Paul Wezner, Executive Editor
The debate over the bench is really limited to two positions - backup catcher Matt Treanor and utility infielder Ramon Santiago likely have locked up roster spots, barring injury of course. That leaves the Tigers still in need of someone that can play first base, as well as all of the outfield positions for the remaining two spots. Given his versatility on the field and his power left-handed bat, I think Jim Leyland is going to be very hard pressed to put together a roster that does not include Jeff Larish. The flip side of that means whoever grabs the slot must be able to play centerfield, leaving Marcus Thames as an odd man out, and ripe for a trade. The battle for the last spot will come down to Ryan Raburn, Brent Clevlen, and Clete Thomas, and unless Clevlen goes on a tear in spring training, I think the Tigers will be hard pressed to keep Raburn and his versatility, making Raburn the last man in, and Clevlen likely being snagged off waivers.
Mark Anderson, Managing Editor
The Tigers bench is almost as fun to try and predict as the bullpen! There are legitimately two locks for the bench right now; those being backup catcher Matt Treanor and backup middle infielder Ramon Santiago. That leaves the likes of Ryan Raburn, Jeff Larish, Brent Clevlen, Marcus Thames, and even Clete Thomas battling for that last roster spot. Leyland has professed his appreciation for Raburn's versatility -- being able to play second, third, the outfield, and even play first and/or catch in a pinch. If he hits even reasonably well this spring, I believe Leyland brings him north with the club. If we assume the fourth bench player must be an outfielder, that probably eliminates Larish who would then go back to Toledo to start the year. Clevlen is out of options, Thomas is recovering from Tommy John surgery (though should be ready for Opening Day), and Thames just signed a new multi-million dollar contract for 2009. All things being equal, I think the Tigers would like to keep Clevlen around, but things aren't equal. I don't think the organization will find anyone beating down their door to give value for Thames at the end of camp, and as a result I believe he'll be back in Detroit to start the year. Without any major roster moves, we're likely looking at Treanor, Santiago, Raburn, and Thames on the bench to start the year.
Jason Avery, Associate Editor, Amateur Baseball
Of the four bench spots that are available, one of them is likely to go to Matt Treanor, who will backup Gerald Laird behind the plate, and allow Dusty Ryan to get more seasoning in the minors. Ramon Santiago should have another spot locked up because he can play in the middle of the infield to spell Adam Everett and Placido Polanco when they need a rest. The final two spots will be a battle between several players, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Tigers made a trade to alleviate a possible logjam. The Tigers are certainly going to take an outfielder with them, but Marcus Thames can't play in center field, and Brent Clevlen is out of options. Ryan Raburn can play both in the infield and outfield, which should help his chances. Jeff Larish has been getting repetitions at third base and in the outfield to see if they can find a fit for him, and Mike Hessman has also been getting a lot of playing time as well to see if he can be a bench player. If Thames isn't traded and he takes a spot, that pretty much means the Tigers would have to see if they can sneak Cleven through waivers, or try to get something in return for him in a trade. That would then leave Raburn, Hessman and Larish as three players battling for the final spot, and I would probably give Larish the edge, because of his left-handed bat, which would give Jim Leyland some flexibility if he wants a lefty to pinch hit. One thing is for sure, this is a battle that is going to go all the way to the end of the spring.
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