First off, as a reminder, the Tigers playoff roster was technically set on August 31, the last day before rosters expanded. However, due to the way you can utilize the disabled list, the Tigers have two open spots (Luis Marte and Octavio Dotel) that they could “trade” for other players to fill out the roster.
Interestingly enough on that day, the Tigers called up infielder Hernan Perez and left-handed reliever Phil Coke in anticipation of having them on the playoff roster, but now it appears possible, or even likely, that neither player will end up on the initial postseason roster.
For starters, among position players, the entire starting lineup is obviously set; Alex Avila, Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Iglesias, Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson, and Torii Hunter, plus Victor Martinez. In addition, backup catcher Brayan Pena is a lock to make the club as well. That’s ten players right there.
On the pitching side of things, the rotation is almost assuredly going to be Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister. In the bullpen, closer Joaquin Benoit, setup men Jose Veras and Drew Smyly, and reliever Bruce Rondon are also almost assuredly going to be on the roster. Rick Porcello was a starter all season, but will move to the bullpen for the playoff run. That’s nine more.
So, we’re essentially down to six spots that could even theoretically be up for grabs – four position players, and two relievers.
The spots that need to be filled are a backup infielder, a backup outfielder, a bat off the bench, and then a wild card. The infielder will most likely be Ramon Santiago, and the outfielder is most likely to be Jim Leyland-favorite Don Kelly.
With Danny Worth separating his shoulder, his season is done, and Nick Castellanos off to a very cold start in the big leagues, he’s likely out of contention as well. Given that they’ve seen enough of Victor Martinez to know he could catch in a pinch, Bryan Holaday’s services aren’t needed either (in the event the Tigers would contemplate carrying three catchers).
That brings things down to three guys for two spots; Jhonny Peralta, Matt Tuiasosopo and Perez. The assumed move would likely have been that if Peralta were to be included on the roster, he’d take the spot of Perez as an extra infielder. But instead the Tigers have been giving Peralta work in left field, with the hope that they can platoon him with Dirks, which could leave Tuiasosopo out of a spot.
Given Tuiasosopo is hitting just .167 with one home run in the second half (and doesn't have a hit of any kind since August 28th), it’d be hard to justify keeping him around, and the Tigers can likely utilize Perez in more support roles (defense, pinch running). So, that gives you your 14 position players.
On the pitching side, the two final spots could come out of a number of players, and Leyland appears to be auditioning a couple each night; Al Alburquerque, Evan Reed, Luke Putkonen, Jeremy Bonderman, Darin Downs, Phil Coke, and Jose Alvarez could all factor in.
The balance will lean toward looking for another left-hander with someone that could be used in long relief, in the event the Tigers choose to not use Porcello in that role. Of course that role could be filled by the same person, namely Alvarez, especially if Coke is unable to pitch over the final week of the season. Downs remains an outside shot as he’s pitched just once, putting Alvarez in the driver seat.
Finally, the other reliever. If Alvarez grabs onto the second left-hander job, then there’s less incentive or need to carry a long man, which Reed, Putkonen and Bonderman all profile to be. Meanwhile, Al Alburquerque may be wild, but he’s also striking out 13 batters per nine innings, and has lowered his ERA to 4.30 with a 1.13 WHIP in the season’s second half. That gives him the job.
So, there you have it. When the Tigers kick off their postseason, below will be the 25 man roster they’ll head into the competition with. So, when Leyland makes comments that the roster will be a “no brainer”… this is what he probably means.
C Alex Avila
1B Prince Fielder
2B Omar Infante
3B Miguel Cabrera
SS Jose Iglesias
LF Andy Dirks
CF Austin Jackson
RF Torii Hunter
DH Victor Martinez
C Brayan Pena
IF Ramon Santiago
IF Hernan Perez
OF Don Kelly
OF Jhonny Peralta
SP Justin Verlander
SP Max Scherzer
SP Anibal Sanchez
SP Doug Fister
CL Joaquin Benoit
SU Jose Veras
SU Drew Smyly
MR Bruce Rondon
MR Rick Porcello
MR Al Alburquerque
LR Jose Alvarez