I’ve been mulling over this topic for a while, now, so I thought I might as well vent my feelings on the subject. Brandon Inge continues to be a sensitive topic for Detroit Tiger fans, and has become a player that some simply love, hate, or love to hate. I like Brandon Inge, I really do, and would like nothing more than to see him succeed and have a very productive MLB career. The fact is however, he batted .197 last season and is a career .235 hitter. So… I can understand why fans have a problem with him making $5.5 million a year this season, when it’s not even a ‘gimme’ that he’ll make the Major League roster. I think he will, though, and we’ll find out here in a few short weeks if all of the work he’s done in the offseason will pay off. The signing of Prince Fielder didn’t help Inge’s case, either, with Miguel Cabrera now being moved back to his old position at third. A bit of deja’ vu, as Inge went through this before when Cabrera was originally signed, and even back when the Tigers got Pudge Rodriquez who took his catching position. Tigers manager Jim Leyland really didn’t help matter either, by stating at the Prince press conference that Inge “isn’t the happiest camper”. I guess he could have put a positive spin on it, or not really mentioned Inge at all. All this does is give the media a chance to open up a Pandora’s Box of Inge bashing, without him even making a statement himself. I really think that I can step back and see both sides. I can see how fans may have a problem with Inge’s average and salary, but how can you blame a guy for just wanting to play? I don’t see what’s wrong with a guy stating that he wants to work hard enough and play well enough to earn a starting position. I would like to think that Cabrera will be the DH much of the time, with him being gradually inserted into the hot corner throughout the season. Inge’s defense is enough to at least earn him a spot on the bench, but if he can out-hit Don Kelly in spring training, he could see plenty of starts at third until Miggy gets used to third base again. Leyland stated that he wants Inge on the team, but he’ll have to accept the position as a reserve player, which isn’t bad considering he doesn’t have many options. It’s doubtful that any other team will pick him up with his salary, unless Detroit eats most of it. Last season he was demoted to Triple-A Toledo, and stated he didn’t want to play anywhere else but Detroit. When he was called back up to the Tigers and hit a home-run in his first at bat, you would have thought they won the Series. Despite all of the haters, many fans still like Inge, and would like to see him stay. Even GM Dave Dombrowski seems positive about Inge’s contribution to the Tigers in 2012 stating, “Probably the best thing is to let him come to spring training, let him play well, and let’s see what happens from there. He’s still an important part of our club at this point. ”
Now we come to the impass on how well the 2012 season goes for him, though. This is the last year of his contract, but even if he plays well enough, it’s doubtful that he’ll get more than a one year deal, and with Victor Martinez returning to the DH spot next season, the hot corner will be completely owned by Cabrera. They also have Nick Castellanos being groomed in the Minors and should be big league really in a few seasons, though they may move him to the outfield. With 2013 not looking like there will be a place for him, I do have a suggestion….I’d like to see Inge get into coaching. Hear me out…please. This is what Inge needs to do in 2012: work hard, don’t get caught by the press bad mouthing the organization, no matter how much he plays, or doesn’t play. The fact is, that Mike Illitch is one of the best owners in pro sports, and does a good job of taking care of players who are loyal to him. Look at all he’s done for some of the Red Wings alumni like Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Chris Chelios, and Chris Osgood. They all have pretty nice cushy jobs within the organization. Inge has been in Detroit longer than any other Tiger on the roster, and if he plays his cards right, could still be employed by the organization when his playing days are done. Granted he’s only 34, but is he starts coaching at 35-36, he could still be able to relate to the younger players. The fact that he’s played so many positions in at catcher, infield, and outfield, will also help his case. Just because he’s a career .235 hitter doesn’t mean he can’t be an effective hitting coach, either. Many players who don’t even have much of a Major League career have had success in coaching, including Leyland himself. I think Inge’s attitude would go long way in his coaching career, and could even lead to a manager job. Where else would I like to see him coach, also, than West Michigan? Inge lives in metro Detroit year round, and moving to Grand Rapids wouldn’t be much of a change for him. He’s also one of the most popular players to ever play for the Whitecaps and the crowds at Fifth Third Ballpark are riddled with Inge jerseys/shirts (though Brennan Boesch is starting to give him a run for his money). He also was part of the inaugural class of the Whitecaps Hall of Fame. Inge has only good things to say about his time in West Michigan, too. During a rehab game in 2010 he stated to the Grand Rapids Press, “I love it here, I really do. It’s kind of the starting point for me. This was the first full season I had in the Minor Leagues. This place produces great ball players, and it’s the first place you go to where you have larger crowds. People are very loyal here-the most loyal I’ve ever seen.” It seems like the Whitecaps are a perfect fit for Inge’s post-playing career. His alpha and omega….
Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press