Re-examining the Alex Gonzalez trade

The first thing that stood out the day the Tigers traded for Alex Gonzalez was the timing. The Tigers were on the road that day to face the Orioles in Sarasota, more than a 90-minute drive from Lakeland, but Lombardozzi had to report to the Tigers clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium for a meeting. Soon after, word leaked out from O’s camp that Gonzalez was a Tiger, and the perplexed reactions were on.

When Dave Dombrowski discussed the trade, he talked about taking a chance on a guy who had been a great shortstop in his day, and about the desire to get a proven veteran at the position. But he also named the people who put in evaluations on him, from first-base coach Omar Vizquel (who coached him in winter ball) to the Major League scouts who watched him in camp.

“Omar Vizquel was with him in the wintertime and he saw him play a lot, and he said he thought he definitely could play shortstop,” Dombrowski said. “And we also at the time, our scouts in Venezuela separately had recommended him at that time, said he was moving around very well.”

That’s the other thing that stood out about that day. It’s not unusual for Dombrowski to mention scouts later on, but this was right after the deal went down.

“We had two scouts this spring see him in Bruce Tanner and Jeff Wetherby,” Dombrowski continued. “They both think he can play shortstop, too. Now, when I say that, I’m not looking at a 150-game shortstop. He’s an older guy at this point. We do think he can be a key guy for us, yes.”

If Dombrowski was on a limb in making the move, he wasn’t going to be the only one on it.

“We thought we’d take a little chance on it,” Dombrowski said Sunday in announcing Gonzalez’s release. “We thought it was something worth taking the gamble. As we had a chance to watch him, had a chance to get a feel, we just didn’t see it getting better, so we thought, with the emphasis on defense for us at shortstop, we thought it was important to get someone who had a little bit more range.”

And that’s the thing about scouting: For all the work a talent evaluator does on a player, there’s still a risk involved. The same scouts who advised Dombrowski on Edgar Renteria in 2007 also advised him on Anibal Sanchez in 2012. Those who saw the potential in Doug Fister in 2011 also had to watch Jarrod Washburn two years earlier.

A huge reason why Dombrowski has succeeded on more trades than not over his years in Detroit is his scouting staff. He has built a group of veteran evaluators, but he also built a group that he trusts, that will give an honest opinion, and that isn’t afraid to stick a neck out. Shake up a scouting staff every time a deal goes wrong, and the relationship gets out of whack along the line.

Dombrowski got opinions that Gonzalez could still play short, but he still knew he was taking a risk, and he gave up a Major League player in Steve Lombardozzi to do it. He ended up with a shortstop who played in just nine games and didn’t make it to the end of April. Even Jacque Jones, a similar chance the Tigers took and quickly cut, made it into May, lasting five weeks before Detroit released him and called up a prospect named Matt Joyce.

In the end, the Gonzalez deal goes down as a miss, and a potentially significant one. I don’t think it makes the Doug Fister trade worse, because they were two deals made at two different times by a team that went from one situation (with a very good young shortstop) to a very different one (desperately seeking a shortstop). But I also don’t agree that the cost should be dismissed simply because Lombardozzi didn’t fit on the roster. He couldn’t fill the shortstop void that became huge in the middle of camp, but he was also a cost-controlled, switch-hitting, good-running utilityman at age 25 who has all his minor-league options left. If the Tigers are going to take a long-term view, players like Lombardozzi mean something, even if they don’t fit now. For a team that hasn’t shown any signs of giving up a first-round pick to sign Stephen Drew before June, giving up Lombardozzi is a cost as well. And keep in mind, this is a team that is again looking for a bat off the bench after sending Tyler Collins down. Yet this is still a front office that has many more hits on trades than misses.

How will this affect the Tigers going forward? If Detroit makes another deal for a shortstop, it’s hard to see it happening for another temporary option. Even though the additions individually cost less than signing Drew, at some point the price adds up. There have been no signs that anything has changed for the Tigers on Drew with the draft 6 1/2 weeks away. If the Tigers were to try to fill 6 1/2 weeks at short, it would most likely be with internal options. If they were to fill time until the July 31 trade deadline, it would most likely be internal.

“It’s a situation, too, where we’ve got two young shortstops who are actually playing very well in Hernan Perez and Eugenio Suarez and Triple-A and Double-A, respectively,” Dombrowski said this morning. “But [going with Andrew Romine and Danny Worth] gives them an opportunity to continue to play on day-in, day-out basis, which we think will benefit our organization in the long run.”

12 Comments

It’s about time to give Worth a shot. From the first game, anyone could see that A. Gonzalez was “worthless”.

Greg

It’s time to re-examine the Catching situation as well. This simply cannot go on. Especially against LHP.

.903 FPCT over 8 games with a potential to make over 20 errors in the next 80 games he would play. No that will not work. So remember the game winning hit in game one and move on. Last year all thirteen position players brought North finished the season with the Tigers. Twenty days this year and we have a released player and another sent to the minors. Best thing for Tyler as he needs steady ABs. Worth and Romine have both been groomed by their organizations to be utility players. Perhaps a slight edge to Romine because he is a legit basestealer. Perez also can steals some bags but he is better as a second baseman. Honestly, I feel that Eugenio Suarez may be the real deal of the whole group and that includes Jose. But he needs to get the steady PT down at Erie for now. We could see four to six players at SS this season.

major league scouts and Vizquel were somehow fooled by what they saw earlier. maybe his legs were ‘fresh’ in winter ball and he showed better range then. perhaps some other explanation for the discrepancy. i don’t believe they were able to evalute him playing SS in spring training because Baltimore was using him only at 3rd. seems that was the missing valuable bit of info. difficult at best to infer how a player would do at SS based on his defensive actions at 3b.

correction: he did play several games at SS for Baltimore this spring.

The final decision was his call. Why did he throw the scouts and vizquel undr the bus? Or was him protecting himself from fieldr 2 .0 -signing drew- or protecting the team from the boras inquire?

Well, they were right about Romine. He can field his position and the pitchers feel confident with him behind them. There’s probably more to this story than we know about, but it’ time to move on.

This is a good summary of the entire business, and I’m glad Jason explained Lombardozzi’s value to the club. From various comments from various sites, I think a lot of people didn’t consider this angle. I had been happy to have Lombo.
One part of this episode that stands out to me is the club’s valuation of Danny Worth. I’m not alone in wondering what the club does not see in him. Rather than give him a try a month ago, they acquired Gonzalez in a knee jerk reaction. That told me a lot.
My opinion is that they can get by with a Romine/Worth situation.
I suppose the moral of the story is to think twice before crying out for Dombrowski to “do something!”

I’m not sure DD is too overly concerned about anyone telling him to do anything.
The Lombardozzi incident was definitely puzzling as was the concomitant treatment of Worth.

The Gonzo deal seemed poor but if DD had gotten a (positional) piece that FIT the needs of the team for FISTER then it wouldn’t have happened. This team has 3 positions vulnerable to injury: LF, SS and C. LF was handled appropriately by acquiring Davis….but the backup SS and C options are/were lacking.

I would not expect too much is going to change behind the plate . Remember Ausmus was a catcher for many years . The real shame was letting Bryan Pena go at least he could put the ball in play .

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