Inge preparing for utility role in 2008

Inge preparing for utility role in 2008 season

Count Brandon Inge among the 2008 Tigers -- for now, anyway.

After Monday morning telephone conversations with Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland, Inge is on track to report to Spring Training with catchers on Feb. 14 and work with Leyland on how to utilize him to help the team.

That doesn't mean the Tigers have erased any interest in trading their former starting third baseman. Though Dombrowski said Monday that no trade is imminent, Dombrowski holds out the possibility they still could find a deal that sends Inge somewhere he can start. He characterized Monday's conversation as preparing for the scenario that Inge isn't traded and discussing how he can best help the team.

"He doesn't know what's going to happen at this point," Inge said of Dombrowski, "but we need to take the mindset that I will be going to Spring Training with Detroit. With that being said, I probably will be playing a utility role in Spring Training."

It doesn't mean he's happy with the idea, but he's willing to do it to help the team.

"I'm not happy with it. I'm not happy at all," Inge admitted. "But my hands are tied. There's not much else I can do. And at the same time, I'm not going to be a cancer. I want to play baseball. I love playing the game of baseball."

The comments are the first Inge has made about his situation since the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis last month and announced that Cabrera would be their starting third baseman.

Until now, Inge kept silent with the media because he didn't want to let his emotions get the better of him and make him say something he didn't mean. As he talked Monday, he was calm and collected about the situation.

He described his conversation with Dombrowski as a "very adult, man-to-man conversation between the two of us."

In a perfect world, Inge said, he'd like to be the Tigers' starting third baseman, but he knows that's not going to happen. If not third base, he'd like to play every day with the Tigers at another position. Short of that, he would like to play with another team that has an opening at third base.

If that doesn't happen -- and right now it doesn't look like it will -- he said, "I'll take the medicine, take the utility role for a year, then hopefully a starting job would open up for me somewhere in Detroit."

With several players under long-term contracts, however, the Tigers are seemingly set at most positions for 2009. That's where the idea of Inge catching could become intriguing. The Tigers' current starting catcher, Ivan Rodriguez, is under contract through this coming season. It's at least feasible Inge could end up succeeding the player who replaced him behind the plate four years ago.

That, however, is far down the road. Dombrowski, for his part, said he's thinking about this year's team, not next year. He added that how Inge is used is up to Leyland.

For now, Inge said, "I'll bring my catcher's equipment [to camp]. I'll make the best of it and I'll have fun with it."

That said, he feels he can be good at it, including becoming an above-average catcher again once he gets used to the position again. Inge hasn't caught in a game since the Tigers acquired Vance Wilson in 2005, and he previously has said he has no interest in moving back behind the plate. Once he gets the mindset back, however, he feels he'll have the skills back.

"I don't have a doubt," Inge said. "I think I am good at it. I think I can do it at the big league level and be way above average."

As for those who suggested Inge should simply accept whatever role he gets and take the money -- he has three years and $19.1 million remaining on the four-year contract he signed last winter -- Inge said that's not the point.

"I love playing the game of baseball," he said. "There's nothing more in my life other than my kids and my family that I love more. I don't care how much money you pay me. I want to play."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.