Much worse than losing their sixth straight game and falling 2.5 games back of the White Sox on July 19, the Detroit Tigers lost their starting third baseman, Brandon Inge, for 4-6 weeks due to a non-displaced fracture in his left hand. That means Inge is likely to miss most of the remaining regular-season schedule.
You don't need me to tell you that's not what the Tigers needed in the middle of a six game losing streak. Inge, who many may feel off-hand won't be too hard to replace, was hitting .317/.406/.439 in his last 40 games and ranks in the top half of the league defensively among all third basemen. In fact, Inge is a demoralizing loss and leaves the Tigers with yet another hole to fill as the team looks to reverse its frustrating tradition of second half collapses.
Rather than harping on how this loss should ultimately send the Tigers into Lynn Henning-land, though, the Tigers should discuss options that will help the Tigers continue to compete for a division title. That, of course, means they can't possibly stick with Don Kelly at third, Inge's replacement on Monday night.
One solution I saw kicked around on the Interwebs last night would have the Tigers moving Carlos Guillen over to third and recalling Scott Sizemore from Triple-A to play second. Sizemore, who couldn't hack it in his first couple months in the bigs, is hitting .333/.395/.509 with 5 HR in 39 games this year in Toledo, including a recent 10-game tear. The major rub in this would be placing Guillen back at 3B where he played 89 games in 2008 and was suspect, at best. (Yeah you, Guillen).
If the Tigers still feel Sizemore isn't ready for the show, they could plug in Ryan Raburn at 2B instead, who is hitting .317/.396/.512 since June 15. This might give the Tigers the worst fielding 3B/2B combo in all of baseball, but it's a plausible hypothetical, at least for the very short term.
The timing of the Inge injury is extra tough because the trade deadline strikes in just over a week. Now, in addition to inquiring about a potential starter, reliever and/or shortstop, the Tigers should very well be adding 3B as a need worth filling via trade.**
MLB Trade Rumors has an exhaustive list of third basemen, "who could conceivably be available for trade." Since it is so close to the deadline and the Tigers have presumably already been in talks with other teams, they could very well just try to lump a 3B into deals they're already negotiating or mulling over.
That brings me first to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Detroit is already scouting RHP Dan Haren, possibly interested in SS Stephen Drew, and if Tigers fans love Inge's good defense, high K rate and perennial low BA then they'd fall harder for D-Backs 3B Mark Reynolds. Reynolds ranks above Inge in most defensive categories this season, hits epic bombs, and is signed through 2012, which solves the Tigers 3B dilemma heading into this offseason when Inge comes off the books. The problem is that Reynolds is a low average hitter and strikes out more than Austin Jackson on a bad day. Still, if the Tigers could somehow pry Reynolds away from the D-Backs along with Haren (and Drew!), then I'd implore DD to hop all over it.
The Tigers are also rumored to be scouting a couple other pitchers on teams that have 3Bs of note. On Monday night they had scouts watching Ben Sheets' start for the Oakland A's. Unfortunately, if the Tigers somehow work out a deal for Sheets, Kevin Kouzmanoff, one of the best defensive 3B in the game, wouldn't be available (or at least isn't listed on that grand MLB Trade Rumors list).
In addition to Haren and Sheets, reportedly, the Tigers inquired about Cubs' pitcher Ted Lilly yesterday. Earlier this month, there were mumblings that SS Ryan Theriot might be of interest to the Tigers. The Cubs also have 3B Aramis Ramirez on the block, mostly due to his absurd price tag ($7.1 M remaining this year and $14.6 M in 2011 when he turns 33) and habitual trips to the DL. Ramirez isn't very good defensively, but a healthy Ramirez in the lineup would improve the Tigers' frequent hitting woes significantly.
** Obviously, it'd take a lot to pull off these big package deals. All trade hypotheticals are under the assumption the Tigers are trading farm guys. I'm not one to put too much value in unproven, no-named prospects. I would, however, be OK with trading Rick Porcello if it resulted in any of the above package trades.
And big package, blockbuster deals are more unlikely than likely, so the Tigers might have to try to pick up a piece here-and-there. One piece-by-piece route might be by getting teams to sell low on individual players, like Jose Lopez of the Mariners. He's a plus-defensive 3B and had a great year offensively in 2009 (.272 BA and 26 HR) but is currently suffering through the affects of a sullen Seattle team. It's entirely possible this 26-year-old simply needs a fresh start somewhere. Perhaps he could return to his 2006 All-Star form and help the Tigers back to their 2006 form.
Then there's the solid hitting, no defense options like Baltimore's Miguel Tejada and Florida's Jorge Cantu. Both rank near the bottom of the totem pole defensively, but are roughly career .280 hitters and drive in a lot of runs. For the often-times anemic Tigers offense, finding another Maple might not be such a bad idea for the interim.
The other names on the MLB Trade Rumors list consist of Andy LaRoche, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Ty Wigginton, Jhonny Peralta, Wes Helms, Alberto Collaspo and Mike Lowell. However, discussed above are the names that seem most intriguing and have connections with the teams the Tigers might already be communicating with. The remaining names do not strike me as ones that will garner much, if any interest from DD and the Tigers.
No matter who the Tigers bring in to play 3B, as Jim Leyland said after the game Monday night, it's going to be tough to replace a guy like Inge. Tougher than some might expect.