I've spent a lot of time this spring writing about the Tigers 5th starter role and bullpen. The pitching staff is where most of the questions lie but there are also battles for bench spots. With a twelve man staff and Gary Sheffield a full-time designated hitter, the Tigers are left with just four bench spots to cover eight positions. The first two spots belong to catcher Matt Treanor and infielder Ramon Santiago who will back up at second and short.
Marcus Thames will also make the team unless he is traded which would seem to be a real possibility. Thames hits for tremendous power but lacks versatility and bats right-handed on a team that needs left-handed punch. He's a good hitter to have around if one of their starters goes down for a while but is not the ideal reserve on this roster so they may try to move him and his $2.3 million salary.
If Thames stays, that leaves one spot to fill. The leading candidate would be Jeff Larish who can play first and third and has the left-handed bat they lack. He has also had a good spring batting .283/.397/.547. The problem is, they also need a back-up center fielder on the roster. They could use Inge to spell Curtis Granderson when he needs a rest but they have indicated they'd prefer to have Inge third base only. This is another reason why Thames could be moved - so they can keep both Larish and a center fielder.
The center field possibilities are Brent Clevlen, Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn. Thomas would be the ideal choice since he is the best fielder of the three and bats left-handed. However, he has been recovering from Tommy John Surgery and just started playing in the field. He has also not hit well this spring either so he may need a little time in the minors.
Clevlen is primarily a right fielder but can play center field reasonably well. He is also out of options so they risk losing him if he doesn't make the roster. So, if there is a spot available on the opening day roster for a backup outfielder, he might be the most likely choice.
Ryan Raburn seems less likely because he didn't hit much last year and hasn't had a good spring and offense is supposed to be his strongest asset. He also has versatility in that he has played all three outfield positions plus second base and third base. The problem is he is not very good at all those positions and really should be a corner outfielder.
Long shots for the bench include Timo Perez and Mike Hessman. Perez bats left-handed and would make a good pinch hitter but isn't much better than Thames defensively. He is a candidate only because of his strong spring - a .333 batting average and .593 slugging percentage. Hessman has good power and is a solid third baseman but doesn't make much contact and hasn't had an impressive spring.