DETROIT -- Brennan Boesch looks like an outfielder without a role on the Tigers' roster for next season. The starting role he had for much of this past season is going to Torii Hunter. The left-handed half of a platoon role in left field seems likely to go to Andy Dirks, and a healthy Victor Martinez would handle everyday duties at designated hitter.
Given that, Boesch's future in Detroit would seem in question. His immediate future with the club, however, is not.
"We'll tender him a contract," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski assured earlier this offseason.
Barring a change of plans, the Tigers will do the same to their other half-dozen or so arbitration-eligible players. And sometime after Detroit has finished with its offseason shopping, it will tackle its most expensive task of the winter -- coming to terms with all those players.
It's the price of success the Tigers have to pay with the generation of players they brought in with the Curtis Granderson trade of 2009, among other deals. Whether or not Boesch begins next season in a Tigers uniform, Detroit is going to feel the impact.
The one arbitration-eligible player the Tigers would've non-tendered is already gone. Detroit got that move out of the way by releasing Ryan Raburn at last week's deadline for setting the 40-man roster. Raburn is now a free agent, able to sign with any club that wants him.
Raburn became expendable after a season-long struggle to find the late-season hitting form that carried him the last few campaigns. Boesch didn't struggle nearly that bad. He also didn't have nearly the season that he or the Tigers would've wanted.
Boesch's .659 OPS was by far the lowest of his three-year tenure in the big leagues. His power dropped, his walk-to-strikeout ratio strongly regressed and he seemingly struggled with confidence. By mid-September, Boesch was on the bench in favor of Quintin Berry. By October, he was a spectator for the Tigers' playoff run, left off the postseason roster.
Manager Jim Leyland called it the mystery of the year for him.
"I'm just hoping that this was just one of those blur years, and that somehow it gets changed," Leyland said, "because I don't really have an answer for you. I don't know what happened.
"I still think the big ceiling is there, but for whatever reason, I just think he got into one of those mental ruts that this particular season he couldn't get out of. Now, he's got time to take care of that, hopefully."
That leaves Boesch in kind of a roster purgatory for the moment. The Tigers see enough value to hold onto him, but not enough results to open up playing time for him.
"He's not where we would like him to be at this point, because if we did, he'd have been on our roster for the postseason," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski explained last month. "That's a pretty obvious summation. But I think it's the case that he still has ability. He can still hit the ball out of the ballpark.
"We still see some untapped potential, and he has struggled some. He hasn't made the strides we'd like him to make. However, sometimes power hitters take longer to come about, too. I cannot tell you that he's a given, that one of those corner spots is his at this time. That's something you have to earn, by all means. But that doesn't mean you go and non-tender him, because I think he has value."
That was before the Tigers added Hunter, giving them the extra right-handed hitter and veteran second hitter they wanted. The irony, though, is that Boesch could benefit from Hunter's presence as much as anybody on the team. Boesch soaked up advice from Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Johnny Damon during Spring Training in 2010 that proved big in his performance that summer. That presence was gone last year.
The Tigers could bring Boesch to camp and give him a shot to win time in left field. He has stepped up in the past to Spring Training competitions; he essentially took over the left-field job from Raburn in 2011 when the season began, thanks to a strong camp.
Detroit could also try to trade him in the coming weeks; FOXSports.com's Jon Morosi cited industry sources stating there's interest in him from multiple clubs, and suggested he could be dealt during next week's Winter Meetings. That said, arbitration salaries can have a major impact on those types of players coming off questionable seasons. Sometimes, the salary can be a tiebreaker in the case of split opinions.
The other option, in theory at least, is a stint in the Minor Leagues to allow Boesch to work on his approach in a lower-pressure situation.
He isn't the only one with a potential trade market. Rick Porcello, the young sinkerballer who has had up-and-down success the past couple years, could be without a set rotation spot if the Tigers somehow re-sign free-agent starter Anibal Sanchez. The expectation, however, is that Detroit won't match an offer if Sanchez draws a six- or seven-year mega-deal from a team in need of starting pitching.
It's not just about the Sanchez contract, but about the negotiations looming for Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, both of whom could become free agents in two years.
Scherzer is another Tigers pitcher eligible for arbitration, as is Doug Fister. Add in catcher Alex Avila, center fielder Austin Jackson and reliever Phil Coke, and the Tigers have a salary shift coming.
The raises coming in arbitration were already expected to take up just about all of the money the Tigers trimmed with free agents Delmon Young, Jose Valverde and Gerald Laird. Now that Hunter is on board, payroll is guaranteed to go up, heading towards $140 million. For Detroit, it's the price of success.
The question the Tigers have to face is where Boesch -- still loaded with potential, still weighed by inconsistency -- fits into it.