When the Tigers released 37-year-old shortstop Alex Gonzalez, and recalled Danny Worth from Toledo, the club essentially unwound what most observers felt was a questionable move at the start of the season. The latest move makes sense for many reasons. Here is a look at where the Tigers, and each of the middle infielders on the roster, stand as we look to the future.
Alex Gonzalez was released unconditionally, bringing an end to a failed experiment. After hitting just .177 with an on-base percentage of just .203 before being released by the Milwaukee Brewers last year, and starting only two games at shortstop, Gonzalez hit just .167 with an OBP of .219 for Detroit. Worse, the club that had made the decision to go with defense first at the shortstop position saw a player who was no longer able to provide even replacement-level defense. In the short time that he has spent with the Tigers, Bill James' Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) has Gonzalez at minus-5 runs. Gonzalez had just three hits while making three errors in Detroit.
"We need to have a little more range defensively at shortstop. We just didn’t see it there and didn’t see it getting better," (Tigers' President and General Manager Dave) Dombrowski said. "So we figured it was time to make the move."
Tiger manager Brad Ausmus added:
Ausmus on Gonzo experiment: "Time takes it's toll on everyone. ... It just didn't work." #Tigers— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) April 20, 2014
For most Tiger fans and observers, the move didn't happen soon enough. We'll take the opening day walk-off single and call it a day. The Tigers obviously did not like their options within the organization after Jose Iglesias was sidelined, probably for the season, with fractures in both legs. They traded Jose Alvarez to the Los Angeles Angels for Andrew Romine, then traded Steve Lombardozzi to Baltimore for Gonzalez.
Andrew Romine figures to get the bulk of playing time at shortstop in the near future, according to Dombrowski.
DD: "... right now, with Romine being a left-hand hitter, he’s going to play most of the time."— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) April 20, 2014
Romine is a switch hitter who is much more comfortable from the left side of the plate. He attempted to become a full-time left-handed hitter last season, but had trouble against left-handed pitching, so he went back to switch hitting. He is a very smooth defender at all three infield positions, and has good range at shortstop.
In 200 plate appearances over parts of five seasons, Romine has a career slash line of .241/.305/.259/.564 with no home runs and just three extra base hits. In parts of seven minor league seasons, he hit .279/.354/.367/.721 with 23 homers. Once the Tigers get Iglesias back, Romine could be a fine utility infielder in a backup role. The 28-year-old Romine is out of options.
Danny Worth returns again as the most-optioned, most-recalled player on the Tiger roster. After burning his final option last year, Worth was designated for assignment just prior to opening day. He cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo, where he hit .308/.345/.404/.749 with no home runs and five doubles in 55 plate appearances. In 246 major league plate appearances, Worth has hit .242/.307/.315/.622 with a pair of home runs, both coming in 2010.
A 28-year-old former second-round draft pick by the Tigers, Worth also can play any infield position. The Tigers obviously don't see a lot of upside here, or they wouldn't keep passing him over for the likes of Ramon Santiago, Romine, and Gonzalez. His role is likely to be a part-time shortstop, starting mainly against left-handed pitchers.
DD: "So we think Danny, again, we think he’ll do a solid job for us. He’s been in the organization a long time." #Tigers— Matthew B. Mowery (@matthewbmowery) April 20, 2014
Don't expect a straight platoon at shortstop, however. Just as speculation of a Romine-Gonzalez platoon never came to fruition, the Tigers are still in a defense-first mode at the shortstop position. So while Worth is the better hitter against left handers, that won't determine who starts. Jason Beck of mlb.com wrote:
Manager Brad Ausmus indicated he won’t necessarily have a strict lefty-righty platoon between Worth, who bats right-handed, and the switch-hitting Romine, who started Sunday against Angels left-hander Hector Santiago.
In recalling Worth, who reclaims a spot on the 40-man roster vacated by the departure of Gonzalez, the Tigers at least temporarily went with experience over youth.
Back to Matthew B. Mowery:
DD: "We’ve got, again, two young guys (Suarez/Perez) that we’re just not quite ready to bring up and ready to let them play."
DD: "If we were going to bring them up at this time, we figured that we would want them to come up and play most of the time ..."
Ausmus said that was about getting Perez time at SS.
Hernan Perez has spent the past few seasons playing second base, where the Tigers have Ian Kinsler installed for the next several years. Had they not acquired Kinsler in the Prince Fielder trade, many believe that Perez would have been the starting second baseman in Detroit.
In Toledo, however, it was Perez who got the vast majority of time at shortstop, where he began his professional career, in order to get him reacquainted with the position in case the Tigers need him there. Even if the Tigers see Perez as more of a utility infielder, it makes sense to have him comfortable playing shortstop. The Tigers had Perez up to the majors briefly in each of the past two seasons, and even on last year's playoff roster, although he was used strictly as a pinch runner.
According to most scouting reports, the 21-year-old Perez is better suited for second base. Jordan Gorosh listed Perez as the Tigers' #9 prospect. Here is an excerpt:
Hernan has the raw tools to be a .270-.280 hitter, yet with a relatively low OBP. I'm not sold on Perez as an every day 2B at this point, although frankly, looking around the league, you could probably do worse. He's got the ability to play SS in a pinch, and is solid average, potentially a plus at 2B right now. Perez could also play 3B if he had to, and I wouldn't even put it past him to play some OF. He's a good athlete, and depending on what happens with the SS situation, and his counterpart Eugenio Suarez, you could see him as a helpful utility guy down the line. On defensive value and versatility alone, he should be a contributor to a major league team. Perez is a very good base runner, and while he's not a burner, he has plus speed, good instincts, and will provide value in the steals column and on the base paths.
Eugenio Suarez is the better shortstop prospect in the Tiger organization, but neither the scouts nor the Tigers feel that he is quite ready for full-time duty in the major leagues, and they want him to develop by playing every day. The 22-year-old from Venezuela has hit .277/.362/.408/.770 in the minors, and stuck around spring training longer than expected this past spring. Jordan has Suarez ranked as the Tigers' #8 prospect. Read the scouting report here.
Steve Lombardozzi, as it turns out, was traded for nothing, although it was clear from the trade that the Tigers were not comfortable giving him a significant amount of playing time either in left field or at shortstop, where injuries opened an opportunity to play. He has been getting regular playing time with the Orioles at second base, where he is most comfortable.
Jose Iglesias could be back by September, but reports are not optimistic about that. When the Tigers do get their starting shortstop back, the club will have legitimate depth in the infield for the first time in many years. But for now, they have Romine and Worth, a pair of defense-oriented players sharing duty at shortstop. Either player figures to bat ninth and provide solid defense and a bit of speed at the bottom of the lineup.
Stephen Drew will continue to be talked about until he signs a contract with a major league club. The left-handed hitting former All Star will be more attractive after the June 5 amateur player draft, when he will no longer cost his new team their highest available draft pick to sign. But it's about more than just the draft pick with Drew. Agent Scott Boras was said to be looking for more than the qualifying offer of $14.1 million which Drew rejected from Boston, while several major league executives put Drew's value between $7-10 million per season.
Thus ends the brief tenure of Alex Gonzalez as the Tigers' shortstop. Let the speculation continue.