What To Do About Shortstop?

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

We knew it already, but the Tigers confirmed today that Iglesias is out for the year. Stephen Drew is playing for the Red Sox. Andrew Romine and Danny Worth have played very poorly. The Tigers are trying to win a championship and they have the worst offensive tandem at shortstop in at least a decade. Something needs to be done, although their current four game lead in the Central despite an awful stretch gives them time. They don’t need to do something tomorrow, but they need to do something before too long.

From the shortstop position this year, the Tigers have hit an impressively poor 32 wRC+ (.222 wOBA). That’s 12% behind 29th place. They’ve collectively offered -1.0 WAR. Worth has good defensive ratings, but an awful batting line in 46 PA. Gonzalez was awful across the board. Romine has been the best hitter of the bunch, but he’s still be terrible in the highest number of PA and his defense, which has potential, has not been good enough to be redeeming.

All together, it’s been a sorry unit. That’s not their fault. None of them are starting major league shortstops. I wouldn’t mind Romine or Worth as utility infielders because they have some useful skills. Both are worthwhile on the bases and in the field. Worth can pitch, apparently. But they aren’t good enough to start or split the starting job. We knew that when the season started and we know that one third of the way through. They’re in over their heads. That’s a fault of management, not a fault of the players. If the Tigers asked me to play center field and hit 7th, I would totally do it. I would be terrible, but I wouldn’t say no. And Romine and Worth are more than just a little better than I am. It’s not their job to retire for the good of the team, it’s Ausmus’ job not to play start them and it’s Dombrowski’s job to give him a different set of players.

We knew this was going to be a problem. When Iglesias went down, Dombrowski didn’t replace him. He went out and traded for two shortstops who weren’t close to starting shortstops. I’m not entirely sure why, but that’s what he did. Maybe it was designed as a stop gap or a bargaining strategy with Drew. Maybe it was supposed to hold them over while they waited for news on Iggy or for Suarez to prepare for battle. I can’t say.

But we know that it’s not tenable. You look at Romine’s .200 average and think, if he gets to .250, this could work. That’s not true for two reasons. One is that he doesn’t walk enough for that .250 average to equal a respectable OBP and, two, he doesn’t hit for any carrying power. You can hit .250 if you can slug .350 and play good defensive. I’m not sure Romine can do any of those things if you ask him to play most of the time. In a bench role, I think he could do fine. In a starting role? I don’t. He’s given us no reason to think otherwise.

What can be done?

Jimmy Rollins might do the trick but he can refuse any trade and has been vocal about not wanting to be moved. Ben Zobrist could be available, but the Rays don’t have to move him and the Tigers don’t have a lot to deal for a player who should be in high demand. Alexei Ramirez could go, but the White Sox aren’t far enough out of it. The Diamondbacks have lots of shortstops, so that might work. Asdrubal Cabrera is an obvious candidate, as long as the Indians don’t ask for too much.

None of those are both likely and sexy. Suarez, the Tigers only real in house option, might be knocking on the door. In fact, he might as well open the door and come right in. The Tigers have a black hole at short and the trade market is pretty limited. There are upgrades out there compared to the status quo, but I don’t know if many of them are better options than Suarez right now, especially when you factor in the transaction cost and the limited need in 2015.

Suarez can hit, but there’s a platoon issue. He can field, but he’s not a star. He’s an imperfect solution to bad situation. The team has many strengths, but the team isn’t invincible. We knew this was a cost-cutting and restructuring season. We thought we could fake our way through and make a pennant run anyway. That still may happen, but there are cracks in the foundation.

Zobrist is the name on the list that makes the most sense, but even he isn’t the superstar player he once was. He could play four months at short and then move to the OF next season. The Rays would be right to ask for a nice return, but it might be worth it. The Tigers have to do something at SS and probably something in the bullpen. The OF should get a boost from Dirks and the rotation will settle back in. You can make the playoffs with this roster, but the odds of finally going the distance don’t look great once you’re there.

There’s still time, but once the draft is over this week, there won’t be much more left.

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