October 19, 2006


Tigers Offer a Lesson In Roster Management (CHRISTINA KAHRL, October 19, 2006, NY Sun)

[C]onsider Alexis Gomez, the hero of Game Two in the ALCS. Gomez came to the Tigers organization as a minor league free agent in 2005, abandoning the Royals organization that first found him in the Dominican Republic. After playing regularly for the International League champion Toledo Mudhens in 2005,Tigers' general manager Dave Dombrowski brought him back as a non-roster invite. Gomez first came up this year on April 15 when DH Dmitri Young initially got injured and was put through waivers and outrighted back to Toledo three weeks later. He was brought back a month later, and outrighted again at the end of June, and was finally brought up to stay just before the end of August.

Gomez's strengths are straightforward enough — defense, and a lefty bat good enough for a big league bench, but only just.At times, the Tigers needed the roster space he took up to bring in a spare pitcher, rather than keep him around for playing time he wasn't going to get, the Tigers kept his bat fresh by playing him regularly at Toledo.So while he only got 111 plate appearances with the Tigers — not much over six months of action — he really had the benefit of more than 250 plate appearances with the Mudhens, keeping his skills sharp, and helping keep him in readiness for postseason possibilities.

Similarly, the Tigers employed reserve infielder Ramon Santiago sparingly on the big league roster, utilizing him as a defensive replacement and garbage time player for starting shortstop Carlos Guillen. Although the originally had him on the Opening Day roster, by July it was becoming clear he wasn't get a lot of action. Rather than let him continue to rot at the end of the bench, the Tigers could afford to send him to Toledo to get some real playing time. While Santiago's never going to be much of a hitter, his ability to contribute on any level was shored up by a month spent playing games in Toledo instead of watching them in Detroit.

Modern pitching staff management has fallen into certain usage patterns, not all of them conducive to keeping every pitcher sharp or productive over the course of a full season. In particular, the challenges of being a situational reliever can be difficult to adapt to, especially for a younger pitcher who might be more used to starting every five days, or using all of his pitches. A situational lefthander doesn't get a lot of opportunities to work on his pitches in live action, since he's often limited to facing a batter or two before he's pulled; he also frequently has to work from the stretch to keep inherited baserunners close to the bag. Veteran situational lefty Jamie Walker has been solid in the role for the Tigers all season, but finding a second lefty wasn't necessarily easy.

Dombrowski and Leyland found their second lefty by calling up Wil Ledezma in mid-June. Rather than strand him in situational work, Leyland used Ledezma in more old-fashioned long relief work and also used him in a couple of spot starts to help space out other starting pitcher's appearances. That doesn't mean that Ledezma can't now be used as a situational lefty in situations that Leyland doesn't want to use Walker, but by managing Ledezma's workload in a way that kept him productive during the regular season, Leyland gave himself an additional postseason weapon for which some teams pay seven figures to a free agent.

One of the main reasons to believe the Tigers will be around for awhile is that Ledezma, Andrew Miller and Humberto Sanchez are all capable of being quality starters as early as next year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2006 12:00 AM

According to the second sentence of the excerpt of the article, Tigers General Manager Dave Dombowski played regularly for the Toledo Mudhens in 2005. Shouldn't that be worthy of an article of itself?

Posted by: GER at October 19, 2006 12:01 PM