03 April 2012
Tigers are set with their 27 man roster (as @PhilCokesBrain put it) with Brandon Inge hitting the disabled list with the sore groin and Drew Smyly staying in the minor leagues for his first start. And so we must wait for a resolution for two of the three ‘big’ position battles of the spring.
The first battle, the final (6th?) outfield spot, will be officially decided by April 12, when Smyly will need to be added to the active roster to make his Major League debut. Either Andy Dirks will be optioned to the minor leagues, or Clete Thomas will be designated for assignment (after which he will most certainly clear waivers and end up in Toledo).
But the hot topic all spring was the heated battle for the third sting utility infielder position. I hope the rest of baseball gets to enjoy the type of minutia that we’ve enjoyed. This contest won’t be officially settled until Inge is eligible to come off the disabled list on April 13.
But I don’t think there’s any question what the move will be. Inge will be activated and Danny Worth will be sent down to Toledo. I really don’t see any way that the Tigers would string Inge along for 15 days only to cut bait once he’s eligible to play. It’s possible that the Tigers use the extra days to work out a trade, any trade, with a team willing to take even a dollar of Inge’s salary, but the line up of takers for any deal involving Inge probably looks like that scene from Mary Poppins where all of the nanny candidates are blown away in the wind and only a neighborhood dog is left waiting by the door.
I’ll concede that Brandon Inge isn’t an exceptional baseball player at this point in his career, he’s no more than a platoon player, but Inge being relatively bad doesn’t mean that Worth is any good. His big qualification seems to be that he’s not Inge.
I’d never recommend looking at only one year’s worth of numbers when more are available, but even if we look only at last season, an incredibly bad year for Inge, it’s hard to conclude that he was outplayed by Worth. Here is a WAR comparison for each*:
*Inge’s season was worth -0.6 WAR according to Baseball Reference and -0.4 WAR according to FanGraphs, so I took the worst of the two. Worth was listed at -0.1 WAR in both places.
Small sample size, to be sure (especially for Worth), but I hope it serves to make a point. If we’re going to judge Inge solely on his incredibly bad 2011 season, shouldn’t we also consider that Worth’s innings added no more value to the club?
Inge is chided for being a poor hitter, especially in recent years, but again we see no reason to declare him worse than Worth. Danny has accumulated 154 major league plate appearances in his career (spread across 2010 and 2011). In those trips to the plate, he’s accumulated an OPS of .648. Inge’s OPS in the same two-year stretch was .659. And if you want another recent data point, Inge had a .900 OPS in 134 plate appearances in AAA last year, while Worth had a .759 OPS in 300 plate appearances (his best minor league season to date).
I’m not trying to argue that Inge is a good player, or even that he’s significantly better than Worth (that would be ludicrous given the sample sizes I mentioned). I’m actually of the opinion that it makes zero difference which player ends up spending more time with the big club. I just want to see everyone stop pretending that Worth has done anything to prove he’s a better major league option than Inge. (Unless you want to believe 39 spring training at-bats tell us anything whatsoever). Sure, Worth has some prospect value, and he surely has a better 3-to-5 year upside, but that alone doesn’t necessitate him being on the roster.
Since I’m not convinced that Worth would add much value above Inge this season, I’m left with a few possible (non-performance) reasons that the Tigers might be more inclined to keep Inge rather than Worth.
- It’s more expensive to cut Inge, pay him, and pay Danny Worth a major League salary. We’re probably only talking $100,000-$200,000 (whatever the difference is between what Worth would make as a minor leaguer and the big league minimum) which isn’t much in the grand scheme, but it would factor in if you thought the players would provide identical value.
- Merchandise. It’s now comical how many Inge jerseys there are around the ballpark, but Inge has been a popular player in his tenure. Keeping him on the team might help push the surplus 15’s out the door. This would obviously be a tiny factor.
- Danny Worth holds some prospect value, but he’s not been particularly good with the bat in his career. Giving him regular at-bats in AAA might help him continue to grow as a hitter more than sitting on the bench in the majors would.
- Hanging on to an aging veteran might give the Tigers more leverage down the road in free agent negotiations. They could point to the Inge example to say that the organization respects their veteran players and doesn’t readily boot them out of the major leagues.
Obviously none of these points are worth anything on their own, and their combined value is probably minimal, but it might be enough to deter the club from making a change for the sake of making a change.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.