The last few days brought confirmation that Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias would indeed miss most of the coming season due to stress fractures in both shins and that Orioles third baseman Manny Machado would open the season on the disabled list as he works his way back from a frightening left knee injury suffered in September. Accordingly, the Tigers and Orioles have both made recent moves to increase their infield depth, doing so simultaneously Monday with a trade that sent utility man Steve Lombardozzi from Detroit to Baltimore in exchange for veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Though the trade was initiated by the Tigers, it is a gift for Baltimore. Gonzalez, who was in Orioles camp as a non-roster player, is 37, has played in just 65 games over the last two seasons, and hit .177/.203/.230 for the Brewers in 118 plate appearances last year before being released in early June and failing to catch on with another team. A career .246/.290/.396 hitter, he would seem to be beyond his sell-by date as a major leaguer.
Lombardozzi, by comparison, is just 25, has major league experience at second, third, leftfield, and shortstop (though he's not really viable at the last of those, which is one reason the Tigers made him available), and has minor league options remaining. Lombardozzi,who was acquired by the Tigers in December's Doug Fister trade, also switch-hits, though he isn't much of a hitter. He has shown neither power nor patience in the majors and has posted a mere .264/.297/.342 career line in 755 major league plate appearances. Still, he's a far better fit for the Orioles' needs than Gonzalez, and there's hope that, given his youth, Lombardozzi may yet improve at the plate and generate something closer to his .298/.369/.411 career minor league line.
With the Orioles' second base situation unsettled, Lombardozzi joins a list of candidates for playing time at second and third base that also includes utility man Ryan Flaherty, top prospect Jonathan Schoop (the team's likely long-term solution at the keystone), former A's second baseman Jemile Weeks, non-roster invitee Alexi Casilla, and ex-Yankee David Adams, the last of whom was selected off waivers from the Indians on Saturday and optioned to Triple-A on Sunday.
As for Gonzalez, who first reached the majors with the Marlins when current Tigers general manger Dave Dombrowski held that position in Miami, he was a slick defender with 20-homer power at his best, but his low on-base percentages undermined much of that even then. Still, his hot spring (12-for-28 with a pair of homers, a double and two walks) could allow him to leapfrog over the Tigers' uninspiring alternatives at shortstop, a group that includes organizational stalwart Danny Worth, rookie Hernan Perez (who will turn 23 on Wednesday), 22-year-old prospect Eugenio Suarez, who has never played above Double-A, and new addition Andrew Romine. Romine was acquired from the Angels on Friday for lefty reliever Jose Alvarez. Once a well-regarded shortstop prospect, Romine is now a 28-year-old with a .250/.303/.270 career line in 174 major league plate appearances, though he is still an excellent fielder. Gonzalez and Worth are both non-roster players, but impending 60-day disabled list moves for Iglesias and reliever Bruce Rondon, who needs Tommy John surgery, would clear room for them. Meanwhile, Stephen Drew not only remains unsigned, but is reportedly willing to sign a one-year deal with the Tigers. That same report says that Drew doesn't want to sign until after Opening Day, as that would prevent his 2014 team from being able to extend him a qualifying offer in November. Drew's rejection of the Red Sox's qualifying offer last November gutted the market for his services by attaching draft pick compensation to his price. That draft pick is the only reason I can think of that the Tigers would balk at signing Drew, who would be an ideal solution to their shortstop problem, which remains glaring even after the additions of Romine and Gonzalez.