-- Andreas R., Zurich, Switzerland
Wow, it must be a long winter in Zurich to find the mailbags interesting every week (kidding). But to answer your question, Inge has said he does not want to go back to catcher, or go to a bench role. And at age 30, it's no certainty he could go back behind the plate and catch effectively, though Eric Munson and Robert Fick pulled it off to extend their careers. He might well be able to, but it's hard to blame him for wanting to stick at third.
Now that the Tigers have traded the entire farm system for Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, I got thinking about Brandon Inge. I would personally hate to see him go, but I came to a possible place for him. Is there any chance we see Brandon Inge play left field for the Tigers in 2008?
-- Zack E., Port Huron, Mich.
Inge can play left field, but barring a major change, it doesn't look like he will be. Inge understandably wants a starting role at third base, where his defense makes him a more valuable player. Put Inge in left, and his defense becomes less of a priority, while his offensive numbers become more important. Plus, it's unlikely he would be an everyday player in left, anyway, with Jacque Jones at least splitting time there.
Now that the Tigers have traded for Cabrera, and Willis, what are they going to do about their contracts? I know they have two more years of arbitration, but are the Tigers going to attempt to lock them up now, especially considering there aren't many prospects to replace them if they sign elsewhere? And what will come of Brandon Inge? I like him, but this definitely blurs his career with the team. Could he switch back to catcher?
-- Mike B., Groton, Mass.
The Tigers will move aggressively to try to re-sign Cabrera. They might do the same with Willis, but his situation poses a quandary because he's coming off a subpar season by his standards. If they re-sign him, they're banking on the belief that last season was a fluke and not something long-term. If they wait and see how he does in 2008, there's little chance they could re-sign him next winter if he does have that turnaround season, since he could wait another year and become a free agent. So basically, they have to decide on Willis before next season. As for Inge, see above.
As a fan who vividly remembers the Alexander-for-Smoltz trade, I'm left to wonder that if the Tigers don't sign either Cabrera or Willis before they become free agents, will this deal be one they will later regret if they lose them to free agency, and especially if Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller turn out to be the players we thought they would become?
-- Ray T., West Palm Beach, Fla.
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That's the risk they take, though club officials are privately confident that they can sign Cabrera and Willis to extensions. If they don't re-sign and they win a World Series, you can make a case it was worth the loss. If they don't re-sign and they don't win, well, it'll be tough watching Maybin and Miller mature elsewhere in 2010.
Isn't this the kind of deal that you always hate when everyone asks you about it happening theoretically?
-- Sam O., Lansing
Good point. All I can say is that there was no indication of this as a possibility until Tuesday. That doesn't mean I'm going to welcome questions about trading for Johan Santana or signing Barry Bonds.
Well, it seems that everything I've read in the past week or two in the mailbag was blown out of the water. The Tigers went after another starter after signing Kenny Rogers. They added another bat, and one that is just as good as Magglio Ordonez. They don't have any of the young pitchers listed as being so important to Leyland. My question, then, is where does that leave the organization in the way of young pitching? We've lost every young pitcher except Yorman Bazardo that I can think of. Is this something we can recover from for seasons to come (or for injuries this year)?
-- Michael C., Jackson, Mich.
All I can tell you is what the organizational philosophy supposedly was until last week. They've talked for two years about winning with a strong farm system, and building a team that has a chance to win every year, and Maybin and Miller were consistently untouchable. Hey, they changed course.
Rebuilding the system is going to fall on scouting director David Chadd and his group, who must add pitching through the Draft. Some of that will probably be college arms that can be ready for the Majors fairly quickly if needed. That could prove a little tougher than before, because they won't be drafting with high picks anytime soon, and other teams are seeing the value of being willing to pay above slot to top prospects.
Regarding Maybin and Miller, getting a 24- and 25-year-old hardly makes the Tigers aging, and we will have 2-4 years to rebuild our farm system. Now we have two guys that, barring injury, are sure things for years to come, rather than four guys who may or may not be good for who knows how long, also barring injury. Please do not mention John Smoltz either, as Willis and Cabrera are younger and far better than Alexander (who did perform, though).
-- Matt, Grand Haven, Mich.
You've made your point, but in defense, it's not that simple. Yes, Cabrera and Willis are still young, but that doesn't include replacing the depth of four pitchers in the farm system -- five, if you include Jair Jurrjens from the Edgar Renteria deal -- with Minor League free agents. With Rogers and Todd Jones possibly retiring next winter, Nate Robertson a free agent in two years, others nearing arbitration and injuries always a risk, the Tigers have few replacements within the system. And given Willis' numbers last year and the adjustment to the American League, though it's likely he'll rebound, it's hard to call him a sure thing for years to come. I heard one evaluation at the Winter Meetings that Miller could be as good as Willis next year. That's the chance you take when you make a deal like this. It might be worth the risk for many, but you can't pretend the risk doesn't exist.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.