The End of the Inge Era in Detroit?

 "We traded for who? Oh, hamburgers..."

As you, no doubt, have heard by now, the Tigers acquired third baseman Wilson Betemit from the Royals for A-Ball prospects Julio Rodriguez (catcher) and Antonio Cruz (lefty pitcher). The team has announced that Betemit will be the team’s primary third baseman the rest of the year. More importantly, when it comes to Tiger baseball, is that this appearss to mark the end of the Inge Era in Detroit.
I kid. I’m still not sure what to think about this. It’s no secret that I’ve never really cared for Brandon Inge, the baseball player. He is the most frustrating Tiger I’ve ever watched in my 26 years of following this team. In parts of eleven seasons, he’s only hit .234/.304/.387 with an OPS+ of 83. That’s awful for a guy the Tigers have given over $30 million to over the years, with more to come, no matter what they do. (Inge is still owed the rest of this season’s $5.5 million, $5.5 million for next year, and has a $500K buy out on his ’13 option.) Five times he’s been in the top ten in the AL in strikeouts over that time. Only twice has he hit over .260 for a season.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

His first three years, Brandon was a catcher for the Tigers hitting .180, .202, and .203. Ivan Rodriguez was acquired to be the new backstop and Brandon moved to third base. He flourished there over the years defensively with his outstanding range and led the AL in assists for a third baseman for three years straight (2005-2007). Inge’s athletic plays on the field quickly made him a favorite to the Tiger fans, and his boyish goofy smile and hard-nosed mentality on the diamond didn’t hurt him much either, in their eyes.

The man’s tireless charity work is well known. I’ve never seen a player do so much to give back to his community than Inge has. He’s an inspiration in that sense and I can’t say enough good things about it. His wife, Shani (awful name), deserves credit, too. The Inges are both wonderful people than have done more good in Detroit than people will even know.

Something happened in 2009, though. Making his first All-Star team with a torrid first half, Inge was named an entrant in the Home Run Derby. He was embarrassingly shut out, collecting zero homers. I’m not blaming the Derby, but since then, he hasn’t been the same. Both of his knees have been shot to hell. His power seemed to disappear. And the one thing that made him tolerable to the folks like myself that were never “Inge-guys”, his defense, began to slip more and more.

And now we have come to 2011. He’s hitting .177 in 239 plate appearances. He’s 4 for 54 since returning from the DL for mono. The defense has gotten even worse. And the one thing I never thought I would see happen at Comerica Park is happening…the guy is getting booed. I was there last night and watched him put up another 0-for, make an error, and barely move at two other balls that the Inge of old would have had a decent chance at getting to. And I wasn’t the only one noticing this…thousands were booing Brandon Inge, the CoPa’s favorite son of the past decade. It was surreal.

Dave Dombrowski hasn’t said yet what’s to come for Brandon. He has a no-trade clause that complicates things. The amount of money owed to him makes it that much harder to just release the guy, but you have to deduce that it’s going to be either Inge or Ryan Raburn that’s sent out of here. The thing against Brandon is that he’s only a third baseman at this point, and a poor one at that. Raburn, for all of his struggles, has an awesome second-half track record, can play at least three positions (though, not well), and has shown signs of life at the plate. Inge looks like he’s a man that’s given up.

But he’s come back before. After the Pudge deal, he was reborn as a third baseman. Miguel Cabrera was acquired to replace him, but he made yet another comeback after Mig was moved to first. And Betemit is a free agent after this season. Internally, the Tigers have no ready options to play third in 2012. The free agent market will see Betemit, Aramis Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, and Omar Infante lead the third basemen class, with Ramirez being the only top-tier talent, and who knows how that will go. If Inge can rebound, perhaps he’s not done yet.

But I doubt it. He just looks like a beaten man.

Betemit’s hitting .281/.341/.409 with 3 homers and 27 RBI (110 OPS+) in 57 games with the Royals. Last year he was more impressive hitting .297/.378/.511 (all career highs) with 13 homers and 43 RBI (141 OPS+) in 84 games. Those numbers are promising and there’s also the fact that he’s a switch hitter to be happy about, too.

But it’s not all good. Betemit’s a clear step down defensively than Inge, even in his current form. Also, only 3 times over parts of 9 seasons has Wilson played in more than 115 games, none since 2007. His lack of D will hurt the team a bit more, especially ground ball pitcher Rick Porcello, and we’ll probably be seeing Don Kelly take over at third every day in the 7th when Dirks takes over for Magglio in right.

/ties noose in closet

Against the AL Central teams we’re competing with, Betemit hasn’t been very effective over his career. With the exceptions of White Sox pitcher Jon Danks (2/3, 1 HR) and Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin (7/15, 2 HR), Betemit’s lifetime numbers look like this…

Mark Buehrle: 1 for 6
Gavin Floyd: 2 for 7
Edwin Jackson: 2 for 8
Jake Peavy: 3 for 16
Fausto Carmona: 1 for 10
Justin Masterson: 1 for 6
Scott Baker: 1 for 8
Nick Blackburn: 0 for 7
Francisco Liriano: 2 for 11

Those number need to improve, obviously, since the majority of the Tigers second half games this year will be played within the divison. With his defensive liabilities, Wilson Betemit’s bat is going to determine his fate in Detroit and help determine the team's fate in the division.

I guess I just can’t believe that the decade plus journey of Brandon Inge, Tiger Icon (no matter how I feel about him), is going to come to an end at the hands of Wilson Betemit, rather than a guy like Ramirez or another bigger name. But Aramis reportedly isn’t going anywhere (though DD kicked the tires) and there’s just no other viable option out there. And with Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland’s jobs on the line, there just isn’t any time left to wait around to see if Brandon Inge will ever come around again.

For all the venom I’ve spewed at Inge over the years (he sucks, he’s overrated, only fat girls with lower back tattoos like him, he is a whiner, he hurts the team by hiding injuries, he only homers when we're already up by 6 runs, he's the one that killed Casey Anthony’s baby, etc), Brandon is kind of like the infuriating little brother that you pick on, but deep down like having around for some reason. I’m not exactly sure how else to explain it.

If tomorrow it’s announced that Inge is finished in Detroit, it’s really going to be an end of an era. The sea of Inge jerseys at the CoPa will begin to become a thing of the past. The famous Inge smile will be the stuff of memory, whether they be good or bad. And the longest tenured Tiger will have been sent out to pasture, being told that he’s not good enough to do the one thing he loves most…play baseball in Detroit.

(EDIT:  Inge has been officially DFA'd. He'll report to the Mud Hens if he clears waivers.)

So no matter what happens, Brandon, Your Party Host tips his cap to you. Thanks for everything, you annoying little shit.

God help me…it’s been fun.