Leyland considering Cabrera's lineup options

Leyland considering Cabrera's lineup options

Leyland considering Cabrera's lineup options
DALLAS -- When Tigers manager Jim Leyland batted Miguel Cabrera third during the American League Championship Series earlier this fall, he did it out of necessity. Magglio Ordonez was out. Delmon Young was out, then back but hobbled. There was no ideal guy left to put in front of Cabrera and take advantage of strikes.

Those injury issues are done now, but Leyland hasn't eliminated the idea of keeping Cabrera in the third spot.

"I might," Leyland said in his media session on Wednesday.  "I'm thinking about it. That will be one of those lineups that I make up all winter long, and have him in the three-spot and have him in the four-spot."

Leyland has made out about 10 lineups by his count, and he has gone back and forth with it. Keeping Young there is another option. Moving Brennan Boesch back there, where he was for much of July and August, is another.

"With Boesch and Young, Miguel is not a burner, Boesch does good," Leyland said. "If [Austin] Jackson is doing well, that's three guys that can get around the bases better, so I might leave him fourth, but I would consider it."

Winter Meetings coverage
Hot Stove: Tracker | Buzz blog
Hot Stove news, analysis

The question of where to hit Cabrera, regarded by many as the best hitter in the American League, has been debated among fans ever since he arrived in Detroit four years ago. Leyland's preference has always been to bat Cabrera fourth to try to enhance his RBI opportunities. Others have argued that putting Cabrera third guarantees he'll bat in the first inning and betters his chances to get more plate appearances.

Even in sticking to his opinion, however, Leyland has shown an increasing understanding for the other side. He entertained the discussion on more than one occasion this summer, admitting that both spots have advantages for him. He did it again on Wednesday as a collection of beat writers and national reporters fired questions.

"You look at that two ways," Leyland said, restarting the debate. "You can come up in the first inning with two out and nobody on. If he comes up [in the first] and he hits fourth, that means he has somebody [on base], so you can look at that a lot of different ways. Some guys thought it was [right to have] the best actual contact-type hitter third, but our lineup is pretty deep.

"I feel real comfortable, I think, with whatever our lineup looks like. I think it will be OK."

Either way, Cabrera would be expected to have the protection of Victor Martinez hitting behind him. In that sense, the approach to him most likely wouldn't change either way, though having him come up with two out and nobody on in the first inning might tempt teams a little more to pitch around him than if he led off the second inning. An effective Martinez can make opponents pay for that.

Cabrera has hit for higher numbers across the board batting cleanup, including a .331 batting average from the four-spot compared to .305 batting third, and a .990 OPS compared to .924. But the vast majority of those games batting third came as a Florida Marlin; He has hit there in just 32 games as a Tiger during the regular season, including one game in the regular season this year. All but two of those came in 2009, when Magglio Ordonez's early struggles led Leyland to tweak his lineup and briefly put Ordonez in a platoon role over the summer.

Leyland addressed a number of topics in a session that lasted about a half-hour. Among them were the game changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, including the 15-team format in each league that would lead to Interleague Play throughout the year. He said that would be an "adjustment" for AL teams to have pitchers ready to hit, but he also suggested that might not be the case for long.

"This is just a guess -- I'll be gone, I'll be out [when it happens] -- but there will probably be a decision made to synchronize the leagues," Leyland said. "I think at some point it's going to come to pass where there's either going to be a DH or no DH, I think that's going to happen at some point. I'm not sure I'll still be managing at that point."

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.