What difference can a year make? Look no further than The Case of Brennan Boesch.

In the 2011 ALCS, the Tigers desperately missed Boesch in the lineup’s number-two slot. How he could’ve elevated the order’s production when Magglio Ordonez went down with a broken ankle.

A year later the Tigers were back in the ALCS and Boesch was nowhere to be found, left off the roster just as he was in the ALDS against the A’s. How far had he fallen? Far enough to be replaced by a 21-year-old who didn’t face big-league pitching until September – and who started the season at Lakeland.

If ever a player embodied the notion of wait-’til-next year it was Boesch. Coming into 2012, the Tigers were counting on the 27-year-old to have a breakout, injury-free season and live up to the promise we’d all witnessed in 2010 and ’11. With Victor Martinez on the shelf for the year, Boesch’s healthy return was crucial.

He got off to a promising start in Spring Training, hitting .288 with six homers, and 21 hits in 24 games. Unfortunately, his Grapefruit League performance didn’t translate to the regular season.

By the end of June, it looked like his return was anything but healthy. He was hitting below .250 and with only seven home runs showing none of the power the Tigers had hoped for (and probably expected.) About six weeks later, he talked about his still-tender thumb and how it hampered his swing:

“Once you do surgery on your hand, things need to re-create, they need to reboot,” Boesch said.

(snip)

“I never blame performance on injury,” said Boesch, who was expected to deliver a steady punch in manager Jim Leyland’s lineup, but who found himself Tuesday batting .247, with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs. “But have I played long enough to make necessary adjustments when dealing with an injury?

“Probably not.”

By the time August arrived Boesch was a non-factor, appearing in a mere 19 games. In fact, beginning in May, Boesch played in fewer games each successive month: 27 in May, 25 in June and 23 in July. Not coincidentally, his playing time reached season lows when Andy Dirks returned from the disabled list in August.

So it came as no surprise that Jim Leyland left Boesch off the ALDS roster.

“The Boesch decision was a tough one,” said Leyland, “but it made sense for versatility and things of that nature. Plus he hasn’t been playing lately, so it was common sense.”

Again: What difference can a year make? Enough that Don Kelly and Quintin Berry leapfrogged Boesch on the Tigers’ depth chart. I agreed with the decision at the time, but admit I would’ve rather seen Boesch taking cuts against the Giants’ bullpen than Berry, even if the results were the same. There’s always a chance Boesch, unlike Berry, will connect on a long ball.

At the Winter Meetings this week, the Tigers were reportedly listening to offers for Boesch; among others, the Mariners and Mets were showing guarded interest. But as of this writing, he’s still a Tiger. But if he has a lackluster Spring Training and Garcia or Nick Castellanos pass him on the left, chances are Brennan Boesch is to achieve his potential, it’ll be for a team other than the Tigers.

Brennan Boesch’s 2012 Stats

Split G PA H 2B HR RBI BA OPS
April/March 22 94 21 2 3 11 .231 .607
May 27 110 25 7 2 8 .245 .663
June 25 97 20 3 2 8 .220 .576
July 23 82 23 7 4 17 .295 .868
August 19 63 14 1 0 5 .246 .616
Sept/Oct 16 57 10 2 1 5 .196 .614
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table | Generated 12/6/2012.

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