Tigers' leadoff spot suddenly vacant

Tigers' leadoff spot suddenly vacant

INDIANAPOLIS -- Somebody other than Curtis Granderson is going to lead off for the Tigers when they take the field for Opening Day in less than four months. Good luck figuring out who that is at the moment.

"That's going to be a big one," manager Jim Leyland said. "I don't have any clue right now who I would lead off. I have no idea, to be honest with you. We're going to have to be a little creative."

The creative effort to fill that void will take Detroit on its way out of the Winter Meetings and into the rest of the offseason.

With Wednesday's three-team trade sending Granderson to New York and Edwin Jackson to Arizona, the Tigers are a team in transition, starting at the top of the order.

While former Yankees top prospect Austin Jackson immediately becomes the top candidate to take over in center field, it's questionable whether the Tigers want a rookie in their leadoff spot at this point, even though Granderson barely had two months of Major League experience when he took over the leadoff role to open 2006. Moreover, Jackson hasn't led off regularly in the Minor Leagues since 2006, though his 24 steals in 28 tries reflected his leadoff-caliber speed.

"We don't have a guy that just sets up as a [natural] leadoff hitter," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, 'but we'll have to get somebody to hit leadoff.

With no natural leadoff candidates elsewhere in the lineup, the Tigers have some decisions to make, decisions that likely include whether to pursue an option on the market.

That could be tricky. The Tigers are believed to be one of at least two teams with interest in Dodgers speedster Juan Pierre, an idea proposed in a FOXSports.com report, but Los Angeles is reportedly seeking an innings-eating starter in return rather than a salary dump. Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman or Dontrelle Willis wouldn't fit that need.

Add in the $18.5 million left on Pierre's contract over the next two years, and Detroit would really have to get creative to pull off the deal. The FOXSports.com report suggested the Tigers could try to involve a third team by trading Carlos Guillen for a pitcher they could swing to the Dodgers.

The idea of trading Guillen is nothing new since Guillen's critical comments about his role after the season ended in October. However, Guillen's $26 million owed over the next two seasons likely scuttles any change of scenery.

Guillen's rights to veto any trade as a 10-and-5 player -- 10 years in the Major Leagues, the past five with the same club -- are another complication. No matter what the Tigers discuss, any deal has to go through Guillen, who has made his desires about playing time clear. And agent Peter Greenberg said in an e-mail Wednesday that he hasn't heard anything from Detroit or anyone else on Guillen.

If the Tigers have an opportunity to trade Guillen, they'll be expected to pursue it. But unless something happens, any options on the market would have to be lower cost.

One option on the free-agent market could be Scott Podsednik, who tormented Detroit plenty this year after returning to the White Sox in midseason. But any signing would have to find a position to play. In Podsednik's case, he'd have to either man center field in Jackson's place or left over Guillen and Ryan Raburn.

Raburn, for what it's worth, made 13 starts and six other appearances in the leadoff spot in 2009, batting .345 (19-for-55) with six home runs, 11 RBIs and a 1.104 OPS. If there's a fit aside from Jackson among those on the team, Raburn might be it, but he'd have to get regular playing time to do it.

One thing Leyland made clear: Normal leadoff-type stats like on-base percentage are not going to be the big factor in any decision he makes.

"As most of you guys know, I'm not into the on-base stuff as much as some of the other guys," Leyland said. "I think during the course of the game, there's enough guys on base. I like the guys that can score them from first and knock them in."

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