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March 17, 2005

Transaction of the Day

Alex Sanchez

by Christina Kahrl

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American League
National League


Released OF-L Alex Sanchez [3/15]

TA: Breakout is a new feature where I'm going to comment on something that just happened. It might seem like a blog, but it isn't, it's just a way to keep me busy so that I get something done while still slogging away on the weekly full-form Transaction Analysis. It'll happen as often as events dictate: once, nonce, or all sorts of times, every week.


No, this isn't a sequel to that weak teenploitation Kelly LeBrock vehicle, Weird Science. In Detroit, it's the curse of Chet Lemon that lives on, as los Tigres check another one of fate's center fielders off of a list that's included Gary Pettis, Milt Cuyler, Junior Felix, Kimera Bartee, Brian "Sir Speedy" Hunter, Gabe "the Babe" Kapler, Roger Cedeno, Wendell Magee and George Lombard. Skip ill-starred, that's a mass that the pointy-headed would refer to as universally dark matter. Repeated exposure to this lot should leave us all wondering if, like lobsters, Tigers fans feel no pain.

Superficially, it's a bold stroke, bloodlessly executed. Sanchez might have been the center fielder and leadoff man in some people's minds, but roto-mindedness isn't only habit-forming, it's uninformative. Sanchez isn't a center fielder any more than he's a leadoff hitter; stop making him try to be either, and he invariably reverts to his natural state of practical uselessness.

After the move, Alan Trammell's comments were particularly interesting, the more so if you take them out of context: "Basically, the way that we see it, we felt that Alex wasn't a guy for us defensively," Trammell said. What does that mean? That when the Tigers were lonely in the center-field department, and Sanchez had just drifted through town, however much they swooned over his talk about life in the fast lane, Sanchez wasn't the guy? I think we're better off not dwelling on this.

Tram again: "I think we have guys here in camp that can do what I'm asking for. This is the business side. Defensively, we didn't feel he was going to be a championship-type player." Okay, clearly, the Tigers had gone back to feeling needy, and Sanchez wasn't fulfilling a need. That's okay. People change, what they need, what they want. Everyone can be an adult here. But if you're Alex Sanchez, and you're spurned because the Tigers are looking for a championship-type player, can you help but laugh? Even Shelley Winters had to recognize the irony of what James Mason had been reduced to in Lolita; it wasn't like the unsavory gold-digging was going to buy him happiness, let alone a brass ring.

The one note of sympathy I would strike for Sanchez: Presumably to raise his game to championship caliber, Trammell assigned coach Juan Samuel to work with Sanchez on his glovework in center field, which means...well, what exactly? That Samuel is intimately familiar with the theory of how to play center, having failed so thoroughly to do so himself? Perhaps all of the lectures soaked in, if not in a way he could employ in his own career. This is no doubt unfair; there may be no amount of coaching that will ever make Sanchez an acceptable center fielder. Some Tigers fans may remember that years of working with Al Kaline did not immediately or even eventually make Kirk Gibson the answer in center or right field. But if the Tigers thought Sanchez could be fixed, and then gave up after six games, what does that say about how seriously they ever really consider re-signing him as this year's solution?

So who now? Maybe Craig Monroe. Maybe Nook Logan or Alexis Gomez. Not Curtis Granderson, not now that he's being sent down. The tepid drama of sorting out who among these three survivors will have the hot hand in the next two weeks and win the job barely bears watching. All of them share equally in the advantage of not being Alex Sanchez, and all of them will never become great players. It's a trinity that might give NRI DeWayne Wise hope for his own form of an otherwise implausible assumption. Monroe might be reserved for regular work as a fourth outfielder, often asked to fill in for Rondell White or Magglio Ordonez as they deal with their infirmities; he'd then also get to spot for Logan whenever Trammell simply wanted his bat in the lineup. That leaves Bobby Higginson and Marcus Thames at loose ends, but that could contribute to a decision to send Logan down: in that scenario, Monroe plays center regularly, and Higgy and Thames are around to spot for the oft-broken Rondell and Mags, not to mention the equally brittle Dmitri Young at DH.

For myself, I prefer that last solution. The offense won't likely have the benefit of Pudge Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen flirting with MVP candidacies, any more than it can count on Brandon Inge to be a useful regular. And to lead off? Well, maybe it'll be Omar Infante, which wouldn't be the worse fix; that would probably be Inge.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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