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01/27/12 3:38 PM EST

Dombrowski: Inge still 'very important' to Tigers

Veteran third baseman's situation complicated by Fielder signing

DETROIT -- Four years ago, Miguel Cabrera was a man on the move, and Brandon Inge was a man without a position, hoping to find a starting job somewhere. The trade that was expected that winter never happened, and Inge ended up back at third base.

Now, the Tigers and Inge might be back in the same spot.

Because Miguel Cabrera was the only player given a heads-up about the Prince Fielder signing, Inge found out about being replaced through the media. Manager Jim Leyland said he talked with Inge on Thursday once the signing was official.

"I basically apologized [to him] that this got out on the airwaves, obviously prior to us wanting it to," Leyland said. "I'm sorry he had to hear it other than from the horse's mouth, but at that particular time, I was not at any liberty to discuss this whatsoever.

"I have talked with Brandon. He's not the happiest camper. We certainly understand. We try to deal with these issues as we're supposed to."

Dealing with this one in particular could be a wait-and-see situation. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski gave no sign he plans to trade or release Inge anytime soon, and there were no indications Friday that Inge has requested a trade or release out of Detroit for now.

The Tigers have a plan to use Cabrera as their regular third baseman, but it comes with no guarantees that it'll work. The last time Cabrera went into a season at third, back in that 2008 season, the Tigers switched him back to first base by the end of April. Cabrera wanted to be a third baseman, just as he would like to be now, but understood the move was for the best.

If the Tigers ended up doing something similar this time, it certainly wouldn't be a first-to-third swap with Fielder. And other than Inge and Cabrera, the only third baseman on the roster is super-utility man Don Kelly, who was set to share starts with Inge at third before the Fielder signing.

Whatever the term -- Plan B, fallback option, or insurance policy -- there's a point for keeping Inge a Tiger. Team officials weren't calling him any sort of fallback option, but they were also sounding fully prepared to have him come to Spring Training, then react to what happens there.

"I can understand he wouldn't be thrilled," Dombrowski said of Inge on Thursday, "but I also think at this point -- he's not coming off a big year, the market is pretty well set -- probably the best thing is to let him come to Spring Training, let him play well and let's see what happens. I think he still can play a very important role on our club. Like I said, we're trying to win.

"I respect his situation. We'll do what we can. We'll see what happens, but I think he's a very important part of our club. He is in good shape, and he's worked hard, and I think he's got a chance to put up some nice numbers this year."

Leyland suggested there still could be a role for Inge on the team, even with Cabrera at third. As he wrote out potential lineups that included Fielder and Cabrera, he penciled in Inge for some starts at third when Cabrera gets a day at designated hitter or a day off. Leyland did not, however, indicate any change of position for Inge.

Financially, the Tigers gain nothing from making a move with Inge now. Inge has $6 million in guaranteed money this year -- $5.5 million in salary, plus a $500,000 buyout assuming the Tigers don't pick up his $6 million option for 2013. The Tigers were willing to eat that money last summer when they designated him for assignment to make room for Wilson Betemit. Inge accepted a Minor League assignment after some encouragement from Tigers owner Mike Ilitch.

With Inge's future a topic of discussion at Thursday's press conference, it stood to reason that the questions would include the future of former top Draft pick Nick Castellanos, the Tigers' top position prospect and the teenager widely regarded as Detroit's third baseman of the future. Most projections tab him as two years of development away from the big leagues, but with Cabrera under contract through 2015, their situations could be intertwined.

When asked Thursday if Cabrera's move makes Castellanos expendable, Dombrowski said no.

"We're in a position where you just take your time with [Castellanos]," Dombrowski said. "He's at third base. He's a tremendous player. He's going to be a tremendous player. We're not looking to trade him. He's just made the [MLB.com Top 100 prospects] along with [Jacob] Turner and [Drew] Smyly.

"So for me, it's just really a matter of you want to have young players. A guy like Castellanos will be a fine big league player. He'll fit in great eventually."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.