In theory, you’d think a team boasting the back-to-back AL MVP (not that Miguel Cabrera will win again this year, as I wrote yesterday) as well as the last two AL Cy Young winners wouldn’t especially feel the loss of a light-hitting shortstop. But even considering the trade of slugging first baseman Prince Fielder, and the still-confusing deal that sent away Doug Fister, the Detroit Tigers are very much in win-now mode, meaning the loss of Jose Iglesias for potentially the entire season is a big dent in their hopes of finally capturing that elusive World Series pennant. So while Iglesias – who only profiled as the Tigers’ no. 9 hitter, but would have been a Gold Glove caliber defender – is maintaining that he’ll return before the season is out, the Tigers would do well to find an similar, if slightly more able-bodied, replacement in the meantime.
No matter what Dave Dombrowski is currently saying, it’s becoming more and more apparent via Detroit’s enquiries elsewhere that the prospective replacement is not currently in the Tigers organization. Acquired in the Fister trade, 25-year-old Steve Lombardozzi, despite having the reputation of a utilityman, neither figures to fit defensively nor have the bat to make up for his glove (I’m still struggling comprehending that trade obviously). Having appeared in 115 major league games, including starting 24 games at shortstop as a rookie in 2010 before the team traded for Jhonny Peralta, the 28-year-old Danny Worth has some experience at least. Unfortunately, his time has not borne fruit, his ML line of .242/.307/.315 in 246 PAs, like Lombardozzi, not enough to atone for his mediocre glove. Hernan Perez, who was on the Tigers’ postseason roster last year as a pinch-runner, has played only at the keystone since 2010, and is a career .256 hitter in the minors – nor has done anything to justify a call this Spring. 22-year-old Eugenio Suarez fits most comfortably into the defense-first profile of Iglesias in his wielding of a solid glove at short, but hit only .253/.332/.387 in 2013 – which would be fine were it not for the fact that it was in Double-A; Suarez evidently still has some way to go yet before Dombrowski can justifiably use him as an everyday starter on a team with World Series aspirations.
With slim pickings available in house then, one readily-available free agent looms large over Detroit – Stephen Drew. Almost instantly connected to the Tigers as soon as word came down on Iglesias’ injury, signing Drew would almost certainly prove to be a mistake on the Tigers’ part, hence why it was refreshing to quickly hear Dombrowski quash such rumors, even if he iterated he would keep the search in house. Drew is not looking for a short-term deal, as evidenced by his turning down of Boston’s $14.1M qualifying offer this winter, meaning Detroit would most likely have to ink the Scott Boras client to an expensive multiyear contract. Such a move would not only impede Iglesias’ development upon his return, but additionally cost the Tigers a compensatory first round pick in one of the deeper amateur drafts of recent years. Though their selection will be in the latter part of the round, that pick will still be immensely valuable, and could even be used as a trade chip should Detroit need additional help in season. In short, it’s not an asset worth losing for the privilege of shelling out a large contract to an average 31 year old whose offensive numbers were decking before a season in cozy Fenway Park, especially when he might only fill in for a season at best.
With Drew (hopefully) out of the equation, the Tigers still have options via trade. Rumor has it that the Tigers made a quick call to Arizona regarding the availability of Chris Owings. Young, cost-controlled, and potentially a future star though, talks understandably didn’t progress very far – the Diamondbacks probably lukewarm on jettisoning the leading candidate for their Opening Day shortstop job, or Detroit lacking the pieces available for such a move. In shooting for the stars however, Dombrowski may have in the process hit upon on a cloud; Arizona certainly have a surplus at short, a bevy including not only Owings, but Nick Ahmed, Didi Gregorious and Cliff Pennington. Ahmed is still too far away to be a viable option, but his future presence certainly makes the latter pair expendable. Gregorious would fit almost perfectly the void left by Iglesias, but Detroit would then have two very similarly aged players upon their incumbent’s return. Pennington, somewhat of a forgotten man behind the youngsters in Arizona, would thus present the best option; with just one year at a very reasonable $2.75 million left on his contract, the soon to be 30-year-old could fill in capably for the year before moving on when Iglesias comes back. Though he wouldn’t hit much in the interim, his glove would be above average at short, a factor which would not only keep groundball-happy Rick Porcello happy (though I’m sure moving Cabrera off third has already done that), but put a solid fielder next to rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos, who will need help covering the left side of the infield by most accounts. If that weren’t enough, the ZiPS projection of Pennington’s eventual WAR value is almost the same as Drew’s.
If Arizona’s riches don’t suit Dombrowski’s tastes, there are other potential avenues to be explored; Nick Franklin of the Mariners seems to be eminently available, though he has little experience at short. The same goes for Darwin Barney of the Cubs, though he is an excellent defender at second base if that counts for anything in a potential transition. The big name out there, if nowhere near the force he once was, is Jimmy Rollins. Clashing horribly with new Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg already, Rollins is certainly available, but his 10/5 veto rights and remaining salary ($11 million this season and a guaranteed $11 million in 2015 if he reaches 434 PAs this season) would be a serious obstacle to any move.
Losing Iglesias is a certainly a pain in the proverbial for Detroit, but they aren’t completely backed into a corner and needing to lash out into the market. The small move might yet be the right one. After a questionable offseason so far, Dave Dombrowski can easily get this one right, just as long as he stays away from Stephen Drew.