DETROIT -- The Tigers quietly made a depth signing at second base recently by signing journeyman Eric Patterson to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. It's the kind of deal that goes unnoticed a lot of times until the late innings of Spring Training games, though the smaller signings can make a larger statement.
Barring injuries in Detroit, Patterson isn't likely to man second base regularly at Comerica Park, serving more as insurance. But as the weeks dwindle towards reporting dates for Spring Training, the guys Patterson will be insuring appear more set. The Tigers are ready to go into the season with the same duo of Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn that they took into the postseason last fall.
Patterson, along with utility infielder Danny Worth and non-roster prospect Brandon Douglas, likely complete the picture at second between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo. Unlike Worth and Douglas, Patterson bats left-handed and adds an element of speed and baserunning, both qualities the Tigers lost when they non-tendered Will Rhymes last month. Like Raburn, meanwhile, Patterson can play all three outfield spots.
The Tigers already were bringing Raburn back on the second half of the two-year contract he signed last winter. When he signed it, the Tigers were eyeing him as a regular left fielder coming off a strong finish in 2010. The combination of his slow start last year and Brennan Boesch's resurgence changed the plan. Now, Raburn goes into Spring Training focused at second, though his share of the playing time remains a question.
When the Tigers re-signed Santiago at the end of November, both manager Jim Leyland and president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said they were ready to go into Spring Training with him and Raburn in the mix at second, but still open to other possibilities. As the offseason has unfolded, that has become more of a possibility.
The Tigers had interest in Braves second baseman-turned-left fielder Martin Prado early in the offseason, but talks didn't progress. A much-speculated Prado swap for Delmon Young didn't make sense from Atlanta's standpoint, and it was difficult to find other pieces the Tigers could give up that would fit the Braves' needs.
MLB.com Braves reporter Mark Bowman reported the Tigers among the teams with the strongest interest in Prado, but that the possibility of Prado staying a Brave now looks stronger. Prado has been mentioned in other trade rumors and other places, but nothing recently in Detroit.
Free agent Jamey Carroll garnered interest from the Tigers in a potential platoon role, but ended up in Minnesota as the Twins' new shortstop on a two-year contract. Detroit largely stayed out of the free-agent market on other middle infielders.
Take Prado out of the mix, meanwhile, and the trade market for second basemen looks a bit slim. Orlando Hudson is expected to remain in San Diego, where the Padres' flurry of deals has brought in help. Chris Getz, meanwhile, remains a Royal, having been tendered a contract last month.
Situations on other clubs in the final weeks could change things, but more and more, the Tigers' current mix looks like the group, and the team is filling out its camp with that in mind.
The Tigers will be the fifth organization in as many years for Patterson, who has bounced between the Padres, Red Sox, A's and Cubs since 2007. But he has seen playing time in the big leagues at each stop, including 47 games and 103 plate appearances with the Padres last year.
At no point, however, has he been a big offensive option. Only once in that stretch has he hit better than .214 in the big leagues, and he batted .180 (16-for-89) for the Padres last year with two doubles, a triple, two homers and eight RBIs. He does, however, draw a good number of walks.
Patterson, who turns 29 in April, has been a stronger option at Triple-A, though he struggled there in limited time last year. He hit .307 with 29 doubles, 11 triples, 12 homers, 56 RBIs and 52 walks in 2009 for Triple-A Sacramento, good for an .870 OPS. He batted .253 for Triple-A Tucson last year in 51 games with 12 doubles, four triples, three homers and 14 RBIs.