Don Kelly has carved out a niche career with the Detroit Tigers for one reason: he is versatile. Well, that in addition to the fact that he is a very hard worker and former Tigers manager Jim Leyland seemed to be the no. 1 member of the Don Kelly Fan Club. For the most part, the Tigers have used him to back up the three outfield positions and the corner infield positions since he joined the organization back in 2009.
That said, Kelly, who has also seen big league action with the Pittsburgh Pirates, has played all nine positions at one point or another in his career.
In 2013, the Tigers brought him back on a minor league deal even though he had a dismal 2012 campaign, and he made Leyland’s squad out of Spring Training. Kelly played six positions last season and hit .222/.309/.343 with six home runs and 23 RBIs which impressed the club enough to invite him back for another year. The Tigers agreed to a one-year contract with Kelly worth $1 million in early December.
However, the Tigers could very easily find that they could do without Kelly’s services in 2014. He is a genuinely good guy, and one cannot help but root for the man, but the Tigers may be better off replacing him with a greater offensive force who has a better chance of coming off the bench and delivering a big hit when the team needs one.
During the offseason, the Tigers added Rajai Davis to platoon with Andy Dirks in left field, but if Dirks can hit like he did in 2012, Davis’ role will likely be reduced to that of a fourth outfielder who can provide depth at all three outfield positions.
The Tigers also added utility man Steve Lombardozzi, who is expected to back up second and third base, shortstop, and also see time in left field. The Tigers could also forgo having a spare first baseman as Victor Martinez can play there when Miguel Cabrera is DH-ing.
Therefore, the Tigers should be able to get by without Kelly’s glove, and the team should seriously consider replacing him with a more potent left-handed bench bat.
The problem, however, is that most of the free agents who were available this offseason who would have met that criteria, such as Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez, have already found homes. The Tigers could still take a flyer on Wilson Betemit, Casey Kotchman or Lyle Overbay, but one of the most intriguing ideas continues to be bringing Brennan Boesch back on a minor league deal and giving him a chance to battle it out in Spring Training.
The Tigers literally do not have a power threat on the bench, and when interleague play arrives, the team will surely wish they had a pinch-hitter such as Boesch who has the ability to reach the seats. The Tigers once had such a player in Marcus Thames.
Although Boesch is not as versatile as Kelly, he can play the corner outfield positions and should be able to learn how to play first base. As a matter of fact, when Boesch was with the New York Yankees, the organization had him working out at first even though he had yet to play there in a major league game.
The Tigers do not necessarily need another player who can play first, but if Boesch could play there, manager Brad Ausmus could put Martinez behind the plate once in a great while, slide Boesch in at first, and DH Cabrera. It would also allow Ausmus to occasionally play Cabrera at third if he wishes to do so.
Some sources reported that Boesch and the Tigers did not part ways on the best of terms 10 months ago, but both sides should be more than capable of burying the hatchet and moving forward. However, if that relationship has been irreparably damaged, then the Tigers could just as easily give Jordan Lennerton or Tyler Collins a chance to compete for a roster spot.
The Tigers are in a position where it would make sense to sacrifice a little versatility for power. The team needs another power threat far more than a light- hitting 25th man who can play all nine positions. Dave Dombrowski needs to continue brainstorming ways to add another bat and may have to get creative.