Are the Tigers Content With Inge at Third?

The Tigers have plenty of holes to fill for 2011, and it appears as though they have the payroll to make the requisite changes. Impending free agents like Magglio Ordonez, Jeremy Bonderman, and Johnny Damon will clear more than $65 million from the payroll. What’s more, the Tigers don’t figure to pay out any significant arbitration raises this winter. This leaves them plenty of room to improve the club via free agency.

We’ve heard them connected with free agent to-be Adrian Beltre, who could provide a considerable upgrade over free agent to-be Brandon Inge. But the Tigers threw us a curveball this morning by announcing that they had signed Inge to a two-year extension. It didn’t take long for people to assume that Inge will remain at third base full time. That’s understandable. Inge has, after all, played 305 games at third base in the past two seasons, and in five out of the last six seasons he’s been the team’s primary man at the position. But that doesn’t mean he’s very good at it.

Inge’s 2.1 WAR suggests he had a good season in 2010, despite offensive futility. His .314 wOBA ranked 17th among MLB third basemen, right alongside the disappointing Pablo Sandoval. His offense hasn’t exactly been in decline lately, since his wOBA is right in line with last year, and a bit better than it was in 2007 and 2008. But it is clear at this point that Inge does not hit adequately for a third baseman. Gone are the days of even a .330 wOBA.

Where Inge provides value is with his glove. In 2006 and 2007 he was among the premier defenders at third base, accumulating a 30.2 UZR in 2701.2 innings. Since then he’s been above average, but not at an elite level. In 2010 his 3.1 UZR ranked ninth among qualified third basemen. It was the second time in three years that his range rated as a negative.

What I’m questioning with this move is whether Detroit intends Inge to be their 2011 third baseman. They can probably contend with a 2.1 WAR player at third, but that’s assuming that Inge, entering his age-34 season, can maintain even that level of production. If his skills on offense fade he’ll become an even more noticeable black hole in the lineup. If his skills on defense fade he’ll become essentially useless. Are the Tigers really comfortable with that kind of situation at third base?

Given all the holes the team has to fill this winter, perhaps they’re content to keep Inge and spend money where it’s most needed. If Inge can hold stead at 2 WAR for the two-year duration of the contract he will enable the Tigers to improve the club elsewhere. It’s certainly a risk with a 34-year-old player who has had a wRC+ of over 100 just twice in 10 seasons, but it’s one the Tigers might need to take if they want to upgrade other aspects of the ball club.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


46 Responses to “Are the Tigers Content With Inge at Third?”

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  1. Nick says:

    Do they really have any alternative that isn’t named Adrian Beltre?

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    • David in DC says:

      Nope. And Beltre was never coming, but Boras could use Ilitch as leverage through late January, and then the Tigers would be looking at a horrible Don Kelly/Ryan Raburn platoon

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      • Steve says:

        Why are we so certain Beltre wouldn’t come? He’ll go to the highest bidder, no reason Detroit couldn’t be that bidder with all the money coming off their books. It’s not like the yankees will be bidding.

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      • Nick says:

        Is selling out for Beltre really all that desirable? I mean, seems like they could accomplish a similar team improvement by selling out for guys like Werth, Crawford, Lee, etc. But other positions have multiple options. 3B is Beltre or bust.

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    • lincolndude says:

      Doesn’t really seem like it. And 2 years 11 million isn’t a whole lot.

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    • Greg Foley says:

      The question of whether this deal is a slight overpay or a slight bargain is debatable, but misses the point. The point is that it’s bad business to go out of one’s way early in the off-season to commit real money over multiple years to an aging player who has never been a good hitter and whose defense is in decline. Inge’s performance will fall somewhere on the spectrum between replacement level and average. If average is the best the Tigers could hope for, they should have filled the position internally or waited for bargain signings or trades. Signing Inge takes them out of the running for Beltre and robs them of resources they could have spent on better players. It also makes it more difficult to improve the club significantly by making an in-season trade for a third-baseman (Aramis Ramirez?). Writing Inge into the 2011 lineup in October of 2010 means the Tigers are committed to at least one spot out of nine that will not be an asset. Inge is a nice player to have if he falls into your lap cheaply, but he is not someone you should seek out. The Tigers should not have locked themselves into mediocrity so early in the off-season.

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  2. cmustatboy says:

    Not really, and I think what they did this for is to have some cost containment and, while risky, a known quantity to pencil in at third to open up the chance of splurging on a Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth or Adam Dunn.

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  3. JR says:

    What is Detroit’s financial situation? I know they’ve got money coming off the books, but are they in full blown reinvestment mode? I was under the impression that they were reaching unsustainable spending levels and would be sellers in 2010 until their mid-season push caused them to change course.

    Can we really count on them to spend heavy this offseason?

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    • Dwight S. says:

      I don’t think they were ever at unsustainable levels, the media just assumed that because the Detroit economy sucked. But that doesn’t mean that the owner was hurting. Hell he just went out and bought another franchise(Detroit Pistons), so if he was truly hurting I don’t think he would do that.

      People thought they were in sell mode last season too and then they went out and signed Valverde and Damon. So the rumor is that between 60 and 70 million were coming off the book, I expect them to try spend atleast 1/2 of that. Of course that doesn’t mean they will because who knows if the guys they are going after will come but I think they’ll atleast try to.

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  4. Matt says:

    I agree with the first post. What other choice to do they have? Deal with Boras as he trots Beltre around the league until February?

    No thanks, I will take Inge and his team-friendly deal for two years. He moved his family to Metro-Detroit and is a fan favorite. His defense is good and he is expected to bat in the bottom third of the lineup. As long as the Tigers go out and improve the lineup, this move was a no brainer.

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      Yes, but it’s not really a team-friendly deal. It may be a slight overpayment considering Inge’s age and the chance of a future decline, as the article mentions. In exchange, the Tigers solve one of their many line-up holes: they’ll have plenty of more chances to spend if ownership wants to do so.

      I agree that Inge is a fan favorite. I don’t think he raises attendance though, so there’s no particular reason to pay extra for that.

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      • Nick says:

        It’s only a slight overpayment if he declines about 25%. Certainly possible, but even if it does happen you’re talking about overpaying by like 2 or 3 mil. Not a big deal.

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  5. JH says:

    I fully expect the Tigers to go hard after Prince Fielder this offseason and try to lock him up as a long-term companion to Cabrera. It just makes all kinds of sense.

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    • David in DC says:

      Fielder makes no sense unless the Tigers want a matched LH-RH pair of 250 lbs DHs

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    • JH says:

      I didn’t say it’s the best possible move, I said it’s the move they’ll make. They have tons of $, they’ve publicly said they want a big bat, and they’ve shown a willingness to make big blockbuster deals and sign bat-only guys to long-term contracts. I think they’ll end up overpaying (if/when they sign Fielder to an extension), but I think they’ll be the team to meet Milwaukee’s asking price.

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  6. Bleacher GM says:

    I’ve been argueing with my friends over this for years. They live in Detroit and think Inge is a great 3B. I am a Detroit fan, I now live in Ohio, and KNOW Inge is not a good 3B. The question of ‘who else could they get’ is a cop out. There are more than 30 people alive that are better options for 3B. If you can’t get one through FA (Beltre, Wigginton, Peralta, etc.) then look to deal for one (Encarnacion, Kouzmanoff, etc.). If you want to be .500 then Inge can help get you there, but you aren’t going to win 90 games and contend for a title with a 3B that can’t hit over .260 or 20 HRs. 1B, 3B and your Corner OF positions have to provide the offense so you can afford to have great defenders through the middle…

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    • IngeIsAverage says:

      I think your friends are in the minority about thinking Inge is great. The general consensus is that he’s a solid (not great) defensive 3rd basemen and a average- below average batter. There are not 30 players better than Inge at 3rd though. Also, your argument about being .500 makes no sense. Is there a rule that says you can’t win without a stud at 3rd?Value is value. Look at the playoff teams from this year and try arguing that you can’t win with a good 3rd basemen.

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      • Elwin says:

        I also live in Michigan and can attest that Inge is a huge fan favorite and is regarded as a much better player than he really is. He is a “clutch player” and probably the best defensive third basemen in the game.

        I know this isn’t true, but this is what your average Tigers fan believes.

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    • David in DC says:

      Beltre is a pipe dream.
      Wigginton and E5 cannot field the position competently.
      Inge is clearly (though slightly) better than Peralta (who will be the Tigers’ SS) at 3rd.
      IF, and that’s a big IF, KK is available, other teams will bid on him, too.

      Inge would have been, sadly, the 2nd best 3b on the market this winter.

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    • Nick says:

      No it’s not a cop out because you just listed like 4 players who are worse than Inge, and the guy you listed as better is going to cost eleventy billion dollars.

      Why does 3B have to be the offense? Why does all your value have to come from 3rd? This whole “corners have to be awesome” myth is a relic of the steroid era. The Rangers are about to win a pennant with 2.7 WAR Michael Young, and the Giants are about to win a pennant with Sandoval posting a WAR LOWER than Inge.

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      • B N says:

        Though to be honest, I’d still take Pablo over Inge in a heartbeat. I respect Inge, but the raw talent that Pablo has is just too big to ignore (much like his waistline, unfortunately).

        With that said, Inge is respectable and I think that his deal is a fair one for both sides. He could have a good year at the plate and overperform the contract (it’s not that hard to get a year that would match 3/4 of that value) and he could regress at 25% and end up losing the Tigers a few million.

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      • wrinklebump says:

        i agree. there’s only a handful of teams with true offensive studs at third nowadays.

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      • Chuck says:

        Except the Giants haven’t been playing Sandoval at 3B during the playoffs. They’ve been playing Fontenot.

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  7. Ari Collins says:

    Seems to me there are plenty of options if they want to spend big at a different position. Lee, Werth, Crawford, Victor, a trade for Fielder or Gonzalez (moving Cabrera to DH). Not a big fan of the Inge signing, but if they didn’t want to enter the Beltre sweepstakes, it’s defensible.

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  8. IngeIsAverage says:

    The 2011 third base free agents don’t look very good either. http://mlbcontracts.blogspot.com/2001/05/potential-free-agents-for-2011.html There really aren’t that many elite 3b anyway. I think that the Tigers are going to start spending a lot more on player development and international players. They just brought in Eddie Bane and Tim Hallgren and have really shaken up their minor league coaching. The head of player development also “left” last year but stated that he was basically fired. They do have some players in the minors who will hopefully step up and fill 3B but that might be until 2014 with Castellanos. Maybe they will fill the hole with another player such as Francisco Martinez or someone else in ’12 or ’13.

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    • Brian says:

      Wade Gaynor might play himself into consideration as well. Also, there is Brandon Douglas who has played some 3B in the minors.

      Overall, I am not overly excited or disappointed by the deal. Keep Inge as a stop gap for some youngsters, or overpay Adrian Beltre for too many years.

      BTW, I’d take Inge at $11M for 2 years over Wiggington, Encarcion and Kouzmanoff any day of the week.

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  9. Spacelord says:

    I’m not positive about this, but isn’t Inge a fan favorite over in Detroit? $5.5 mil per season only requires him to post about 1.4 WAR to break even, plus if the fans love him it can help with attendance.

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    • Dwight S. says:

      Yeah he probably has the biggest fanbase among all Tigers. Women and children love him so he will definitely give the owner his money’s worth in terms of jersey sales and people he brings to the ball park.

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    • Chuck says:

      He’s a fan favorite in the way slightly-built white guys of modest talent and production generally are.

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  10. MIke Rogers says:

    The Inge deal is only a big hindrance if it stops them from acquiring another bat or two on the FA market.

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    • Shouldn't interfere says:

      The Tigers have around 70 million coming off the books anyway so they still have a huge amount free for other needs.

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    • B N says:

      If the Inge deal somehow hurts them from picking up a FA, they should fire every one of their financial advisers and promptly try to trade off Valverde. Because seriously, you should not be paying solid money for relievers unless it has no impact on your ability to keep your core in a competitive condition. 3rd basemen, however, are essential for victory.

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        3B are essential for victory? Huh? Someone might want to inform the 1998 Yankees or 2010 Giants of this.

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        (That said, I see your larger point and agree. The idea that this Inge contract will stifle their FA moves is absurd and silly.)

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      • Jack Weiland says:

        It has come to my attention Scott Brosius was actually kinda awesome in 98. Go figure. Let this be a lesson in talking first/verifying second.

        I will take care of informing the 1998 Yankees. No worries.

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  11. Mike says:

    Not a fan of the two-year commitment, but I have a much bigger problem with Detroit thinking Peralta can play SS for a full season and be passable there than I do with keeping Inge around to play 3b.

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    • wrinklebump says:

      that’s certainly the bigger offseason issue. their infield defense was blindingly bad this year; it only figures to get worse in ’11.

      also, having been to a more than a few tigers games, I can assure anyone concerned about the tigers’ financial commitment to Inge that his merchandise sales alone pay his salary. and the salaries of the entire outfield, probably.

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    • Dwight S. says:

      What do you mean? Peralta is an excellent fielder, just look at his fielding percentage.(This is Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland’s mindset)

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    • JR says:

      As an Indians fan, hearing that Detroit re-upped Inge and are looking to extend Peralta is welcome news. Talk around here was that they were two potential free agent targets to play third for the Tribe next year.

      Hoping we’d dodge those bullets

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      • Mike says:

        I think Inge is far better suited to fit in Detroit than Cleveland. He really wouldn’t serve much purpose in Cleveland from an organizational perspective. In Detroit, he’s a league average stopgap who provides enough value with the glove to warrant this kind of contract. In Cleveland, he’s a league average soon-to-be 34-year-old whose $5.5 million a year isn’t worth clogging up the spot for someone they could develop over the long term there.

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  12. MTUCache says:

    With as many holes as Detroit has for next season, at least a few of them were going to get filled with “role” players who are only average big-leaguers. Inge is a known commodity, already a likable team guy, plays adequate defense and isn’t going to get any GMs fired.

    Dombrowski’s got plenty of fish to fry here…To be frank, I’m a lot more concerned with a middle infield that’s going to be made up of some scary combination of Peralta, Santiago, Rhymes, and Sizemore. Behind the plate they’ve got only Avila right now, and their corner outfield spots are going to made up of AAAA players (Raburn, Boesch, Wells, Worth, etc) until they do make that big free-agent signing that we’re all expecting. They could use at least one more guy in the rotation as well.

    Inge is a popular guy, a “safe” play at 3B, accepts hitting in the bottom of the lineup, and most of all he was able to be bought at the right price. They weren’t going to be signing an all-star guy at ALL these positions. They’re going to spend the money where the market is more open (OF).

    As a Tigers fan, I’m still confident and satisfied with this move. As long as the money gets spent somewhere and Inge doesn’t end up hitting behind MCab, I’ll be happy.

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  13. rea says:

    They weren’t going to be signing an all-star guy at ALL these positions.

    Although Inge was an all-star as recently as ’09 . . .

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  14. rick p says:

    One problem with this is that Dombrowski appears to be going to decline Peralta’s 7 mill option and try to sign him for less. He’s trying to save on the wrong player IMO

    Peralta is 4years younger and as a SS is a good hitter. As a 3B he’s still better than Inge. If we end up with Inge but not Peralta they would have done better spending the money on pitching

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  15. Steve says:

    I wouldn’t be as down on the Inge signing if Detroit hadn’t muffed the chance to sign Polanco (a better player) to the same deal last off-season. Inge is 34, has two gimpy knees and has declined defensively for the better part of the last four years. He never comes through in situations where he’s needed at the plate either (subjective analysis! *gasp*).

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  16. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

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