One of the more interesting competitions could well be at second base, where both Scott Sizemore and Will Rhymes are youngsters that will be vying for a spot in 2010.
Rhymes has clearly emerged as a classic Leyland favorite and has received the bulk of the playing time since being recalled in late August. Rhymes, to his credit, has taken full advantage of the opportunity, hitting for a solid average while showing solid defense and the gritty attitude and style of play that has endeared himself to Leyland.
Sizemore meanwihle has continued to receive limited opportunities, but when he's gotten them, he's taken full advantage, and if he continues to hit like he's capable of, and hit his entire minor league career, the Tigers will have a difficult time keeping him on the bench. Sizemore has belted two home runs and driven in five runs since his September call-up, which gives him more homers than he had in his first six weeks to start the season, and nearly half the number of RBI.
Suffice it to say, Rhymes is producing and has the upper hand in the field, but the higher ceiling lies with Sizemore.
Going beyond the diamond, another playing time battle is going down in the outfield, where Brennan Boesch is trying to find the magic that led to his first half success, while Casper Wells is threatening to take more playing time from him, being more versatile in the outfield and not suffering from the same second half slump.
As quickly Boesch burst on the scene, he's equally taken that approach to falling off a cliff when it comes to production. He's managed just eight extra base hits in nearly 200 at-bats since the All-Star break, has an OPS under .500, which has resulted in many fans summarily writing off Boesch in 2011. The reality is that the truth lies somewhere in between, and when the season comes to a close, Boesch will likely end up with a line somewhere in the .260/.330/.430 neighborhood, a very solid rookie debut.
With Wells and Boesch (along with Ryan Raburn), the Tigers have a number of potential options for the corner outfield in 2011, the question becomes if the Tigers have enough faith in any of them (or some combination of them) to hand over a full time job.
Finally, two starting pitchers are fighting for a spot in 2011, but in different ways.
Armando Galarraga has been quite maddening at times this season, going from one extreme (the should-have-been perfect game) to the other (eight runs in 3 2/3 innings against Texas last week). His 4.44 ERA is respectable enough, especially for a fifth starter, but on multiple occasions he has drawn the ire of Leyland for the pace he works in games and not trusting his stuff. Galarraga enters arbitration this off-season, meaning his utility as a cheap alternative is about to come to an end. Galarraga has the potential to be an effective big league starter and innings eater, but he'll have to prove his worth soon, before the Tigers elect to go with younger, cheaper alternatives for the back end of the rotation.
Finally, one of the most interesting free agent decisions the Tigers will have to make is the status of Jeremy Bonderman. Having now worked through his issues, he's put together a very Bonderman-like season, relying heavily on his two fastball/slider combo that allows him to be effective most of the time, and very ineffective from time to time. His FIP sits just under his ERA, and in turning 28 next month, it's likely the time to accept that Bonderman is more number four starter as opposed to the ace the Tigers hoped he would grow to be. If Bonderman is willing to return for number four starter type money, the Tigers would be crazy not to bring him back, but a repeat of the 4-year, $38 million deal he signed in 2006 isn't going to happen, and if he's able to get close to that on the open market, the Tigers will likely need to look to replace him.