The Carlos Guillen Brandon Inge positional shuffle took another turn today when Jim Leyland announced that Inge will move back to third and Guillen to left field in 2009. Inge has been struggling offensively and defensively as a catcher and has always been more comfortable at third. He is currently batting .204/.300/.366 which won't be good enough even with his strong defense at third. He'll likely hit a little better at third than he did at catcher but there is no guarantee of that.
Guillen has not played much outfield (just two games this year) but I suspect he'll be adequate. It will be mostly a matter of staying healthy. The move will make it very difficult for rookie Matt Joyce to get regular playing time and could mean that Marcus Thames will be dealt during the off-season. What I'd like to see is for them to trade Gary Sheffield (even if the Tigers have to eat a large portion of his salary), move Guillen to designated hitter and go with a Matt Joyce/Marcus Thames platoon in left field. Despite Sheffield's improved offense in the second half (.798 OPS since the all-star break), I'm still wary of his age and injury issues going forward.
The decision also leaves the Tigers without an experienced catcher. Dusty Ryan has looked good this September batting .306 with two homers in 36 at bats and displaying solid defense. He also showed good power in the minors hitting 17 homers and 24 doubles in 369 at bats with Erie and Toledo. However, he also struck out 122 times and,while I do like his future, he might need more time at AAA. Their only other catcher is Dane Sardinha who is batting a paltry .140. Ryan might indeed be ready for some kind of major league role but they'll almost surely add another catcher during the off-season to at least split time with him.
Ultimately, the reason for the move is they need to improve their defense next year. Depending on which defensive statistic you use, the Tigers rank anywhere from 24th (Defensive Efficiency Ratio at baseball Prospectus) to 28th (+/- at Hardball Times) in the majors. A big part of the problem is the left side of the infield. Carlos Guillen ranks 12th out of 20 third basemen in Revised Zone Rating and is 8 plays below the average third basemen according to the Fielding Bible +/- system (listed at Bill James Online). Edgar Renteria is 18th out of 20 shortstops in RZR and is 8 plays below average on the Fielding Bible +/- system. It's been well documented on this site that Inge is one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball. That should help them at both third and short as Renteria (making the shaky assumption he'll be back next year) does not move well to his right.
So, I have a mixed reaction to the announcement. I like what it will do for their defense but I'm not sure if Inge will hit well enough to justify playing regularly. I also don't like that it potentially keeps Joyce out of the running for a starting job next year. I like that Inge won't be catching and that Ryan will probably get a shot but I'm not sure if Dusty is ready.
Now, of course, Leyland has a history of saying one thing one day and changing his mind two days later so this could be much ado about nothing.