When the Detroit Tigers broke camp from Lakeland and headed north to Detroit for the 2015 season, two of the four position players on their bench were utility infielders, one was a backup catcher, and one a platoon center fielder. Keeping two backup middle infielders seemed like a waste, but both Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez were out of options and the Tigers didn't want to lose them on the waiver wire.
Two months into the season, Perez was unable to get on track and was put on waivers, to be claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers. Romine's role as the utility infielder was solidified. He would play the understudy for Ian Kinsler at second base, Jose Iglesias at shortstop and came in frequently as a defensive replacement for Nick Castellanos at third base. He even spelled Miguel Cabrera at first base on occasion.
When the season was over, Romine had made over 200 plate appearances, batting .255 with a .307 on base percentage. He doesn't hit for power, and won't drive in a bunch of runs, but he runs the bases very well and can play any position on the diamond. The 29-year-old switch-hitter fared about the same against righthanders and lefthanders. He stole 10 bases and tied for the team lead with four sacrifice bunts.
Defensively, Romine played 77 innings at first base, 121 innings at second, 147 innings at third, and 212 innings at shortstop. According to Bill James' defensive runs saved (DRS), Romine saved the Tigers seven runs at shortstop, four runs at third base, and one run at second base. Considering the fact that DRS is cumulative and Romine played part time at each position, those numbers are quite impressive (if not entirely reliable due to the small sample). In fact, only Kinsler and Yoenis Cespedes posted a higher DRS for the season than Romine.
When you add it all up, Romine was worth 0.9 WAR, which ranked eighth among position players on the team, ahead of Anthony Gose, Alex Avila, Tyler Collins, Nick Castellanos, Alex Avila, and Victor Martinez. And yet, at the time that the Tigers put Perez on waivers, they inexplicably recalled Josh Wilson from the minors to serve as the redundant second backup middle infielder. Wilson acquitted himself well, going 12-for-38 for a .316 batting average while filling in as a backup infielder, but when the season was over, he was released by the club, leaving Romine and Dixon Machado as the reserve middle infielders on the roster.
Catherine's Grade: C
He was what you'd expect out of a utility bench player. Romine was useful more for his glove than he was for his bat. Asked to play several positions throughout the year, Romine did what was asked while providing solid defense at third most often as a late-game replacement or when Cabrera needed a day off. He won't be an everyday player but he was solid as a bench player.
Expectations for 2016
The Tigers should consider letting Romine serve as the lone utility infielder and carry a fourth player who can give them some offense off the bench. Machado has an option left and the club would like him to get regular playing time, Whether the Tigers decide to carry two utility infielders in 2016 remains to be seen, but Romine's roster spot should be assured. He is eligible for arbitration for the first time this off season, and is projected to earn a modest raise, bumping his salary to about $700,000. That is very good value for as much as he does to help the team.