With news of Jose Iglesias' shin splints pushing his expected arrival time later and later into the season, the Tigers find themselves with a giant gap in the middle of their infield. An injury initially said to keep Iglesias out of the lineup for about a week has now more than two weeks later turned into a full-on crisis. The Tigers have said he'll begin the season on the disabled list. Some in the national media have reported Iglesias will be out until the All-Star Game, while one report decries he'll be out "most of 2014."
Enter Stephen Drew.
Still a free agent despite eight years experience under his belt at shortstop and coming off a year he hit .253/.333/.443 and played above-average defense, Drew may just be the ideal solution for the Tigers' needs. Peter Gammons quickly speculated this very move: "I would not bet against rumor sending Stephen Drew to Tigers." If Iglesias does in fact miss most or all of the season, a one-year deal for Drew could make sense for both the Tigers and the free agent. When healthy, the left-handed batting Drew is worth two to four wins above replacement to a team, whether you go by Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs' figures. He topped out at 4.7 fWAR in 2010 with the Diamondbacks and was worth 3.4 fWAR with the Red Sox last season. The problem is that he was limited to partial seasons in the three years in between, making the 31-year-old still a bit of a speculative pick.
That's not the reason he remains a free agent though, not according to agent Scott Boras. Money isn't even the issue, although even teams like the Tigers have their limits. That Drew was extended a qualifying offer by his former club is the problem. He declined it, choosing to become a free agent. Now any team that signs him will have to forfeit a draft pick. For a team like the Tigers that has done so in the past and is now suffering a bit in its farm system as a result, that could come as a pretty high cost.
Boras spoke to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick recently about the "prison" his client is now caught in thanks to teams valuing the draft pick higher these days.
"The system they've been dealt has basically prevented them from free agency," Boras said. "They want to make sure about their next step, whatever that will be. It means either signing a long-term contract now -- and we're still taking offers on those -- or a number of other prospects that could occur after the season starts or in June, after the draft happens.
"Like any players, they want to play baseball. But they're also looking at the long-term aspect of their careers. This system has placed them not in free agency, but it's placed them in a jail."
The other issue that could keep Drew from joining the Tigers would be a desire to have a multi-year deal. The Tigers do not have reason to believe Iglesias is a lost cause for good. So even if he misses significant time this season, he should be expected to be the team's starting SS in 2015. However, Drew is reportedly seeking a multi-year deal, according to Dan Martin of the New York Post.
The Tigers remain mostly quiet. Many who watch the team expect they will give the first shot at playing short to Eugenio Suarez, a 22-year-old shortstop who maxed out at Double A in 2013. Like Iglesias, he's more glove than bat. He hit .264/.347/.396 with 10 home runs combined between Advanced-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. Other options include Danny Worth, who is a non-roster invitee to camp who can play multiple infield positions. Hernan Perez, another light hitter with 36 games experience, has spent most of his team at second base in recent years but has been asked to play short on occasion. Steve Lombarozzi, acquired from the Nationals as part of the four-player Doug Fister trade in the offseason, could either be a starter or a utilityman, but either way is not considered a long-term solution at short.
For his part, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has remained his mum self. He has told the press he'll look first at the internal solutions, but he isn't ruling out anything from outside the club either. He said he's already received two phone calls since the Iglesias speculation went public Saturday night.
In all likelihood, the Tigers are just going to wait and see what the third specialist has to say about Iglesias. It seems too early to rule him out for half -- or all -- of the season, and a wise general manager does not make a move without having all the information in front of him. Certainly they'd like to see what Suarez can do as well before making any commitment, so they may not even try to make a move until after the season begins. Committing a large sum of cash and losing a draft pick would make no sense at this time, although Drew does seem like he would be a workable solution if you look at it in a vacuum.