Options to plug holes in the infield

Ramon Santiago playing shortstop against the Dodgers in 2010 - Jeff Gross

The Tigers may have problems at three infield positions. Are there any good options to plug the holes?

Miguel Cabrera had to come out of Monday's game due to a sore hip flexor. Omar Infante is still out with a sprained ankle. Jhonny Peralta's name is associated with Biogenesis, and that scandal claimed Ryan Braun yesterday. At least first base is stable with Victor Martinez providing an occasional rest for Prince Fielder, and perhaps better defense. But let's look at the Tigers' options for the rest of the infield.

Don Kelly has appeared at every position in his career, including pitcher, catcher, and designated hitter. His defense at third base is superior to Cabrera's, but since nobody can match Miguel's offense, this would be a dramatic decline. Don Kelly is quietly having his best season, with an OPS+ of 100 indicating average performance. The Tigers could still lose an extra game every 20 games that Don Kelly replaces Miguel Cabrera at third base.

Matt Tuiasosopo could platoon with Don Kelly at third, starting against lefties with Don Kelly coming in for defense in the late innings. I would not expect this to move the needle on the Tigers' odds of making the playoffs.

Francisco Martinez, recently reacquired from the Mariners, is on the 40 man roster. He is playing well for Lakeland, but he first played in Advanced-A in 2009 and was struggling in Double-A with Seattle. He would be overwhelmed to be promoted three levels at this point. I do not think he could be used beyond an emergency call-up for a few days.

Danny Worth is still on the 40 man roster. He is predominantly a shortstop and second baseman, but has played over 100 minor league games at third base. With a career .251 / .329 / .369 slash line in Triple-A, he would struggle in any role beyond a platoon partner with Don Kelly. Sadly his value at this point is likely to come in being released to free up a spot on the 40 man roster.

Nick Castellanos is the best offensive option at third base, though he has not played the position in a year. He would need to be added to the 40 man roster, but his time is coming one way or another.

Kevin Russo and Mike Cervenak have shared third most of the time at Toledo this year. Russo is hitting .218 without power. Cervenak is 36 and his major league experience was 13 plate appearances five years ago.

Shortstop presents a few more choices. Ramon Santiago is always available to fill in, but continues to struggle with the bat and his glove no longer helps fill the gap. Dixon Machado is on the 40 man roster, but is playing rarely and poorly for Lakeland. Hernan Perez is already with the big club and while a good prospect, looks rushed at age 22. Argenis Diaz plays short for Toledo and at 26 is not a prospect, but would not be overwhelmed either and could hold his own for a couple weeks. Even then, it would cost a win or two the rest of the way.

Eugenio Suarez in only 21 and had a good 2012 season with West Michigan. He looked even better this year with Lakeland, but has taken a step back with Erie combining for a .260 / .348 / .401 slash line. He is a couple years away from Detroit. Gustavo Nunez is back from Pittsburgh's system, but his prospect star has faded.

Second base is the most exciting in the long term. Perez is only 22 years old and hit .300 with 28 doubles and only 47 strikeouts in 382 plate appearance for Erie this year. Brandon Douglas is playing second base for Toledo and too old at 27. Devon Travis was on fire at West Michigan, and somehow improved when promoted to Lakeland. His batting average of .344 is augmented with 40 walks and 31 extra-base hits, with a strikeout rate slightly under 10%.

At third base there are no good options. Mixing and matching with Nick Castellanos and a glove man could minimize the damage to an extra loss every 25 games, but losing Cabrera for any extended time will present a significant challenge to making the playoffs. I suspect Mike Hessman is available for next to nothing.

At shortstop, there are prospects but none ready to fill in. Either Hernan Perez or Eugenio Suarez may provide the Tigers with some years of average production, but not yet.

Second base is the least of the problems, and the one already being addressed. Hernan Perez can continue to plug the hole and Infante should be back in a week. Either he or Devon Travis could be a regular in two years. I expect that one of Perez, Suarez, and Travis will pan out eventually. Still, replacing Infante would continue to cost at least a win every 40 games.

The Tigers' lead is less comfortable than expected, only 2 ½ games over Cleveland. Losing one middle infielder the rest of the way would be uncomfortable but survivable. Losing two middle infielders could make it a race down to the wire. But losing Cabrera could turn the Indians into the favorites to take the Central Division. I suspect Dave Dombrowski is on the lookout for more cheap temporary options in the infield, and it may be a higher priority than finding a reliever.

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