Lakeland, Fla. — We’re getting down to it now. Ten days left in spring training and still unsolved are the Tigers starting rotation, the final two or three bullpen spots and the final two bench jobs.
The ultimate roster decisions will be made after a collaborative debate between manager Ron Gardenhire and his staff and general manager Al Avila and the baseball operations staff, which includes senior director of analytics Jay Sartori and director of baseball operations Sam Menzin.
“We have to figure out the bottom part of our roster, as far as position players,” Gardenhire said. “What are our needs? And how many will we have – 12 position players or 13? We have some decisions to make.”
Gardenhire said pitching coach Chris Bosio thinks they can comfortably start the season with 12 pitchers. So, Gardenhire should be able to carry four bench players.
“Early on, you don’t need defensive replacements,” he said. “Those guys will play nine innings. But you have to look at all of it.”
For now, the best we can do is lay out some plausible scenarios — which won’t take into account any injuries or last-minute roster additions, which seem inevitable given the early stages of the Tigers’ rebuilding effort.
Projected locks: Michael Fulmer, Francisco Liriano, Jordan Zimmermann, Matthew Boyd, Mike Fiers.
In the hunt: Daniel Norris.
Comment: Norris has a minor-league option left, and letting a younger pitcher like this get his footing at Triple-A early in the year may seem like the easy option for the Tigers. It will give them time to sort out what they can expect from veterans like Fiers and Zimmermann, who are coming off rough 2017 seasons.
Scenario A: Norris starts the year at Toledo.
Projected locks: Shane Greene (closer), Alex Wilson, Daniel Stumpf (LHP), Joe Jimenez, Drew VerHagen, Warwick Saupold.
In the hunt: Blaine Hardy (LHP), Chad Bell (LHP), Buck Farmer, Johnny Barbato.
Comment: Typically, the club would want to carry two left-handers in the ’pen, but Gardenhire has said it would be more important to keep the best seven arms regardless of which side they throw from. VerHagen is the only one without an option.
Scenario A: Farmer has been mostly unhittable this spring and probably earned a spot based on that. It would give Hardy, who has been slowed by shoulder soreness, extra time at Triple-A to build arm strength. With Wilson and Saupold stretched out for long relief, the Tigers would have four potential set-up men who throw 95 mph and up.
Scenario B: The Tigers could decide it would be best to build some starting pitching depth and send Farmer and Bell back to pitch in the rotation at Toledo. In that case, Hardy or Barbato (who also brings it 95 and up) could get the nod.
Scenario C: Saupold has been a little spotty this spring. They could decide to keep Farmer and Barbato and let Saupold get on track in Toledo.
POSITION PLAYERS (13)
PROJECTED STARTERS (9)
C — James McCann
1B — Miguel Cabrera
2B — Dixon Machado
SS — Jose Iglesias
3B — Jeimer Candelario
RF — Nick Castellanos
CF — Leonys Martin
LF — Mikie Mahtook
DH — Victor Martinez
Projected locks: C-1B John Hicks, OF Victor Reyes (Rule 5).
Infielders in the hunt: Niko Goodrum (third, shortstop, second, first, center field); Ronny Rodriguez (third base, shortstop, second base, first base); Alexi Amarista (third, second, short); Pete Kozma (shortstop, third base, second base); Jarrod Saltalamacchia (catcher), Derek Norris (catcher).
Outfielders in the hunt: JaCoby Jones, Jim Adduci (also first base); Chad Huffman (also first base).
Comment: JaCoby Jones has been one of the most consistently productive players in camp and on the basis of that alone, probably deserves a roster spot. But he has a minor-league option left, and instead of being the fifth outfielder and playing sparingly early in the year in Detroit, it may be deemed more beneficial to his development to start and play every day in Toledo.
Comment: The Tigers took Reyes, a 23-year-old, fleet-footed, switch-hitting outfielder, with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft. They would have to subject him to waivers and offer him back to the Diamondbacks if he wasn’t kept on the active roster. Given the Tigers’ M.O. of developing young, team-controlled talent, it makes sense that he stays in the organization.
Comment: Saltalamacchia, Norris and Kozma are expected to start the season in Toledo and provide some veteran insurance in case of any long-term injuries at the big-league level.
Scenario A: It seems likely Amarista will make the roster as the infield utility man. He’s a proven veteran, a plus defender at second base, a good defender at third, and he bats left-handed. The fourth bench player won’t play much (remember Machado last season) so it wouldn’t be a good spot for Jones. Jim Adduci would be a good choice. He can play all three outfield spots, plus back-up at first base and he bats left-handed.
Scenario B: Switch-hitting Goodrum has had a productive camp, even with missing a week with a sore shoulder. He could be the primary backup for Candelario at third, plus the fifth outfielder. Amarista, in that case, would be the primary backup for Machado.
Scenario C: They could roll the dice on getting Reyes through waivers. In that case, Jones would be the fourth outfielder and they could keep Amarista and Goodrum (or Rodriguez) for infield help.