LOCKED UP (>95%)
RF Magglio Ordonez
DH Dmitri Young
LOOKING GOOD (75%)
CF Alex Sanchez
HEATED BATTLE (50%)
LF Rondell White
LF Craig Monroe
HEATED BATTLE (50%)
OF Bobby Higginson
OF Marcus Thames
NOT LOOKING GOOD (<25%)
CF Nook Logan
OF DeWayne Wise
OF Alexis Gomez
OF Byron Gettis
Starting with the spots that are locked up, there are no real surprises. Designated hitter Dmitri Young returns to the middle of the lineup, and this year will hope to stay healthy, something he has struggled with since coming to the Tigers three years ago.
In right field, Magglio Ordonez takes over for Bobby Higginson, marking the end of his run as the club's right fielder. Ordonez will obviously face questions over the course of the season about his knee, but he and his doctors are confident that there won't be any problems. If this holds true, Ordonez will likely return to his status as one of the top hitters in baseball.
Moving on to centerfield and Alex Sanchez, this is the one position that could drastically shift the team's fortunes in 2005. Sanchez, who is looking good solely by default rather than earning it, must provide respectable defense in center while being the table-setter at the top of the order for their two through five hitters. Needless to say, there will be plenty of pressure on Sanchez this season.
Moving to left field, the only spot that will have open competition this spring. Both Rondell White and Craig Monroe were expecting to get plenty of at bats this season, but are now in the position of taking them from each other as they battle over the left field spot. Unless one is traded, they'll probably each get their share, but probably not as much as either was expecting.
With five spots now already locked up (which again is barring a trade which is possible though not likely), there is just one spot left to be fought for by a number of backups.
Bobby Higginson has been a prominent figure in Detroit sports for many years, but might be staring a release in the face. Higginson's bat has fallen off, he's lost a step in the field and simply put isn't the player he once was. He expressed doubt at being tried in center, which means unless there's a trade, Higginson and the Tigers will likely be parting ways, even with the almost $9 million remaining on his deal.
The most significant aspect of the final backup might come down to versatility. Of the five that appear to have a spot, only Sanchez looks to be able to play centerfield. This could play a huge role in the battle, and could keep very possibly the best bat of the group (Marcus Thames) off the team. Ideally, Nook Logan would head down to AAA Toledo to work more on his plate discipline, but defense could force the Tigers hand. That is unless one of the three acquired off waivers last fall prove capable defensively with a stronger bat.
Realistically, the team would be best off by making a trade, letting Higginson go and allowing some of the younger players to step up. But, general manager Dave Dombrowski won't make a trade just to make a deal. And so, even with Ordonez, the outfield situation still has plenty of questions as spring training kicks off.