Is losing Andy Dirks a problem crying to be solved...now?

Leon Halip

Pot holes happen and they eventually get patched. Usually that crater gets plugged temporarily with the soft black stuff. The permanent fix comes much later. The Tigers face this now. Do they patch up after the Dirks injury, or work to fix the issue long term?

"Patience is the support of weakness; impatience the ruin of strength."---Charles Caleb Colton

"Patience: A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue."--- Ambrose Bierce

Certainly two different looks at the word "patience". We can look at the thoughts of two literary figures of the 1800's and figure out where we stand in general and how we value the ability to wait out a situation. Do we wait for the right solution to evolve or do we smash through barriers and seize control of matters?

The Tigers find themselves in this situation with the news that left-fielder Andy Dirks will miss approximately 12 weeks of action due to a back injury. Suddenly the Tigers are empty on the strong-side of their planned platoon situation in left-field until at least some point in June most likely. What to do...what to do?

Directions to Explore

Obviously there are two camps to choose from to find prop up Dirks' place in the lineup. (I'm sure there are others...but that's like a third party in politics. More of a nuisance than anything)

The "Wait and See Faction" will be looking to use internal options first and see if the club can function for a few weeks awaiting the return of Dirks. This is sending out the road crew to fix the pothole with the soft black tar in temporary fashion.

The "Fix the Damn Problem Faction" will be looking for Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski to whistle up help via trade sooner rather than later. These folks would like a new road built in left-field.

To look at the internal option we're basically talking about some amalgamation of Rajai Davis, Don Kelly, Steve Lombardozzi, Ezequiel Carrera, Trevor Crowe, and some minor leaguers who are still rooting around the big league camp. None of these names are very attractive on the surface and there is no doubt...none...that its very possible devoting 200 at-bats on the strong side of the LF-platoon could produce an ugly slash-line of production. Unless a guy really performed to higher than expected level for a short stretch.

For those looking at the trade route, any number of players might be in play at some point in Spring Training. Nate Schierholtz, John Jay, Ichiro Suzuki, about five different Mariners, etc...all have different levels of value and would have vastly different price tags attached.

Issues to Ponder


What will Dombrowski do? With over two weeks until Opening Day, there is still plenty of time for the right phone call to take place that arranges a new face to show up in Lakeland to break camp with the Tigers. But is it the right time to strike a deal? Dirks isn't out for the season. If his 12-week timeline starts from Monday's surgery it looks like a mid-June return would be possible given no set-backs in his recovery. How hard should the Tigers shop to patch a platoon player's absence for just over two months of the schedule? There are plenty of ways to mull that one.

First off, the Tigers can't be too surprised this happened. Dirks missed a lot of time in 2012 with an achilles injury and was slowed throughout 2013 by a balky knee. This back issue is now part of a distinct pattern. Moving forward it's safe to not assume Dirks is a rock in the lineup. This injury history is probably a good argument for shopping now for a viable solution from the left-hand side of the plate long term to pair with Davis. If Dirks makes it back, then you'd have the "good" problem of having an extra bat to find something to do with. Dirks could get hurt again anyhow given what we've seen.

However if Dirks does come back on time (if not a tick early) then it seems likely that the Tigers could patch the problem for a few weeks with the guys on hand. The easiest solution is probably to simply hand the majority of the playing time to Davis. The Tigers are undergoing the transition to a club emphasizing speed and base-running and Davis is a player who builds his value based on his legs. His platoon splits have been posted for all to see numerous times. They aren't pretty against right-handed pitching. Ideally he would only face lefties and then pinch-hit/pinch-run in other games as a late inning weapon. Dirks' injury could force him out of the ideal situation and into an enhance role to start the season. For a couple of months, that might work out. All he would need is one small hot streak against righties. It could happen quite easily. I love looking at split-stats as much as anyone...but we all know short term fluctuations can happen at the drop of a hat in a small sample and that's all we're looking for here.

The Tigers could also spot Davis in against right-handed groundball pitchers and see if he can use his legs to his advantage with the ball on the ground. Davis hit .298/.359/.440 against groundball pitchers last season overall. Against power pitchers from the right-side, the Tigers could then use some of their lefty options like Kelly or Carrera.

Two years ago Quintin Berry was an anonymous minor leaguer looking to catch a break. He did. Austin Jackson got hurt and Berry was brought up. A hot streak followed and a mini-legend was born with each exaggerated hand clap. It didn't take much for people to be happy with what he could contribute. It didn't even matter when his production predictably started to decline as the season wore on, a segment wanted more Berry. You know what? Don Kelly could have a few weeks like that. So could Ezequiel Carrera or the other fellows noted earlier.

What Kelly and Carrera have going for them, unlike Berry save for a great catch in Minnesota, is that they both appear solid with the glove and, truth be told, I think the Tigers should probably just play the best defender as much as they can to fill this Dirks-void. Carrera has made some nice catches in his time this Spring. Kelly is adept anywhere you put him on the field. If players like this step in for Dirks it won't take much to appear as an acceptable stopgap measure. A modest 5-game hitting streak here, a big hit "in the clutch" there, or a nifty catch to preserve a lead somewhere along the way...it could work out fine until Dirks returns.

We know what Kelly is...he's been a small part of three division winning clubs. Love him or hate him, he hasn't torpedoed this club at any point. He's even helped on more than a few occasions and he can pop one in the stands now and then. Carrera has actually had a solid mini-run in the majors. In 2012 he managed a .272/.312/.395 line in 148 at-bats. He has some speed to fit the new look Tigers as well. If he could manage that 2012 production again, the position would be propped up sufficiently for two months. (if you prefer Lombardozzi or Crowe to Carrera in this scenario, I won't argue that either. Lombardozzi will be around in a utility role anyhow.)

How I See It

Making the big trade now also empties the coffers of trade assets for later this year. That has to be kept in mind. The Tigers don't exactly have the deepest organization in MLB to draw from. We don't know what needs may arise later this year. Maybe nothing major will occur. Odds are good, however, that the Tigers will want to tinker (or drastically improve) the mix during the summer heat. We know that Dombrowski takes the gloves off in July and gets things done. He likes to fix things for the stretch run. While losing Dirks appears to create a chasm in the lineup now, we don't know for sure how it will play out. That hot streak from a guy we currently view as a "scrub" could be the story of April.

If a great trade falls in Dombrowski's lap, of course he'll seize it. Who wouldn't? Teams should always be on the prowl in some fashion to improve their talent base. But with the big picture of the season in mind, I am leaning toward keeping the trade asset ammo dry right now. Wait to see how this situation plays out. See what other needs arise. Take a look at the AL Central landscape on June 1st. This whole Dirks situation may play out just fine for the Tigers.

In the end, I vote for "patience" and playing the guys on hand (or getting Giancarlo Stanton! Hey, a guy can dream). The Tigers weren't even remotely close to being built around Andy Dirks. Therefore I wouldn't move heaven and earth to replace Dirks for two months. The Tigers could use left-handed power...few doubt that. But the guys most often mentioned in trade don't really solve that either. I believe Dombrowski will wait it out and look to solve the issue in July if it still appears necessary at that time. He may also have a much bigger issue on his plate to solve at that time. Patience for now...he'll pull the trigger without hesitation then when the stakes might be much higher.

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