He's become an extremely popular player with fans during his four seasons in Detroit, but might best serve his team from here on out being dealt for role players, pitching depth, or prospects that can help supplement a transition between experience and youth. And ultimately, he's expendable because of the depth of middle infielders being developed in the minor leagues.
Oh, did you think I was talking about Magglio Ordonez?
No, the Tigers need to consider trading Placido Polanco. He's in the last year of his contract, priced at an affordable $4.6 million, and is likely not a part of the team's future past 2009. At the age of 33, Polanco's skills appear to be in slight decline (his average decreased from a career-high .341/.388/.458 in 2007 to .307/.350/.417 in 2008), but not so much that he would be unattractive to another team.
And with very few exceptional second basemen in baseball, Detroit has a commodity other clubs in need of a stabilizing, professional bat and excellent second-base glove could use as they contend for a post-season spot. (We'll leave the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, with Chase Utley, and the Boston Red Sox, with the newly crowned American League Most Valuable Player, Dustin Pedroia, out of this pool.)
Polanco actually embodies the predicament in which the Tigers find themselves as they go into the 2009 season. Keeping him wouldn't be a bad decision, as he's still a very good player who could be an important part of a playoff contender. But if Detroit isn't quite good enough to win a division title, let alone contend for a championship, the organization is better off giving younger, less expensive players an opportunity who could still provide sufficent production.
Fortunately, if there's one position where the Tigers could afford to get younger (besides corner outfield, that is), it's second base. Not so fortunately, perhaps the best candidate to take over that position in Detroit was Michael Hollimon, but he could end up missing half of the 2009 season recovering from a torn labrum that required surgery by Dr. James Andrews. However, there are several other prospects who could also step in.
Will Rhymes replaced Hollimon among Detroit's contingent in the Arizona Fall League, following up on an impressive minor league season that saw him promoted from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Toledo. For the season, he batted .307/.363/.392 in 603 plate appearances. Unless Rhymes is selected by another team in the Rule 5 draft (he was not protected on the 40-man roster), he figures to be in the mix.
Before breaking a bone in his wrist that eventually required surgery in August, Scott Sizemore was hitting .286/.365/.409 with four home runs and 20 RBIs in 53 games with Single-A Lakeland. In his scouting report of Detroit's top ten prospects for Baseball America, Jon Paul Morosi rated Sizemore as the best hitter for average with the best strike-zone discipline. Both of those skills could make him a suitable replacement for Polanco.
Danny Worth also had his season cut short by injury, and has played exclusively at shortstop during his rise through the minor league system. But he figures to be blocked there by whomever the Tigers bring in to be their new shortstop for 2009 (unless he somehow won the job in Spring Training), and seems likely to be leapfrogged by Cale Iorg, who's been all but anointed as a future star at that position. The general consensus, however, seems to be that Worth's glove is major league ready, but a .256/.332/.387 average indicates his bat isn't.
I certainly understand the arguments against trading Polanco. He's probably the most consistent bat in the lineup and the least likely to strike out. And second basemen never get the credit they deserve for their defense until an inferior glove has to fill in.
That was demonstrated all too vividly when Polanco dislocated his shoulder in 2006 and missed 34 games. (This began the Neifi Perez era in Detroit, one all Tigers fans would like to forget.) Polanco also contributed mightily to the Tigers' struggles this past April, batting just .228/.344/.342 while fighting a back injury. He's obviously an important player for the Tigers. But is he essential?
Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland might be confronted with a tough decision on at least one of their core veteran players next year. For all the chatter about Magglio Ordonez possibly being the one to go, Polanco might be the more sensible choice.
Ian Casselberry is a special guest contributor to TigsTown - you can read more from Ian on his site Bless You Boys