July 28th, 2014
Earlier in the summer, this was supposed to be the week that the Tigers either had their acquired shortstop in their lineup or were going to swing a deal for a shortstop to finally fill the void left by Jose Iglesias’ stress fractures. Eugenio Suarez’s performance over the past couple months has quieted that.
He hasn’t been a sensation, but for a rookie shortstop, he has been much better than expected, enough so that the Tigers feel comfortable going into the stretch run and the postseason with him. What happens next year is another matter, which leads to Nick Cafardo’s tidbit in Sunday’s Boston Globe:
Scouts hearing the Tigers are really impressed with rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez and may trade Iglesias, who has missed this season with stress fractures in both shins.
It’s an interesting twist, and it says a ton about Suarez’s performance so far. But here are four reasons why it’s not likely to happen, at least not anytime soon:
- Trading Iglesias anytime in the near future would be dealing him at the low point of his value, and that’s not something Dave Dombrowski does with young players. While the return package the Tigers received for Doug Fister is still being scrutinized, much like the motivations for moving him, the value Fister held to teams at that point was about at its high point — two years away from free agency, coming off a very good stretch, injury woes seemingly behind him. Iglesias goes into next season having missed an entire year and likely with questions to answer about his long-term health, given the unusual nature of his injury and the difficulty in discovering it (including in the midst of medical evaluations during the trade). He’s going to have to prove he can not only play every day at a high level, but keep it up to gain value for other clubs. It could come in the big leagues, it could come in the minors, but from a health standpoint, he’s got to show it.
- There isn’t a major financial motivation to trade him yet. He won’t be eligible for arbitration until after next season. He makes $1.65 million this year because it was the maximum pay cut allowed after the four-year, $8.25 million contract he first signed as a Cuban free agent ended.
- Suarez has had two months to show he can play, enough to earn the Tigers’ trust for the rest of the year. Whether it’s enough to show he’s better than a healthy Iglesias is a different question. He’s two years younger, which is a big advantage, but he also has yet to go through a round of major adjustments, either at Detroit or Toledo. Iglesias’ season last year showed some of the risks of small sample sizes — a .330 average and .785 OPS over 234 plate appearances with Boston, then a .259 average and .654 OPS over 148 plate appearances (granted, injury-hampered ones) in Detroit.
- The Tigers in recent years haven’t shied away from creating some Spring Training competition. Rick Porcello was supposedly a goner a year and a half ago once the Tigers re-signed Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers ended up holding onto Porcello and letting him battle Drew Smyly for the fifth spot in the rotation. The rest has worked out fairly well. Considering the Tigers didn’t sell low on Porcello then, it seems unlikely they’d sell even lower on Iglesias now.
Rick Porcello struck out the side in his seventh and final inning Sunday afternoon, including Howie Kendrick swinging and missing at a changeup for his 99th pitch of the game. He had the bottom of the Angels batting order due up in the eighth, and he had retired eight of nine batters since his errant pickoff throw set off chaos that led to a run.
So why did Brad Ausmus turn to Joba Chamberlain for the eighth inning? It wasn’t about where Porcello was at, but where he — and correspondingly, the bullpen — would’ve been had the Angels started a rally.
“You send him back out and a couple runners get on, he’s at 110 pitches and now you have to bring in somebody in the middle of an inning with [runners at] first and third or first and second,” Ausmus said. “I’d much rather just start [Chamberlain] with a fresh inning, knowing that the chance of Ricky getting through it — the way he pitched, he could have — you just don’t want to take that risk. …
“He was fine in the seventh, but he gets into that no-mans land in terms of pitch count.”
This might seem like a little shift in thinking from Ausmus, who has tended to give his starters the benefit of the doubt but has in turn given his relievers the tight situations to inherit when things don’t work out. With Chamberlain, however, it’s pretty standard. Nine of his 10 outings in July have begun at the start of an inning, last Wednesday’s game at Arizona being the exception. He has entered with a runner on base just three times since May 7. By contrast, Al Alburquerque has entered with runners on base in his last five outings.
When there’s an eighth-inning lead to hold, Chamberlain usually gets the entire inning. There’s a reason for that.
“Joba’s been rock solid in the eighth inning,” Ausmus said.
While Porcello was rolling, meanwhile, there were minor signs of risk heading into the eighth. Left-handed hitting Efren Navarro was due to lead off the inning, with switch-hitting catcher Hank Conger up third. And before Porcello struck out the side, four of his previous five outs had come on fly balls or line drives, the one exception a strikeout of Albert Pujols.
Would those signs have led Ausmus to call it a day for his other starting pitchers? That might depend on the pitcher. He let Porcello go the distance in Texas last month despite an esclating pitch count, but he had a six-run lead to play with there. He let Porcello finish out a 3-0 shutout five days later, but his pitch count was so low there wasn’t much risk involved. As it is, though, Porcello hasn’t seen 100 pitches in an outing since the shutout in Texas, a streak of five consecutive starts.
“I felt good,” Porcello said Sunday, “but Brad wanted to take me out, so that’s understood.”