What one fan called “Detroit’s long divisive nightmare” is finally over. After yesterday’s loss to the Mariners, the Detroit Tigers announced they were releasing Brandon Inge. The love-him-or-hate-him veteran had spent his entire 12-year career with the Tigers, but hadn’t been an effective player since at least 2009.
Sure, there’s a contingent of fans – many of them 16-year old girls and so-called Motown Cougars – who are shedding tears at the exit of Inge, but this was the right move by the Tigers. Finally.
The truly sad thing about the entire Inge Situation has been the way the team handled it in 2012. General Manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland should be taken to task for clinging to Inge for so long. Some of us can say “I told you so” as far back as 2010 when it comes to Inge and his playing time, but the decisions that the Tiger brass made this spring have had consequences that have cost the Tigers dearly.
When the Tigers broke camp last month, Inge was hurt, but he was on the 25-man roster and Leyland assured us that he would give Inge starts at second base when he got healthy. Infielder Danny Worth came up while Inge was on the disabled list and got into a handful of games before he was sent to Toledo, a place where he’s proven over the course of four previous season, that he can hit and pick it at second base. But Inge was till given a spot on the roster. Presumably because Leyland and DD thought Inge would be a good option against left-handed pitching. Also, Inge can play third and even the outfield when needed.
But Inge never hit, going 2-for-20 with a homer while playing second base like he was wearing oven mitts. Meanwhile, Worth has three homers at Toledo and is slugging over. 500 for the Mud Hens. Worth, who at the age of 26 is entering his prime as an offensive player, is getting jerked around. Dombrowski and Leyland have never given him a chance to show what he can do in Detroit. Like Scott Sizemore, another good middle infield prospect (and an even better offensive player than Worth, but who was traded for practically nothing last May), Worth is being overlooked because Leyland loves scrappy veterans like Inge.
But the worst thing about the Inge fiasco is how it cost the Tigers Clete Thomas. Thomas was placed on waivers about two weeks ago to make room for Drew Smyly. Instead of doing something with Inge at that time, Thomas, a hard-hitting left-handed batter who can play all three outfield spots and run well, was waived. Since he was out of options (meaning he couldn’t just be sent to Toledo), any team was free to grab Thomas for the waiver claim fee. The Twins snapped him up, Thomas hit a homer in his first game for Minnesota, and Inge remained a Tiger. For about 11 more days. So, for 11 days of Inge, The Tigers lost Thomas.
Adding insult to injury, Leyland admitted that the Tigers have bungled the crowded second base situation this spring. He admitted that the team shouldn’t have tried to shuffle Inge, Ryan Raburn, and Ramon Santiago at the position and expect them to get into rhythm and produce. Gee, really? Shouldn’t that have been obvious to a veteran manager? That’s inexcusable.
Dombrowski called Inge a “warrior” and a “soldier” in the press conference after he was released. But for much of his career, Inge’s batting stroke was like “The Unknown Soldier”. Since 2007 – that’s five full years and the 20 at-bats this spring – Inge has hit .226 with an anemic .375 slugging percentage and a strikeout every 3.5 at-bats! His slugging percentage the last six years against right-handed pitching is .344, a figure you expect more from a pitcher than you do an everyday player.
The Tigers brass – namely Dombrowski and Leyland – must be held accountable for the mess that is the Tigers second base position, and the loss of Thomas. Now, they’re also on the hook for more of Inge’s salary as well, seeing as he made the opening day 25-man roster. This all could have, and should have been handled better.
The Tigers front office allowed sentimentality to rule their decision-making process. Was it that owner Mike Ilitch loves Inge? I don’t want to believe that that had something to do with it, but I don’t know what to believe.
Dombrowski, normally a very astute GM, dropped the ball in his handling of Brand Inge. What happens next will tell us if he’s learned to make decisions based on talent and production rather than misplaced loyalty.