Tigers release Alex Gonzalez, call up Danny Worth (updated)
Alex Gonzalez’s tenure as Tigers shortstop is over after three weeks. The Tigers released the 37-year-old on Sunday morning and purchased the contract of infielder Danny Worth from Triple-A Toledo.
For now, Worth will platoon at shortstop with switch-hitter Andrew Romine, who had been splitting time with Gonzalez. The Tigers continue to monitor prospects Hernan Perez and Eugenio Suarez, who are playing shortstop at Triple-A Toledo and Double-A Erie respectively, but wanted to give both of them more seasoning before considering them for a call-up.
Add in the looming free agency of Stephen Drew, who could sign without draft pick compensation following the First-Year Player Draft in June, and the Tigers could have a revolving door at shortstop going for the next several weeks as they continue to try to fill the void left by injured Jose Iglesias.
“Hopefully this combination will help us, and we can continue to analyze our situation,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “We’ve got two young guys that we’re just not quite ready to bring up and ready to let them play, but they’re playing very, very well for us.”
The Tigers gave no signal of expecting long-term stability in announcing the move. What they knew, however, was that Gonzalez wasn’t the answer.
“We need to have a little more range defensively at shortstop. We just didn’t see it there and didn’t see it getting better,” Dombrowski said. “So we figured it was time to make the move.”
Detroit thought enough of Gonzalez that they traded a young utilityman Steve Lombardozzi to Baltimore to acquire him with a week to go in Spring Training. At the time, Dombrowski cited Tigers scouts Bruce Tanner and Jeff Wetherby, as well as first-base coach Omar Vizquel, among those who watched Gonzalez and believed he could play shortstop, though not necessarily every day.
From Opening Day on, however, Gonzalez’s time at short was marked by inconsistency. He made an error in the season opener on a ball to his left, yet made a ranging play up the middle to snare a ball and rob a single before delivering the game-winning RBI at the plate.
Gonzalez seemed much more comfortable making plays to his left, up the middle, than to his right. He made three errors in 31 chances over eight starts for a .903 fielding percentage.
Gonzalez had a negative-5 rating in Defensive Runs Saved, a statistic developed by Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions to put defensive performance into a tangible context. Just four years ago, his next-to-last season as an everyday shortstop, he had a plus-27 rating.
“We thought we’d take a little chance on it,” Dombrowski said of the trade. “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.”
Gonzalez’s defensive concerns might have been tempered a bit had he continued to deliver clutch hits. However, he had just three singles in 26 at-bats after Opening Day.
“Gonzo worked hard. He’s had a tremendous career,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “In his prime, he was one of the better shortstops in the game of baseball, but time takes its toll on everyone. At this point, we decided to make a change and bring Danny Worth up.
“Certainly with age, you’re going to slow down a little bit. He was a tremendous, tremendous shortstop — I mean, he was one of the elite shortstops — in his prime. He hasn’t played much short in the last couple years, so we were hoping maybe that the spring had returned to his legs a little bit. But it just didn’t work.”
Thus, the Tigers turn back to Worth, who was in play for a timeshare at short before Detroit traded for Gonzalez. The 28-year-old has rotated around the infield at Triple-A Toledo, allowing Perez to take the bulk of the time at short, but his strong arm and reliable range are well known. He batted .308 (16-for-52) for the Mud Hens with five doubles and one RBI.
Ausmus indicated he won’t necessarily have a strict lefty-righty platoon between Worth, who bats right-handed, and the switch-hitting Romine, who started Sunday against Angels left-hander Hector Santiago.
“He can do a lot of things for us,” Dombrowski said of Worth. “We know him. He hits left-hand pitching well, with Romine over there playing well defensively, and he’s better vs. right-handed pitching. That gives us a nice combination. He runs decently, gives us a nice combination, and he’s a solid defensive player at shortstop, can play second or third, gives us some versatility value. So he’ll get some playing time here, see how he does.”
Even with the current mix, however, Dombrowski mentioned Perez and Suarez as future options. Perez, primarily a second baseman in his pro career, has played 15 games at shortstop in Toledo, where he’s batting .277 with four doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs. Suarez, a natural shortstop, entered Sunday batting .260 for Erie with five doubles, three homers and eight RBIs.
“If we were going to bring them up at this time, we figured that we would want them to come up and play most of the time,” Dombrowski said. “And right now, with Romine being a left-hand hitter, he’s going to play most of the time. So we think Danny, again, we think he’ll do a solid job for us. He’s been in the organization a long time. Give him the opportunity.”