First off, let's get the easy choices out of the way. The Tigers entire lineup is set already, though the batting order is still to be determined. Ivan Rodriguez will be behind the plate, Chris Shelton at first base, Placido Polanco at second, Carlos Guillen at shortstop, Brandon Inge at third, and Craig Monroe, Curtis Granderson and Magglio Ordonez in the outfield. On top of that group, Dmitri Young will be the team's designated hitter, while Vance Wilson and Omar Infante have locked down backup roles.
That leaves two jobs open, likely one outfielder and one infielder. The Tigers have a number of options; Ramon Santiago and Carlos Pena among the infielders, and Nook Logan, Marcus Thames and Alexis Gomez among the outfielders.
While Carlos Pena's bat will forever be tempting, the Tigers have likely ridden out their time with the first baseman. The Tigers have Chris Shelton entrenched at first, and Dmitri Young, despite slimming down, is still going to get most of his time in the field at first base.
That leaves the door wide open for Ramon Santiago to jump in and grab the spot. Leyland has been impressed with Infante's ability in the outfield, and since he doesn't have much experience at third base, he's likely better off being shuttled between the outfield and the middle infield. That means Santiago, who has impressed everyone with his defense, will step in as the team's utility infielder, even though he was originally signed to play shortstop everyday in Toledo.
Moving to the outfield, this is where more questions emerge. Logan's speed makes him a very tempting choice, but can a one trick pony really stick it out on a team with so few available spots? With a group of Wilson, Infante and Santiago, the Tigers are without a big bat off the bench, which could be something of a concern when it comes to late-game situations and the Tigers need a hitter at the plate, not a defensive replacement.
It's likely this reason that the Tigers are sending feelers out for interest in Logan, who the Tigers would likely ship out if the right deal came along, especially with Curtis Granderson establishing himself in center. If Dombrowski finds an offer he likes for Logan, the decision will come down to Gomez and Thames. If he doesn't though, the Tigers will likely hang on to Logan and use him as a defensive replacement in the later innings, and also potentially spending some time in center with Granderson shifting to left, Monroe to right and Ordonez to designated hitter.
At this point in time, while the Tigers understand Logan's limitations, they won't simply give him away, so unless a team with a loaded lineup in need of a good defender in center comes calling, Logan will be the last man in of the group.
The pitching staff also has just a couple spots up for grabs. As far as the starters are concerned, Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Mike Maroth had spots locked up well before they reported to camp.
The fifth spot is still technically up for grabs, but Justin Verlander appears to have locked down the job. In his month of work in Lakeland, Verlander has put his talent on display, and while he's certainly not polished, it seems the organization has come to the conclusion (and rightfully so) that there is nothing more for him to learn at the minor league level – his pure talent will allow him to simply overwhelm hitters, and could even force some regression as he would likely continue to simply try and blow hitters away as opposed to mixing pitches and working hitters.
The bullpen is the only place of contention where jobs could still be won or lost in the final week.
Of course, closer Todd Jones and setup men Fernando Rodney and Jamie Walker have nothing to worry about – their spots are locked up. Also taking care of business and earning themselves a ticket to Detroit are righties Chris Spurling and Roman Colon – Spurling in middle relief with Colon likely working as more of a swingman.
That still leaves two open spots available, with a handful of pitchers battling. There is the possibility that Leyland will want a pure long reliever in the ‘pen, and there is also the possibility that Leyland will want a second left-hander in the event that Walker isn't available.
One particular pitcher could have filled both of those holes, but hasn't done much to make his case – Wilfredo Ledezma seems to keep working backwards after a rookie season in which a few AL scouts even compared him to a young Johan Santana. Ledezma now will find himself likely trying to find the pitching of two years ago in Toledo that had the Tigers so excited.
Another pitcher that seems to have pitched himself out of contention is Franklyn German. Much like Carlos Pena (who ironically enough was acquired with German in the Jeff Weaver trade), German simply can't find any consistency on the mound. He'll look like a potential closer one day (like this past Tuesday against Houston in which after a shaky start he struck out the final two batters to end the threat), and then be completely incapable of finding the plate on the next. Again, like Pena, the Tigers patience has likely worn out.
One pitcher who has done the exact opposite of German and Ledezma is prized youngster Joel Zumaya. Much like Verlander, the Tigers don't seem to think there's much left for Zumaya to learn at the minor league level – his control is still an issue, and his off-speed pitches still need work, which translates to Zumaya working some of the kinks out as a member of the big league bullpen. Whether or not he'll remain a reliever or eventually be returned to the rotation will be something the Tigers will have to decide in the coming months as they way the plusses-and-minuses of where he'd fit in best. With Zumaya likely close to locking up a spot, that brings things down to Jason Grilli and Mark Woodyard, and a pair of non-roster invites; Hector Mercado and Bobby Seay. This is the lone battle that seems simply too close to call, as the Tigers are likely in need of a second left-hander in the ‘pen (none of their righty relievers are especially tough on left-handed hitters), and with Zumaya and Colon both capable of starting games and going long distances in relief they're not in dire need of a long inning reliever. Mark Woodyard likely hasn't done enough to earn a spot, but Grilli has pitched very well this spring, so well that he might have forced his way onto the club. At this point in time, as much as a second lefty would be nice to have, situational relief can only play so big a role, and at some point you have to look at who pitches better – and right now, that's Grilli.
And with that, the Tigers are now ready to head north in hopes of ending their 12-year streak of losing seasons. Can these 25 ballplayers make it happen? We'll see.