DETROIT--When the Tigers acquired Andrew Romine from the Los Angeles Angels only a week before Opening Day, people were surprised. Not because Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski went out and picked up a player that didn't break the bank. But because who the Tigers picked up, no one saw coming.
The bat was almost entirely a non-factor. Dombrowski said at the time the Tigers' primary focus was on the team's defense and anything else was secondary. When the Tigers acquired Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox last year in a three-team trade, the focus was identical: get a glove-first defensive player and hope for the best from his bat.
Perhaps it was just a matter of timing and luck, but it didn't hurt that the acquisition came partly due to the recommendation of Omar Vizquel. And that meant a lot to the Tigers shortstop. "I got lucky because he was with the Angels last year and I got to spend a lot of time with him and pick his brain a little bit and talk to him as much as I could," Romine said.
"I couldn't stop smiling when I first saw him. I went up and gave him a hug. I know he put in a good word for me which is huge. Anything coming from Omar Vizquel is a huge thing, especially since this guy's going to be a Hall of Famer and he's got all kinds of records."
Romine has only been with the Tigers for a month and a half but his ability to play the position is solid. The strength of his throwing arm is a nice plus and despite learning about his team on the spot, Romine has settled in with the Tigers nicely, which doesn't surprise Vizquel.
"I was with him last year in the Angels organization and I worked out with him in Triple-A when he was in Salt Lake," Vizquel said. "He has a great ability to play the position. He was playing short every day and I liked the way that he moved around the bag. He had a good arm, he was quick, he could steal some bases and he's not a bad hitter. So I always wondered, how come this guy didn't have a spot in the big leagues?"
Romine's bat however, is about where the Tigers were expecting it to be. He's not likely to hit home runs -- in fact, in 250 MLB plate appearances Romine is yet to have one -- but Ausmus doesn't care about that. "He brings a lot when he gets on base, so if he can continue to get on base via a walk or whatever, I don't even care if he hits home runs. Although, I'll take them. But if he can get on base with a walk, or a hit, or even on an error, that's great."
While defense is the focus, improving Romine's hitting has not fallen by the wayside. "Wally (Joyner) and he and Darnell Coles have been working and made some adjustments," Ausmus said. "He's swinging the bat really well and getting on base, and he runs really well when he's there, so he's a threat to steal. He can certainly go first and third, or second and home."
Romine is currently batting .209 so don't expect him to turn into a .280 hitter. But a middling .250 is attainable (he hit .259 last year), which also happens to be in the ballpark of where Iglesias hit for the Tigers last season (.259).
What quietly accompanied Romine was his speed, and when I asked Romine if he knew it surprised people, Romine broke out in a smile. "I've heard that! It's always good to hear that somebody's a little bit surprised, on the good side," he said. "It's always nice to hear that somebody appreciates what you do because we all put in a lot of hard work, and that's one of the aspects of the game that I take very seriously."
As much as others were surprised by his speed, even Ausmus didn't know just how good Romine was on the basepaths. "He's much faster than reported. We knew he could run but he's actually fast," Ausmus said.
"He's been pretty solid, probably better than predicted in terms of his at-bats, being able to work a walk, get on base. He's a legitimate steal threat, he's not just a good runner or a fast runner. He's a legitimate steal threat even if a team thinks he's stealing."
The acquisition of Stephen Drew is not entirely out of the realm of possibilities, but he may not be necessary. Romine has quietly and efficiently become the Tigers everyday shortstop: but without the exorbitant price tag.