Tigers release Inge, call up Eldred
Drafted in 1998, infielder played 1,408 games with ballclub
DETROIT -- Brandon Inge's 12-year tenure as a Tiger, and the more recent question about his future wearing the old English D, is over. The team released the veteran infielder on Thursday, parting ways with one of the last remaining players from their rise from league also-ran to perennial contender.
Brad Eldred, the slugger whose hot start at Triple-A Toledo powered his way into consideration for a shot at the big leagues, will take Inge's spot on the roster.
It was less of a shocking move, in the wake of Inge's struggles, as it was an emotional one.
"Brandon Inge has done a tremendous job for this organization for a long time," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "I realize he had been, for some people, a very controversial player. But from our perspective, I personally want to thank him for everything he has done for us. He's been a true soldier throughout the years.
"He will always be a Tiger, not only for what he's done on the field -- and I understand at times there's been some ups and downs -- but how this guy's worked and how he's represented us in various things on and off the field. You couldn't find a finer individual. We'll be forever thankful for what he has done for us."
Inge has been in the organization since the Tigers drafted him in 1998, and played in 1,408 games since his Major League debut in 2001. He was a catcher for a pitching staff that included Jeff Weaver, Steve Sparks and Brian Moehler, and a third baseman for the 2006 American League championship team that was led by Kenny Rogers, Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.
He lost his catching job to Rodriguez after the 2003 season, and his third-base job temporarily to Guillen and Miguel Cabrera five years later, yet persevered through both a work ethic that didn't waver and an athleticism that allowed him to become one of the most athletic third basemen in the game in the middle of the last decade.
At age 34 on this current roster, however, he became a player without a home and a bat without enough hits to carve a role.
"It's one of those things that you can kind of see how things are going before they come," Inge said, "but there's no hard feelings whatsoever. This is my family. This is where I've been my whole career. I'll miss the guys, I will. But a chance to go play maybe somewhere else, it may be a good thing for me personally. But my heart will always be in Detroit, 100 percent, forever.
"I appreciate everything that's happened here, every opportunity I've been given, the stuff we've accomplished. But it's a business when you come down to it. I hope the team does well."
Inge surprised many by winning a part-time job at second base in Spring Training, proving he could make the defensive transition to middle infield at 34, but he couldn't get the bat going. After a struggling Spring Training and a season-opening stint on the disabled list, he went 2-for-20 over nine games, mainly as a second baseman against left-handed starting pitchers.
Had the Tigers not been struggling for offense, the move might have been delayed, with more time to sort out second base. But with fellow longtime Tiger Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn also sharing time at second, and none of them starting out particularly well, the situation became tougher.
"He's been a true solider for a long time, even long before I was here," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think the big issue, really, we've just got a logjam there [at second], and if we're going to find out if somebody can play or not, you've got to put somebody in there and let them play a while and see what happens. We're struggling offensively putting Santi there one day, Raburn there one day, Inge there one day. That's probably not the best way to go about it."
The decision came about during a Thursday pregame meeting between the club's front office and the coaching staff. Dombrowski and Leyland broke the news to Inge after Thursday's game.
"We talked long and hard about it, and this is what we came up with," Leyland said. "It's not my happiest day, obviously, but that's the way it is. You have to make tough decisions, and at the end of the day, I think this was the decision we felt we had to make."
Inge will be on waivers for the weekend. Assuming no team claims the remainder of his contract -- he's making $5.5 million this year, plus a $500,000 buyout -- he'll become a free agent Monday, free to sign with any team for the minimum salary, with the Tigers picking up the rest of his deal.
Inge expects that he'll play again.
"I've been here my whole life. It'll be good to get a fresh start with another team," Inge said. "I don't have any doubts. I'm a team player. I'm not selfish. I'm not going to talk bad about anyone. I'm going to go out and do my job. I would hope [to find] another team.
"I love it here. This is home to me. But you get to a point where if you're not going to be used, and they don't want you, why would you want to stay around?"