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Nobody's perfect

Even the best teams have holes to fill this spring

Posted: Wednesday March 5, 2008 10:40PM; Updated: Thursday March 6, 2008 5:02PM
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The arrival of Miguel Cabrera has ended Brandon Inge's days at third base in Detroit. Could Inge be headed to L.A. as a successor to Nomar Garciaparra?
The arrival of Miguel Cabrera has ended Brandon Inge's days at third base in Detroit. Could Inge be headed to L.A. as a successor to Nomar Garciaparra?
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Also in this column:
• White Sox seek more for Crede
• Rangers want Salty to catch
• Hampton looks OK, not great
• More news and notes

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Hope springs eternal, especially in spring. But don't let the usual unabashed -- and often unrealistic -- optimism fool you. There's plenty of reason to worry, even among the contenders and supposed-super teams.

Just about every team in Florida and Arizona has a need, a hole or a blip. That includes even the best teams. Here is a rundown of some contenders and their needs ...

Tigers

Need: Relief.
A foray into their cramped clubhouse can be awe-inspiring, with a lineup of lockers filled with superstars (and I'm not even counting Al Kaline, a frequent visitor). However, every team needs a bullpen, and the Tigers will be fortunate if theirs suffices.

Veteran Todd Jones won't overwhelm anyone, but he will do as the closer. Where's the setup man, though? Matt Mantei's comeback attempt has been derailed by shoulder trouble and Fernando Rodney has his usual arm issues already. This leaves the Tigers hoping for a quicker-than-expected return from Joel Zumaya. That would be great if it happened. First, though, Zumaya should be required to explain how he really hurt himself. Does anyone believe that moving-boxes-before-the-fire story?

It's going to be difficult to acquire setup help elsewhere since no one wants to give it up. The Mets, who called about outfielder Marcus Thames, probably wouldn't do any better than Jorge Sosa in return. In the meantime, the Tigers might have to hope someone emerges from among Bobby Seay, Yorman Bazardo, Jason Grilli, Zach Minor and Denny Bautista. Good luck there.

Dodgers

Need: Third base.
All indications are that they were ready to make a big push for Alex Rodriguez this winter before A-Rod did his 180 back to the Yankees. Now they are showing interest in a slightly cheaper third-base model, Brandon Inge, who isn't quite as cheap as you might think with $19.1 million and three years remaining on his contract.

The only reason the Tigers could conceivably want Inge around is to replace Ivan Rodriguez when his contract expires after this season. But Inge blew a hole in that idea by suggesting he didn't really want to catch and saying he has trouble hitting when he has to concentrate on catching (not that his .236 average as a third baseman last season was anything great).

The mere suggestion of interest in the high-priced/low-return Inge creates a strong impression that the Dodgers aren't sold on prospect Andy LaRoche or veteran Nomar Garciaparra, or a combination thereof. LaRoche's press clippings have apparently outstripped reality, and judging by Garciaparra's anemic performance last year (.371 slugging), his time could be almost up.

Cubs

Need: Second base.
Even before Mark DeRosa had his successful heart procedure, the Cubs were zeroing in on the Orioles' Brian Roberts. A Cubs scout is following Roberts, but no deal is expected until Orioles scouts get a better line on Cubs minor leaguers. While Baltimore may be less than overwhelmed by the names thrown around so far (pitchers Sean Marshall and Sean Gallagher, outfielder Matt Murton and infielder Ronny Cedeno), baseball people see the Orioles continuing their overdue rebuilding program.

Roberts, for one, doesn't sound like he'd mind a change of scenery, or maybe even a chance to be part of the Cubs' 100th anniversary season. Speaking of the Cubs to SI.com, Roberts said, "It's a tremendous organization. They have a great history, and they're obviously doing everything they can to win a World Series. That's all you can ask from an organization.'' To be fair (to him and the Orioles), I didn't ask him to evaluate Baltimore's organization.

Rockies

Need: Second base.
With useful Kaz Matsui defecting to Houston for more money, GM Dan O'Dowd appears determined to find a replacement in-house. O'Dowd calls the second-base casting call the Rockies' very own version of American Idol. With Ian Stewart coming to camp at 225 pounds, too big for a second baseman (one scout likening him to an an NFL tight end), the three most logical candidates could be Marcus Giles, Jayson Nix and Jeff Baker, the latter of whom would make Colorado's dynamic lineup that much better if he can do it. Clint Barmes and Omar Quintanilla round out a sextet of hopefuls. The Rockies had talked to Cleveland about Josh Barfield, but if no casting call candidate emerges, they'll probably go for a stop-gap since they feel like they can fill second base from within in coming years.

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