Tigers picking 'who' and 'I don't know' at SS
April, 20, 2014
By Christina Kahrl | ESPN.com
With apologies to Abbott and Costello, it might seem as if that's where the Tigers are at shortstop after they cut loose Alex Gonzalez. Faster than you can say Chris Pittaro, Gonzalez has gone from Opening Day hero -- having plated the game winner on that happy day -- to simply gone.
For a couple of reasons, that really isn’t as big a deal as it might sound. Gonzalez is 37 years old, hasn’t played shortstop every day in a season since 2011, and in the Tigers’ lineup his primary responsibility was to play acceptable defense. Guess what he wasn’t doing after kicking a few too many grounders? So an inability to get that particular Job One done means he’s back on the scrapheap they found him on, pushing the Tigers to mull their alternatives. Finding better than Gonzalez on offense is easy. Finding someone who can play shortstop? Well, they don’t call it replacement level for nothing.
For the time being, it means a lot of Andrew Romine at shortstop. He’s still the same guy he was when GM Dave Dombrowski acquired him from the Angels: An adequate defender, Romine should actually be an improvement on Gonzalez if you want to keep your standards that low, but maybe someone able to chip in an OBP in the .300 range if he gets full-time play. Hauling up Danny Worth from the minors to play the utility infield role doesn’t really give the Tigers a great alternative; his range isn’t considered good enough for everyday play at short.
It’s that thin fare that might push the Tigers to expand their options -- for 2014 and only 2014 -- because the future should still belong to Jose Iglesias, out for the season with his shin splints injury. Signing free agent Stephen Drew might fulfill some of their fans’ wishes, but it’s unlikely that this latest development would encourage Dombrowski to sacrifice a future pick by making that move before the draft in June. Then again, after throwing the kind of money they did at Miguel Cabrera, maybe aging owner Mike Ilitch is as unconcerned about his franchise’s future drafts as he seems to be about the bottom line.
It’s also weak enough competition to inspire further jabber about Omar Vizquel making a comeback, but at that rate, we may as well ask what Ray Oyler is up to, assuming Vizquel was any more capable of playing shortstop than Gonzalez, but at 46, and without having played there regularly in the majors since 2007. Like I said, Ray Oyler’s out there, too.
There’s also the trade market, of course, and there I think the Tigers still have options. The Cubs have Darwin Barney, a minor league shortstop who has sparkled as a defender across the keystone at second base. Now that Emilio Bonifacio has looked good in early play while prospect Javier Baez has been looked at as a second-base solution this spring, Barney is that much more expendable -- but he’s also neither so good that it would take a top prospect to get him, nor all that expensive, making $2.3 million in 2014. He’s also under team control for two more years, which could make him easy enough to trade next winter or spring, or non-tenderable if he doesn’t get anyone’s engine running in the Motor City.
Far more tantalizing is the idea of talking to the Mariners, because they have Nick Franklin wondering about his future now that Brad Miller has already leapfrogged above him on the depth chart. The risk proposition there is whether the Tigers could get Franklin for a pile of stuff that costs them as much as or less than signing Drew would now. Getting Franklin will cost a useful prospect or two, and they’d also be gaining five-plus years of service time from him. Would that cost them more in the long term than the draft pick and the cash it would take to land Drew?
We’ll have to see how long Dombrowski wants to ask himself about that proposition. But if the Tigers win games and Romine is adequate in the meantime, he may well be able to afford running out Drew’s clock and getting his shortstop in June after the draft, when the Tigers won’t lose the pick.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.