While Inge, who holds a .251 average during seasons in which he has played in over 100 games, showed great improvement by hitting a more than respectable 27 home runs last season in the nine slot, it was his defense which triggered the club to sign him to a four year $24 million contract this winter.
Although he committed 22 errors last year, it was obvious to anyone watching that one of the key reasons behind his high error total was his tremendous range, which allowed him to get to more balls than other third basemen. He handled many routine plays and made countless highlight caliber plays, all while playing in only his second full season at the hot corner. The simple fact is that the more balls Inge gets to the more chances he has to make an error – or an out.
During last season's playoff run, Inge was the one most sought after of the Tigers by the national media, who were enamored with the remarkable turnaround of the Tigers. Being one of the few players remaining from the 2003 season, Inge symbolized the Tigers' rise as he built himself from a man without a position into a solid major league third baseman.
When the Tigers were looking for a left handed bat last season, they jumped on Casey, who is one of the best clubhouse guys in the league. After hitting .254 and having a solid postseason, the Tigers inked Casey to a one year contract, mainly due to the lack of other available options.
Although he has never been a prototypical power hitting first baseman, he has a track record of hitting for a high average and has batted .300 throughout his career. His average has slipped recently, but "The Mayor" is a great defender who rarely makes an error. He continually saves errors from Inge and Carlos Guillen by making tremendous scoops out of the dirt.
So far this season Inge and Casey have struggled, along with the rest of the Tigers, and are both hitting under .200. While Inge has two home runs to his name, Casey has only one RBI after the first few weeks of play. Although the two aren't as key of components to the Tiger lineup as other players are, it goes without saying that their production must improve, but so far neither have had a breakout game that would lead fans to believe they are on the brink of breaking out of their slumps.
Unless his batting average slips even lower, third base belongs to Inge for at least the next four years. He has never hit for a high average in his career, but is still entering the best year's of his career. If he continues to play great defense and finishes anywhere near last year's production the club will be more than happy.
The future for Casey is a little more questionable. He spoke earlier this season about the team's slow start, saying that guys with track records will hit. Casey has a track record, but it shows him playing less and less games with his average slowly dipping. Casey is only 32, but his body is not one that looks to have more than one or two years productive years left in it. But, if Casey continues to slide, who would take his place? Marcus Thames is still learning the position and Chris Shelton would be best served to stay in Toledo for an entire year.
Alas, we are getting ahead of ourselves. The season is only 15 games young and to be already thinking of alternatives is a bit of a stretch. Whether or not Inge or Casey get suddenly get hot, chances are they won't be in the upper tier at their respective positions at the plate. Still, as long as they provide average production, their defense and clubhouse presence will contribute to many Tiger victories throughout the season.