With future in flux, Inge likely to leave
Third baseman wants change of scenery after Cabrera trade
DETROIT -- If there was any lingering doubt regarding Brandon Inge's future with the Tigers, it was likely erased on Friday. The team's incumbent third baseman, now unseated with this week's trade for Miguel Cabrera, told team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski that he would prefer to start as a third baseman somewhere else rather than be a reserve or utility player in Detroit.
Given the Tigers' situation, it essentially amounts to requesting a trade, or at least agreeing to one. It's not really a trade demand because the Tigers were already exploring that option.
Dombrowski told WXYT-AM 1270 Friday afternoon that he spoke with Inge by phone earlier in the day. After discussing the team's situation and where he fits in, Inge discussed his preference with Dombrowski.
"He very much loves it here and has very mixed emotions," Dombrowski later told MLB.com by phone. "We think the world of him also, but with the acquisition of Cabrera, we don't have that role for him [at third base]. His desire would be to go somewhere and have an opportunity to play at third base."
Dombrowski said he told Inge that they would try to work something out.
The Tigers have been gauging interest from other teams on Inge since their deal with the Marlins became official on Wednesday. While finding a team for him shouldn't be difficult, his contract presents an obstacle. He has three years and $19.1 million remaining on a contract he signed a year ago that was supposed to make him the Tigers' third baseman of the foreseeable future.
The opportunity to acquire a star young slugger in Cabrera obviously changed those plans. Both manager Jim Leyland and Dombrowski said they see Cabrera as a third baseman with a strong arm and soft hands and whose range should improve if he continues to lose weight this offseason.
Though the 30-year-old Inge is athletic enough to play just about any position except shortstop, any chance of him or Cabrera starting in left field seemed remote, even before Friday. New Tiger Jacque Jones is expected to do no less than split the playing time there, providing the Tigers lineup with a much-needed left-handed bat. Marcus Thames has a chance to platoon with Jones if the Tigers keep him, while utilityman Ryan Raburn could earn some starts.
Friday was the first time the club had talked with Inge since the trade.
"We needed to sit down and regroup," Dombrowski said. "I wanted to be in a spot where I could sit down and talk to him and not be interrupted."
Phone messages left with Inge this week by MLB.com have not been returned.
Dombrowski added that Inge was not angry over the situation when he talked with him.
"He was super when I talked to him on the phone," Dombrowski said. "He's a tremendous person. He didn't act angry with me, but I'm sure there's a part of him with mixed emotion."
Assuming the Tigers trade him -- the Giants appear to be one early possibility, among others -- it would end Inge's time in the only organization he has known as a pro. For now, he is the longest-running current Tiger, having made his Major League debut in 2001 and playing in Detroit every year since. He has played for four different Tigers managers and is one of just a handful of players still left from the 119-loss team of 2003. That longevity as well as his personality have made him a strong clubhouse presence on a team with many veterans and more than a couple star players. He even made his offseason home in nearby Ann Arbor for the early part of his career.
Closer Todd Jones was a member of the Tigers before Inge, but he played elsewhere from 2001-05.
Aside from a couple trips to Toledo in 2002 and '03, the only moving Inge has done has been between positions rather than organizations. He was Detroit's starting catcher until Ivan Rodriguez arrived in 2004, making Inge a utility player. By the end of the '04 season, he was starting at third, a spot he had held ever since.
That makes this the second time a potential Hall of Fame player has unseated Inge from a starting job. This time, it will likely take him out of the organization.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.