Tigers call up Eugenio Suarez in attempt to improve awful shortstop production
The Tigers have yet to do anything to shake up their shaky bullpen, but on Wednesday, they did move to shore up another area of weakness. After announcing that shortstop Jose Iglesias has definitively been ruled out for the season due to stress fractures in both shins, they designated infielder Danny Worth for assignment and recalled prospect Eugenio Suarez from their Triple-A Toledo affiliate.
The Tigers acquired Iglesias from the Red Sox in late July last year in a forward-looking move designed not only to offset the pending Biogenesis suspension of Jhonny Peralta but also his upcoming free agent departure as well. They had high hopes that the slick-fielding 24-year-old Iglesias would continue to help shoring up their infield defense, but he was limited to one Grapefruit League appearance before being sidelined by what was initially believed to be a bad case of shin splints. Orthotics and treatment failed to shore up the condition, and late in spring training, with Iglesias apparently on the shelf for at least the first half of the season, the team traded for 37-year-old Alex Gonzalez to serve as shortstop.
Gonzalez collected a walkoff single on Opening Day but played in just nine games before yielding to Andrew Romine, with whom he had shared the position in the early going. The 28-year-old Romine has been slightly below-average defensively (-3 Defensive Runs Saved, -3.7 Ultimate Zone Rating) while being utterly overmatched at the plate, hitting .200/.252/.252 in 124 plate appearances and striking out 25 percent of the time. Worth, a 28-year-old utilityman, has been even worse, hitting .167/.217/.190 in 46 plate appearances while starting at short 11 times. Via the cool new Baseball-Reference.com Comparison tool, the team's -1.0 Wins Above Replacement is the league's lowest figure at that spot. If that's not bad enough, their collective .484 OPS (on .191/.244/.240 "hitting") would rank as the eighth-worst any team has gotten from the position since 1914.
Suarez represents their best hope of improving upon that sorry showing without going outside the organization. The 22-year-old Venezuela native hit .261/.336/.417 with 15 homers and 16 steals in 153 games at Double-A Erie between last year and this year before being promoted to Triple-A, where his bat caught fire for a couple of weeks; he hit .302/.404/.535 in 52 plate appearances over 12 games at Toledo. This spring, Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the Tigers organization's ninth-best prospect, with Jason Parks noting a dearth of impact tools but good hands, a strong arm and instincts for shortstop. Alas, he also noted Suarez's tendency to "make fundamental errors," subpar power and a below-average hit tool, leading to limited upside.
At this stage, Suarez isn't likely to be the Tigers' full-time shortstop for the remainder of the season. The hope is that he can offer a modest upgrade on Romine and Worth into July, when general manager Dave Dombrowski can scare up a better alternative as the trade deadline approaches. As to who that might be, it's worth keeping an eye on the Diamondbacks' Didi Gregorius, who hit .252/.332/.373 for Arizona last year but lost his job to Chris Owings this spring and has spent most of the year at Triple-A Reno, where he's hit .310/.389/.447 in a hitter-friendly environment.
A higher-end possibility that the Tigers could pursue would be Jimmy Rollins, who's hitting .252/.355/.396 for a fading Phillies club. The 35-year-old Rollins is making $11 million this year with an $11 million vesting option for 2015 based on 1,110 plate appearances in 2013-14 (he's at 901 and counting); if that doesn't vest, the Phillies have an $8 million club option, and he has a $5 million player option. He also has 10-and-5 rights, giving him the the ability to thwart any trade; he could push for an extension from the Tigers in exchange for waiving that, which could present a complicating factor if the team thinks Iglesias can make a full recovery.In any event, such options won't really come into focus for more than a month. In the meantime, the Tigers can hope Suarez will help a team that enjoys a four-game cushion in the AL Central and the league's third-best record (31-23) but has lost three in a row and 11 out of 15. As for Worth, maybe they could send him to the minors to work on that knuckleball.