Photo: Dave Hogg.
Inge was awful at the plate last year but, in a guarded sort of way, I'm "intrigued" by him too.
Inge is a very good defensive third baseman. I can almost hear a couple hundred eyes rolling around in their sockets as I write that. The Bucs under Dave Littlefield promised to prioritize defense and yet so egregiously failed to provide it that I wonder whether a lot of Pirates fans doubt they should even listen when someone tells them that a player is good defensively.
Well, you should, and Inge is good. He has terrific range and an excellent throwing arm; visually, he's a very impressive player. And, more than that, the numbers back him up; UZR ranks Inge the third-best defensive third baseman in the majors last year, behind Pedro Feliz and Scott Rolen; Jose Bautista is ranked fourth-worst. UZR says there's a 24-run difference between Inge and Bautista.
Baseball Prospectus ranks Inge 14 runs above average and Bautista 12 runs below, for a 26 run difference. It also says Inge was 25 runs above average in 2006 and 15 runs above in 2005.
These defensive stats are just one data point among many, true, but the stats and the scouting reports and my own eyes all say the same thing - that Inge is really good defensively.
Now, maybe that wouldn't normally be a big deal, especially given how bad Inge's offense is, but consider that our rotation next year is pretty likely to have three young lefties in it - Tom Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm and Zach Duke. Maholm and Duke are both extreme groundball pitchers, and Gorzelanny causes a fair number of groundballs too.
Left-handed groundball pitchers plus right-handed batters equals lots and lots of groundballs to third. Last year, batters hit .359 off Duke and .295 off Maholm. Acquiring Inge on the cheap might be the single most effective way to bring those numbers down. There's no need to worry about displacing Bautista; he's not a great hitter and he's not a very good defender at any position, so there's no problem with moving him into a semi-platoon with Inge. Bautista would pick up at bats by starting at third when Ian Snell or possibly Matt Morris (who's also a groundballer, but a righty) pitches, and in centerfield when the other team starts a tough lefty.
Another benefit to acquiring Inge is that he can serve as the team's emergency catcher, so the Bucs won't have to waste a roster spot on Michel Hernandez or someone when Ryan Doumit inevitably gets injured.
Now, on the matter of acquiring Inge on the cheap: that's a problem. Inge is owed about $19 million over the next three years. $6.2 million next year isn't a big deal, but $6.6 million in 2010 is, and I don't think it'd be worth it if the Bucs were on the hook for the entire amount. If they could get the Tigers to trade Inge in order to dump the contract (that is, not expect a real prospect in return) and pay a bit of the money, I think it'd be worth it for the Pirates to acquire him. My sense is that, despite trading for Cabrera, the Tigers wouldn't be highly motivated to dump the contract - they can afford him, and he still has value as a bench player for them. But I would ask them just in case.