Tram Playing with Fire (and Futures)

Over the past couple of weeks, the Tigers have made quite a few roster moves, including the first big league trade of the year. But while some fans were critical of the trade, Tiger fans should be more concerned about that pair of youngsters that are currently occupying the Tigers' bench.

Manager Alan Trammell has done quite a bit of reshuffling with his club as of late, but a couple of the moves have been rather perplexing.

Chris Shelton proved he was ready for big league ball after an excellent start to the season with Toledo. Shelton's defense is still a work in progress, but he can do just as much work on that with the big league staff in Detroit.

Where the issue arises with Shelton however is his sudden lack of playing time. Shelton's bat is ready for major league pitching, but at just 24 years old, he still needs to be playing on an everyday basis. One would have assumed that he would simply be taking Carlos Pena's at bats, but Shelton has received just seven at bats over the last seven games.

Part of that can be attributed to the Tigers recent road swing to the National League parks, which has eliminated the designated hitter. But Carlos Guillen's continuing knee issues have relegated him to mostly DH-only duty, leaving just first base for Shelton and Dmitri Young. Young, a fan favorite and the team's home run and slugging percentage leader, isn't likely to be taken out very often. That of course leaves limited at bats for Shelton.

The simple fact is, at his young age, Shelton needs to be playing as much as possible, especially if the Tigers hope to rely on him as member of their everyday lineup next season. If the Tigers continue their practice of using Guillen at the designated hitter position, they may be wise to consider sending Shelton back to Toledo, not because he's not ready, but to ensure he continues to get in his work at the plate.

The Tigers already have bats on the bench that could use more opportunities (Marcus Thames for one, with Craig Monroe and Nook Logan likely joining him when Magglio Ordonez returns). If Shelton can't play daily for Detroit, he should be doing so down the road in Toledo.

The other problem has the potential to become more problematic. Guillen's knee issues have meant the team has been without an everyday shortstop, and Trammell decided Jason Smith wasn't capable of playing the position on a regular basis. So he reached down and grabbed Tony Giarratano from AA Erie.

Trammell, who became enamored with Giarratano during spring training, brought up the young shortstop, who has just 170 at bats of experience above A-ball. Besides that, Giarratano had been off to a slow start, hitting just .253 so far this year.

Giarratano has displayed his talent and no one doubts his long term ability to be a big league shortstop, but it's clear that he's not yet ready to be that just yet. The Tigers continue to talk of trying to contend, and a player such as Giarratano shouldn't be relied upon to help a club make a run to compete.

This player seemingly was solved earlier this week, when the team acquired Placido Polanco. Polanco takes over at second base, shifting Omar Infante back to his role as a utility player. The Tigers want him to take some time off, but there should be no reason that the team can't rely on Omar to step up for all those games that Guillen can't go.

The smart move would be to return Giarratano to the minors, before he hits the inevitable slump that players in his position go through. Rather than damage his confidence and possibly sidetrack his future, the Tigers should get him back to playing at a level at which he can better compete and not risk slowing his progress.

The Tigers are improving and should absolutely look to win ballgames, but at more than 10 games out of first place, they're not knocking on the door to a division crown just yet. And with that in mind, it'd be wise for the Tigers to keep their future in mind rather than risk it for minimal gains now.

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