus within Tigers Nation.

The critics, correctly it would seem, aren't inspired by a bench that would be heavy on flexibility but light on punch at the plate. Perez, who in a week turns 24, has a .205 career batting average in 44 big-league games. Romine is 29 with a career average, spanning 168 games, of .236.

Big-league benches normally carry at least one thumper who has a shot at driving a ball up a gap or into the seats. The Tigers, at least as their contestants now stand, feature only one bench option who has that brand of sock: Collins.

But any nod to Collins means trouble for the Tigers with respect to either Perez or the 29-year-old Romine. Perez and Romine are out of minor-league options and can't be returned to the bushes unless they clear waivers and are ignored by other teams.

Perez, because of his youth and upside, probably would rank as the Tigers preference. It's also conceivable that Romine more than Perez would clear waivers, at which time the Tigers could outright his contract to Triple A and hold onto a potentially helpful utility man.

Trade possibilities

Dombrowski might also have in mind a trade between now and Opening Day. It could be a deal for that hitter he wants, particularly if the Tigers decide Collins, 24, would benefit from at least a few more weeks or months of regular at-bats at Toledo.

Dombrowski also could ponder a trade involving any of the above, although that would presuppose the brand of hitter and defender (a back-up first baseman?) he most would want on Detroit's bench will, for whatever reason, become available between now and Opening Day.

That kind of player has been in exceedingly short supply throughout the big leagues during recent seasons. Everyone wants offense. Not many are cutting such players, or even dealing them late in spring camp.

Remember also that the general manager has final say on rosters. Ausmus gives hints that he wants mobile, jack-of-all trades players on his bench. That would be the basis for his steady references to Perez and Romine.

Dombrowski might decide he wants a guy who can slam a home run, which, at the moment, is Collins. Or, perhaps Ausmus wants the same mix and simply is being diplomatic to Perez and Romine as each man's trade potential trade status is respected if not enhanced to any degree possible.

It's all a mystery a couple of weeks before decision day arrives at Lakeland. As roster intrigue goes, this is good stuff.