Tigers ink Inge to two-year contract

Tigers ink Inge to two-year contract

DETROIT -- The Tigers are set up to be potentially the most active team on the market this offseason. Their first order of business, however, was to make sure their third baseman stayed put.

Detroit could have looked at the open market or waited out Brandon Inge, who in turn could have tested the open market and tried to search out the best deal. In the end, though, the two-year, $11.5 million contract extension they finalized on Thursday, including a club option for 2013, made too much sense.

The Tigers and Inge know and like what they have in each other, and they know it would be hard to find a better fit with someplace or someone else.

"For us to have him as part of our organization again, and to be in a spot where you can look forward to a lot of moves this winter time, to start here is a perfect place," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said.

Physically, it was an odd place for Inge, who had seen plenty of press conferences on television from the same podium at the Tiger Club at Comerica Park where he sat Thursday afternoon. This was his first chance at it.

"I've been so excited every time I've watched TV and I've seen a new guy sign and they come up here and they put the new jersey on," Inge said. "I get so excited to watch that happen. I think I'm more excited now to be able to keep my jersey on as opposed to having to get another jersey. I'm very excited to be here right now."

The signing completes negotiations that began before the season ended, a relative rarity for the Tigers. But with the potential additions the Tigers stand to make in the offseason, they wanted to quickly move on keeping their defensive stalwart at the hot corner before he could hit the open market.

The 33-year-old was eligible for free agency, having just finished a four-year, $24 million contract he signed after the Tigers' trip to the World Series in 2006. The Tigers have experienced plenty of change since, including an '08 season of utility work for Inge, but his defense at third has become one of the constants for the club.

Inge batted .247 with 28 doubles, 13 home runs and 70 RBIs in 144 games during the 2010 season, while missing two weeks due to a fractured hand. His ups and downs offensively have been long known, from his pair of 27-homer seasons to his second-half struggles the past two seasons, both hampered by injuries. Neither side comes into this deal expecting a vast difference, though they'll work for it to improve.

His strength, though, has been his range at third. His .977 fielding percentage led all American League third basemen, and his 2.83 Range Factor (putouts plus assists per nine innings) ranked second. His nine errors were by far his low mark for any season as a regular third baseman. His zone rating and other specialized statistics have put him above-average at his position. This year, Tigers manager Jim Leyland took to calling him one of the best third basemen in the league.

The total package Inge provides was something the Tigers wanted to hold on to, especially given their desire to retain Jhonny Peralta at shortstop for next year and seek offensive-minded moves at other positions. When Tigers coaches and front-office personnel met in the season's final days to discuss players on the roster, their unanimous opinion on Inge made it easier.

"Everybody wanted to bring Brandon back, felt it was very important for us," Dombrowski said. "So it was a process that started right there at the end of the season. It was something we hoped we would be able to get done relatively quickly."

Inge has long expressed his desire to stay in Detroit, but he also wanted the security of a multiyear deal to do it. He was believed to be seeking a three-year deal at one point, and had a two-year offer from the Tigers at season's end, but the third-year option proved to bridge the gap.

Inge will earn $5.5 million in each of the next two years, after which the Tigers have to decide on the $6 million option or a $500,000 buyout. It's a small pay cut over his average salary from his last deal, and admittedly less than he might have been seeking when the process began. In the end, though, he didn't want to go anywhere else.

Inge has been in the Tigers organization his entire career, from the time he was selected by them in the second round of the 1998 First-Year Player Draft. He made his Major League debut in '01, and is one of just two players remaining from Detroit's 119-loss season in '03 and its trip to the World Series in '06. Ramon Santiago is the other, but he was traded out of the organization and came back.

"I didn't want to go anywhere else, first off," Inge said, "because I just like the area. I like this whole organization. But on top of it, what we have -- I'm serious when I say we're going to be good for the next couple years. It's not like just a feeling or a false sense of security. We're going to be a good ballclub. It's going to be a difficult team to beat."

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.