Tigers fans were understandably excited heading into Spring Training in 2014. After a brief glimpse during the stretch run in 2013, they would get to enjoy a full season of defensive wunderkind Jose Iglesias at shortstop. Or so they thought.
Iglesias continued to struggle with the shin splints that plagued him throughout 2013, and on March 17th, the team announced that he had been diagnosed with stress fractures in both legs. As the hangovers from another St. Patrick's Day faded, fans realized that their team was without a shortstop.
The names that floated around early were enticing. Nick Franklin's glove was a question mark, but the then-Mariners infield prospect drew excellent reviews for his offensive potential. Stephen Drew was still a free agent, and had not yet sullied his name with the -1.1 WAR he accumulated in 2014. No stone went unturned during the search, as Chris Owings, Darwin Barney, and even Omar Vizquel himself were possibilities to land the starting job.
Four frantic days later, the Tigers made an underwhelming but necessary move, trading left-handed pitcher Jose Alvarez to the Los Angeles Angels for Andrew Romine. While Romine wasn't viewed as the final piece of the puzzle -- apparently, that distinction belonged to Alex Gonzalez -- he did enough to last the entire season on the Tigers' 25 man roster.
Advertised as an all-glove, no-bat player, Romine was exactly that for the Tigers in 2014. He hit .227/.279/.275 with six doubles and two home runs, and was worth exactly 0.0 WAR. His glove rated as just below league average in a career-high 651 2/3 innings, but there were few (if any) moments where Romine looked lost in the field. Most of Romine's negative value came from his lateral range, or lack thereof, which seems to mesh with the "eye test."
One area where Romine was a pleasant surprise was on the basepaths. Known for having decent speed, Romine swiped 12 bases in 14 attempts, the third-highest total on the team. He was just three steals behind Ian Kinsler despite having 450 fewer plate appearances, and only Ezequiel Carrera had a higher stolen base percentage in at least five attempts. Romine also took an extra base on 55 percent of opportunities, well above the league average of 41 percent. Fangraphs rated Romine's baserunning at 3.4 runs above average.
One of the highlights (or lowlights) of Romine's season came on August 22nd against the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers were trailing 17-6 when Romine was called out of the bullpen to pitch the eighth inning. After Danny Worth surprised players and fans alike with an effective knuckleball in a pair of appearances, Romine's standard batting practice fastball was no match for the Twins' offense. He gave up three runs on four hits in his lone inning pitched, giving him a career ERA of 27.00.
Romine was exactly the type of player we expected when the Tigers traded for him at the beginning of the year. He played a decent shortstop, but provided very little offensively. He hit a couple of home runs and provided some nice moments -- the inning he pitched bumped him up a partial grade -- but was otherwise a non-threat at the plate. Normally, you would be pleased to get this type of production out of your utility infielder, but a replacement level season from one of your starters (for stretches) is a bit disappointing. His future with the club is somewhat in doubt with Jose Iglesias coming back from injury, but Romine seems like the best candidate to fill a utility infielder role in 2015.