Only five days remain until Opening Day, and the Detroit Tigers’ 25-man roster is rapidly taking its final shape. Competition for a bench role as a utility infielder had been whittled down to Alexi Amarista and Niko Goodrum in the past week. Other hopefuls such as Ronny Rodriguez and Pete Kozma were re-assigned to minor league camp on Thursday. On Saturday morning, the Tigers announced that Amarista had been granted his unconditional release, which appears to lock Goodrum in as the Tigers’ backup infielder.
Amarista has proven the more sure handed defender at second base or shortstop this spring, but struggled mightily with the bat. Goodrum, on the other hand, has had some ugly moments defensively, but has also beat the stuffing out of the baseball all month long. In 40 at bats, Goodrum has four doubles and four home runs, and is currently running an eye-popping OPS of 1.041. Even in spring camp that will get you noticed.
While his defense makes him an imperfect fit for a utility role, Goodrum adds a left-handed bat with pop to the bench and a greater overall ability to contribute. He is not yet a member of the Tigers’ 40-man roster, and a corresponding move will be required sometime this week to make a spot for him.
If Tigers go with four-man bench, as expected, then Niko Goodrum and JaCoby Jones are in line to make it. But Tigers could still pick up somebody who doesn't make another club's roster. https://t.co/KNkK6XaLZo— Jason Beck (@beckjason) March 24, 2018
Amarista’s release means that the Tigers’ have 27 players remaining, with starter Mike Fiers looking likely to begin the season on the disabled list. That would put the roster at 26, and perhaps open a window for the Tigers to add another arm for a tryout while Fiers rehabs his back issue. It’s also not a sure thing that Jones comes north with the Tigers. Manager Ron Gardenhire appears to be lobbying hard for him, but the Tigers’ front office may well decide they want Jones playing everyday in Toledo, at least to start the season.
Relievers Warwick Saupold and Johnny Barbato are already on the 40 man roster, and right now one of them seems likely to take the final spot in the bullpen, while the other packs for Toledo. However, the Tigers have the flexibility to assign both to Triple-A if they choose, and with a slew of moves coming this week as 30 teams finalize their rosters, it’s not out of the question that the Tigers might decide to add someone else cut from another team’s roster.
Notably, a pair of formerly good left-handed relievers are currently without a job. Both Antonio Bastardo and Fernando Abad are coming off of down years in 2017, but could be a fit for the final spot in the bullpen. Abad has struggled this spring in minimal action, while Bastardo looks somewhat rejuvenated after struggling with the Pittsburgh Pirates last year. The Tigers currently have only Daniel Stumpf slated for a left-handed relief role, and appear to have no interest in putting Daniel Norris in the bullpen should he fail to win a starting job. They also don’t require a fifth starter for the first week of the season and could assign Norris to Toledo in order to get a reliever or other addition a look.
Perhaps the most interesting decision involves who the Tigers will cut from the 40-man roster to make room for Goodrum. With Drew VerHagen in line to start in the bullpen, veteran lefties Chad Bell and Blaine Hardy seem in greatest danger, but either Saupold or Barbato could also find themselves the odd man out as the countdown to Opening Day ticks along.