Detroit — This isn’t like the Tigers. Not in recent seasons.
They suddenly have a potential crowd in the outfield and infield, which means someone who probably merits making the 2016 active roster will end up at Triple A Toledo, or with another team.
Justin Upton’s arrival this week as the team’s new left fielder will make it tough on newcomer Cameron Maybin to get the at-bats he no doubt was expecting when the Tigers got him from the Braves in a November trade.
Maybin will become a potentially handy fourth outfielder and possible time-sharer with Anthony Gose in center. But that could make life difficult for Tyler Collins, a left-handed hitter the Tigers were viewing as a possible platoon partner in left with Maybin.
Nothing prohibits the Tigers from carrying five outfielders when manager Brad Ausmus cements his 25-man active roster early in April. But any thoughts five will go north with the team ahead of Opening Day in Detroit are diluted by the presence of two back-up infielders: Andrew Romine, as well as newcomer Mike Aviles, who can also be assigned to the outfield if absolutely necessary.
It leaves no apparent room on Detroit’s bench for all of the above when Ausmus figures to carry 12 pitchers. Throw in the Tigers’ nine regulars and there’s room for four on the pine, one of which likely will be switch-hitting reserve catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
None of this overly bothers Tigers general manager Al Avila, whose team could use some better bodies on its bench.
“We feel very good about that,” Avila said Wednesday at Comerica Park, where Upton was introduced following certification of his six-year, $132 million deal.
“We’re very happy about that. With our outfield, we’ve got good depth, and with our infield we’ve got some depth. It gives Brad some maneuverability.
“And, for the first time, we’ve got a little depth at Triple A. I think it’s all good. It’s the best of everything.”
It might in fact become a legitimate plus on a team that in recent seasons hasn’t gotten great bench grades.
One sign of some added muscle was Wednesday’s decision to prune Jefry Marte as the answer to making room for Upton on the team’s 40-man roster. Marte is young (24), and while he batted only .213 in 80 at-bats for the Tigers in 2015, he did club four home runs.
Marte also helped at third base and first base. Only because the Tigers have fattened their roster was Marte made expendable Wednesday. He was designated for assignment and could remain with the Tigers if he clears waivers.
Avila, too, mentioned another potential entry in the Tigers’ 2016 position race: outfielder Steven Moya, who in 35 games in the Dominican Winter League batted .298, with an .815 OPS (.350 and .456). In the team’s nine-game playoff series, Moya, 24, batted .309, with a pair of home runs, and an .830 OPS.
His progress in the winter leagues gave Avila and the Tigers reason to believe some long-held faith in Moya, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound left-handed batter, hasn’t been misplaced. It suggests to them, at the very least, a meaningful season at Triple A Toledo might help push him closer to permanent work in Detroit.
The Tigers also have reasonable depth at catcher in Bryan Holaday, who has been invaluable during the past two seasons and who, given the injury rates for catchers, could find himself squarely in the mix again in 2016.
Top position candidates for 2016 Tigers roster
(13 players likely)