Romine's glove helps Tigers prowl without Iglesias
With plenty of offense elsewhere, Detroit is making most of shortstop situation
CLEVELAND -- Few shortstops could have completed the play that Andrew Romine made the other night, ranging far to his right and deep in the hole to snare a bouncer off the bat of Yan Gomes and then throwing a perfect strike across his body to nab Gomes at first.
"There are a lot of shortstops who can make that play," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said, "but then you've got to have the arm strength to finish the play."
The Tigers accentuate such positives of their shortstop situation. Much like the way they endured their Boston travel snafu with the help of some Zubaz pants, they are trying to make the best of a bad shortstop situation -- one in which Stephen Drew, who signed with the Red Sox on Tuesday, no longer serves as an option.
It was March 20 when the Tigers announced that Jose Iglesias' stress fractures in both legs would likely cost him the season (Iglesias is due for his next checkup in June, and the team is holding out faint hope that he'll be able to help out later in the year). That set team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski into scramble mode.
"It's a chore to try to fill the pieces," Dombrowski said. "You talk about a young, Gold Glove-caliber shortstop that you expect to play 150 games that also contributes offensively, and then not having him. It's not like you can snap your fingers and then all of a sudden there's another All-Star-caliber shortstop."
Dombrowski acted with characteristic swiftness, dealing lefty Jose Alvarez to the Angels for Romine, whose reputation as a strong defender and light hitter has only been strengthened in the time since.
Three days later, Dombrowski dealt Steve Lombardozzi -- the utility man brought aboard only months earlier in the Doug Fister trade with Washington -- to the Orioles for veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez. That was an ill-fated move, as Gonzalez quickly proved himself less than adept on the defensive end at this late stage of his career. He was quickly cut in the season proper.
So now it's Romine and Danny Worth -- a veteran of a whopping six partial seasons with Triple-A Toledo -- sharing time at shortstop on a Tigers team eyeing a World Series and holding, even after two straight losses to the Indians, the best record in baseball and the largest advantage of any division leader.
No, it's not an ideal setup.
The Tigers are getting a lower OPS (.470) out of their shortstops than any other team, and Romine in particular looks totally lost at the plate. He has six hits in his last 46 at-bats, lowering his OPS to .448.
"I've never struggled like this," Romine said.
The Tigers, though, never anticipated their shortstop spot to be a primary source of production, and that was true even before Iglesias went down. This is a club basically built around the fearsome foursome of Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez atop the order and an all-world rotation in which Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and the vastly improved Rick Porcello consistently turn out quality starts.
It's a club that has put a greater emphasis on aggressiveness on the basepaths and controlling the opponents' running game. And it's also one that, after several seasons of sacrificing range for run production with Jhonny Peralta, emphasized efficiency at the shortstop spot.
"You have to make the decision on how your team fits all together," Dombrowski said. "On our club, we felt that we could get enough offense in other spots. And with our pitching staff, we really wanted a shortstop who could catch the ball."
Some fans had clamored for Drew in the two months following the Iglesias injuries, but the Tigers' hesitance was understandable. Drew isn't an offensive savior, for one, and the Draft-pick compensation issue was a prickly one for a Tigers team cognizant of the ramifications of the long-term deals it has made with Cabrera, Verlander and Sanchez and the need to stock the farm system.
Had Drew's availability lingered past the Draft and teams would no longer have been required to sacrifice a pick, the Tigers would have been a natural fit, but the Red Sox always had the upper-hand because Drew played for them last year and they didn't have to give up anything.
"I guess they figured it was the right time," Dombrowski said.
And so the Tigers are left with what they've got. Given the club's overall performance and the defensive gains provided by Romine's great glove, what they've got is enough -- for the time being.
"I think we're doing the best we can," Romine said. "It's hard to say that we're doing enough, because you can always do better. Right now, luckily, we're winning, so our job is a little bit easier."
The Tigers, though, will hit the inevitable bumps in the road at some point, and the dual realities of their lofty championship goals and Dombrowski's reputation for having a quick trading trigger finger lead one to believe this situation is far from settled.
Dombrowski is keeping his fingers crossed on Iglesias ("We're not counting on him, but we'll see what happens," he said) and he's keeping tabs on Hernan Perez in Triple-A and the improving Eugenio Suarez in Double-A. The Tigers like them both.
On the trade front, the only early name to keep tabs on is that of Jonathan Villar, simply because he plays for an Astros team that has shown no shyness about making swaps and is clearly not a contender. But let's let the standings evolve before we get too deep into trade speculation.
And let's let Romine and Worth do their thing, too. Because while nobody is bowled over by their bats, the bat was never the primary objective of the position in the first place. The Tigers are stacked well enough elsewhere that all they need at short are those gains with the glove.
Maybe that equation will change in the coming weeks and months, but it didn't change quickly enough to necessitate surrendering a Draft pick (and upward of $10 million) for Drew.