Thames has seen it all before
Tigers power-hitting outfielder finds himself in uncertain waters
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Marcus Thames has been through this before.
"That's been my last three years," Thames said of his tenure on the well-chronicled trade block. "It's been the same thing."
He isn't complaining. In fact, he isn't really making much of it. He's just making the point that it's nothing new. His perennial status as Detroit's extra outfielder with regular-type power, but without an everyday job, lends itself to that.
At this point in Spring Training, he's trying to go about his business and get some at-bats for the season, whether it ends up in Detroit or somewhere else.
Sunday brought him multiple at-bats for the first time in almost a week. And on a day when the Tigers had an early deficit to make up against the Braves, Thames brought that well-known power swing. He sent a Javier Vazquez pitch to left field on a line and off the wall, driving in Carlos Guillen for Detroit's second run. It was his first hit since March 20, ending an 0-for-12 slump that had dipped his average under .200 for the spring. He had posted just two hits since returning from a week-long absence earlier this month with an abdominal strain.
The Tigers know he can hit, having seen his power display, and have used it in stretches for the past four years in a part-time outfield role. They also know that he can be feast or famine at the plate at times. With the days dwindling before the Tigers set their Opening Day roster, it's the potential roster squeeze that puts some suspense into Thames' situation.
Detroit has long had a need for a left-handed power bat off the bench, which has turned Jeff Larish's emergence from the Minors into a major boost. The Tigers have also made little secret about the desire for a spare outfielder who can back up Curtis Granderson in center field.
With catcher Matt Treanor and utility infielder Ramon Santiago all but set for two of the four bench spots on the 25-man roster, that leaves two more. And if the Tigers were to try to have Larish and a backup center fielder on the roster, that would leave them in a roster bind.
The Tigers, meanwhile, might have crossed the threshold with their injuries from having almost too much pitching to having too little. They're likely to look at competitions in other camps for potential spare relievers as the days wind down this week.
"We're talking with clubs about a lot of things," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Sunday.
The 32-year-old Thames, a corner outfielder and first baseman, is set to make $2.275 million this year after the Tigers avoided arbitration with him in January. Aside from non-roster invitee Timo Perez, none of the other position players in camp fighting for a roster spot are eligible for arbitration yet, including outfielders Clete Thomas, Brent Clevlen and utilityman Ryan Raburn.
Still, with budgets a concern for many teams, Thames' salary is a big one to take on, even with his power.
Thames isn't worrying about it, considering it's nothing new for him.
"I come to the field ready to play," he said Saturday. "As of today, I'm still a Tiger."
Besides, with the abdominal strain still bothering him to some degree, Thames has his playing shape in general to worry about.
Though both manager Jim Leyland and Dombrowski have said they're not overly concerned about the injury, they also realize that it's still bothering him. Thames said it's not bad, but it'll flare up on certain plays, such as the running catch he tried to make on a ball in the left field corner Friday against the Braves at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.
That was the last time Thames played in the field, and he only did it for the later innings. His last start in the field was Monday against the Red Sox. He didn't play against the Mets last Wednesday, and he had one at-bat in each of the next three games. The Tigers' need to get at-bats for starting outfielders Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen after the World Baseball Classic has squeezed Thames.
Leyland had originally scheduled Thames to start at designated hitter in a Minor League game Sunday to get him some more at-bats. Instead, he gave regular DH Gary Sheffield a day off and started Thames there against the Braves.
"It worked out perfect, actually," Leyland said. "We were able to give Sheff [a rest] and give Marcus four at-bats in a big game."
While Sheffield stays back at Joker Marchant Stadium for hitting work along with several other Tigers regulars Monday, Thames will be on the road with Detroit to face Washington in Viera, Fla., where he's expected to start again at DH.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.