DETROIT -- The Tigers go into Spring Training with second base as their one defensive position in real question, from Carlos Guillen's health to Scott Sizemore's rebound and Will Rhymes' development. Those questions won't likely include Michael Young's status in Texas.
President/general manager Dave Dombrowski went in front of fans during his annual question-and-answer session at TigerFest a few weeks ago and said the team's infield was set. That hasn't changed, even if the ever-shifting rumor mill does, now including the Rangers' All-Star.
Dombrowski said it again Tuesday morning, stating that Detroit's infield -- or at least its infield candidates -- are set. The Tigers like the players they have, and they're going to let the competition play out on the fields in Lakeland, Fla., rather than the Hot Stove. They're not looking to make a deal.
The Young rumors, or at least the questions as to where he would be a fit, percolated over the past couple days. Rangers officials publicly stated Monday that Young has asked to be traded away from his only franchise for the past 10 seasons.
To be fair, any theoretical fit between Young and Detroit has its issues. For starters, Young has a no-trade clause that allows him to veto a deal to all but eight teams of his choosing. The Tigers are not on that list, according to MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, and Rangers GM Jon Daniels told reporters that their negotiations are focused on those eight teams.
Just as big of a concern, if not more, is Young's contract, which will pay him $16 million per season for the next three years. For any team at this point in the offseason, that's a huge obligation to absorb, even if the Rangers agree to pay some of that to facilitate a deal. For a team like the Tigers, who just now emerged from a slew of ill-fated contracts that saddled them with struggling players, Young's contract is a throwback to deals they've tried to shed rather than add.
That's not to say that Young won't be a productive player in 2011, especially given his versatility. But he turned 34 years old last fall, meaning he'll be on the verge of his 37th birthday when his contract ends after the 2013 season.
The Tigers already have their starting third baseman and shortstop under contract for the next two years, having re-signed Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta last fall. Any fit for Young would have to be at second base. The Tigers passed on keeping their own 34-year-old second baseman two years ago when Placido Polanco became a free agent, opting instead to go young with Scott Sizemore in 2010.
As it turned out, Sizemore struggled to play through the lingering effects of offseason ankle surgery and lost the job by mid-May. But that doesn't alter their overall outlook at the position. The Tigers have struggled to develop position players over the years, but middle infield is one area where they actually have some depth -- unproven depth, but the kind of depth that allows them to let players battle it out and count on those who come out of it.
If Carlos Guillen can make up for lost time over the final couple weeks of Spring Training, when he's expected to be ready for game action after rehabbing from microfracture knee surgery last year, he has the best shot to get the bulk of the work. If he can find a semblance of his old hitting form, he'll provide an experienced switch-hitting bat in the lineup, one that has posted a higher OPS than Young every season in which he has played at least 90 games since coming to Detroit in 2004. Guillen also has a higher OPS than Young over the last four years.
After Guillen, or in his place if he's injured or begins the season on the disabled list, come the youngsters. Rhymes, who turns 28 the day after the season opens, doesn't have anywhere near the power of Guillen or Young, but his contact hitting produced a .304 average and a .763 OPS in 54 games with Detroit last year. He also profiles as a No. 2 type of hitter who can advance runners and get himself on base.
Sizemore batted just .224 with a .631 OPS over 48 games, but he fell just shy of a .300 average for Triple-A Toledo, thanks in part to a late-season surge with the Mud Hens. He has also enjoyed a full offseason to train for the first time in three years.
Looming as a dark-horse candidate is strong-armed shortstop Danny Worth, who batted .255 in 39 games. He missed the stretch run last season following a heel injury, but he's at full strength for Spring Training. Further down the line is Brandon Douglas, who batted .345 with an .866 OPS between Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie last year. At age 25, Douglas' time could be coming.
This doesn't mean all of these prospects will pan out, or that any of them will approach Young's production, but they have enough depth to expect somebody to separate themselves from the group. And with Guillen added in, they have enough candidates to believe they can get some production out of the spot this year.