Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Inge Becoming Too Much For Tigers To Handle, Or Tolerate

I know that Brandon Inge can walk and chew gum at the same time. I've seen him do it. So I know he can multi-task.

But Inge is apparently finding it difficult to think and hit at the same time. He sits in his catcher's crouch and purports to being concerned with how he can possibly hit with any effectiveness while he's thinking about catching Tigers pitchers.

"You're always thinking (when you are catching)," Inge told the Detroit Free Press after Sunday's game, in which he caught Kenny Rogers. "There is no downtime between pitches" to adjust.

"The way I felt out there today, I'll be a .200 hitter," he said.

Looks like someone is trying to give himself a built-in excuse. Or is holding his team hostage.

I like Inge. I didn't always. I thought he came off like a crybaby after the Tigers signed Pudge Rodriguez, displacing Inge as catcher. I felt like his reactions and words were strange indeed, for a less-than-.200 hitter (at the time).

But he's engaging. He's involved in the community. He has a solid family life. And he's turned himself into one hell of a defensive third baseman.

But he still struggles with the stick at times, and that was one reason why the Tigers pulled the trigger and made the Miguel Cabrera trade. Inge is displaced again. And he's not been shy to express his dismay about the situation.

It's a strange, almost bizarre scenario being played out in Lakeland. Spring training started with an unprecedented presser, with manager Jim Leyland and Inge announcing that ... Inge wasn't happy, and that the team knows he isn't happy, and that the team wishes it could accomodate him, and that everyone loves Brandon Inge, and if we can trade him we will, but if we can't we won't, and there's no hard feelings. Then Inge said he's not happy, but that he's a team guy, and he wishes he could be accomodated, and that he's a Tiger for now, and he wants to play third base, and if he can't play third base in Detroit, he'd like to do so somewhere else, but if he stays in Detroit, there'll be no hard feelings.

It's unlike anything I've ever seen around the Tigers.

But I'm a little disturbed by Inge's recent comments, because he seems to be positioning himself for failure, and -- more disturbing -- there's a passive-aggressive thing going on here.

"Hey -- don't be surprised if my hitting sucks this year," he's saying, "because I told you I didn't want to catch, and you made me catch, and now this is what you get."

That's my take on it, anyway.

But someone should tell Inge about Rodriguez and the dozens of catchers whose likenesses appear in Cooperstown, in baseball's Hall of Fame. They seemed to be able to "think" and hit at the same time.

Inge is trying a new approach at the plate, his goal being to cut down on strikeouts and raise his batting average, even at the cost of reduced power if necessary. And he's telling everyone that all this might be derailed should he be forced to catch.

A more cynical person than me might consider that a cop out -- an excuse in waiting. An even more cynical person might think it's a way to force the team's hand and trade him, sooner than later -- by threatening poor plate performance due to all the thinking going on.

I think the Tigers should be realistic, and accept the fact that they'll probably have to get rooked in a trade in order to rid themselves of the distraction that the Inge situation is causing. He doesn't have great trade value right now, due to his poor 2007 and the Tigers' lack of any real bargaining power here, not to mention the size of Inge's contract. So it might be a case of addition by subtraction, as opposed to addition by addition; who the Tigers receive may need to be of secondary concern to the benefits of getting rid of Inge.

I don't want the Tigers to trade Inge, necessarily. I think he could be a terrific "super sub" -- a modern day Mickey Stanley. But he's becoming more of a sore thumb, and doesn't appear to particularly care about that. Strange behavior for a quote-unquote team guy, if you want to know.

I've been around long enough to know that when a guy starts planting the seeds for failure, then he's already halfway there. At least.


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