On Stephen Drew and Opening Day

The Tigers addressed a major void coming out of last year’s Spring Training with a free-agent signing just after Opening Day. Could they do the same for a second consecutive season?

If they end up signing Stephen Drew to play shortstop, that’s the most likely scenario in which they can do it. Whether it’s going to happen might not be completely clear until April 1, the day after the Tigers open the season against the Royals at Comerica Park.

A Detroit Free Press report that Drew would be open to a one-year contract to join the Tigers has been seconded, removing one potential obstacle on his end to a deal. It’s believed to be a change from previous reports which suggested Drew would be willing to sign a two-year contract with a player opt-out after the first season, but not a straight one-year deal.

The different stances are two routes towards the same goal for Drew, to avoid a repeat of the draft compensation rules that have seemingly impacted his market since December. Once the Boston Red Sox, Drew’s 2013 team, made a qualifying offer that was declined, they ensured any other team would have to give up a pick from this summer’s Draft to sign him. In the Tigers’ case, that pick would be a first-rounder, currently the 23rd overall selection.

Whether Drew signs before or after Opening Day does not affect that current rule. The only way for the Tigers to sign him without surrendering a first-round pick would be to wait until after the Draft, scheduled for June 5-7, to sign him. The difference in Drew waiting until after Opening Day is that the signing team wouldn’t be able to make him a qualifying offer after the season. It’s essentially a turn on the rule that says players that change teams in midseason can’t fall under the qualifying offer rules.

The tradeoff amounts to gaining short-term flexibility in exchange for giving up a chance to recoup the draft pick it would take to sign him. Thus, the questions whittle down to financial, finding common ground on a one-year salary (the Red Sox qualifying offer was worth $14.1 million; the Tigers payroll is crossing the $150 million mark this year), and philosophical, whether the draft pick is more or less valuable than one season of the player to fill what is expected to be a one-year void caused by Jose Iglesias’ stress fractures.

The two sides reached a deal shortly after last Opening Day (after much disagreement and similarly mixed signals) on Jose Valverde, who signed about a week after Detroit optioned would-be closer Bruce Rondon to Triple-A Toledo. Drew, obviously, is a different player with different implications and prices filling a different void at shortstop.

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski declined comment on Drew when reporters asked him Thursday, as is his practice with free agents. He said earlier this week he did not anticipate making a big deal to add a shortstop, then swung a minor trade with the Angels on Friday to add left-handed hitting utility infielder Andrew Romine, who would be in line to platoon with either utilityman Danny Worth or middle infield prospect Hernan Perez, barring another addition.

Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, had no comment on any negotiations, but denied a report on twitter that he was telling teams Drew had a three-year, $39 million offer on the table from a club.

“If a GM can’t attribute his name, it’s called darts,” Boras said of the report, which cited an unnamed general manager.

The draft pick compensation seemingly has had a major impact on the 31-year-old Drew, a defensive cog on a Red Sox club that won the World Series last fall. His 3.4 Wins Above Replacement, going by the FanGraphs formula, ranked sixth out of 18 Major League shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances last season, essentially tying him with All-Stars J.J. Hardy and Jean Segura.

Much of that total came from Drew’s defense, though his offensive value in 2013 placed him in the top five among Major League shortstops according to Fangraphs. When he gets close to a full season, his WAR values are fairly good.

If he doesn’t sign until after Opening Day, he obviously wouldn’t get in a full season. His readiness would determine how close he’d get. Drew has been working out with other free agents in South Florida, which is believed to be where any workouts for teams have taken place. The ramp-up to physical readiness is not expected to be an issue. The bigger priority would be to get his timing at the plate against professional level pitchers that have had a full Spring Training, either in simulated games or extended camp.

Iglesias likely out for season with stress fractures

The Tigers finally have a rehab timetable for Jose Iglesias. They also have an idea how long they’ll need to fill his spot at shortstop. In both cases, it’s going to be a while.

The team confirmed Thursday that Iglesias has stress fractures in both shins and will spend the next 4-5 months limited to non-weight bearing activities. Under that timetable, he’s expected to be out all season, and Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters in Viera today that they’re preparing to go through the season without him.

It’s not necessarily the worst-case scenario, if only because it doesn’t sound career-threatening. Still, for a saga that began with Iglesias being sidelined for a week, it’s a crushing blow that arguably changes the discussion on how to fill the void.

For Iglesias, the rehab process finally gives him a road map to rid himself of the shin issues that he says have bothered him since the start of Spring Training last year with the Red Sox.

“It doesn’t get better,” Iglesias said on Monday. “I’ve been doing every kind of treatment, but the pain is still really high. It makes sense now because it’s a fracture. It’s not going to go down until the fracture is better.”

Iglesias’ ailment was originally termed a stress reaction when he was first sidelined at the end of February, similar to shin splints but to a different degree of severity. An adjustment in his orthotics, combined with rest and medication, got Iglesias back on the field for batting practice and infield work, but he still felt the pain when he ran, especially when he tried to stop.

Nothing, not treatment, not orthotics adjustments, alleviated that. Eventually, Iglesias visited another specialist last week in Florida for additional examination, which Iglesias said revealed the fractures.

Iglesias spent Tuesday in Colorado visiting with another foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Thomas Clanton, at the Steadman Clinic, where a CT scan was recommended to look at the shins and the a course of treatment was recommended.

Since the shins are weight-bearing bones, part of the process requires taking weight off and allowing fractures to heal. That will limit Iglesias to non-weight bearing activities such as biking, swimming and upper body work. Yet physical healing is only part of the process. In some cases, diet and metabolism can play an underlying role.

Nate Robertson: New pitcher, same guy, old faces

Nate Robertson was preferring to stay under the radar in his return this spring. At age 36 with a sidearming delivery, groundball tendencies and a low home run rate, he’s not the same pitcher he was back when he was in the Tigers rotation from 2004-2008. Besides, he doesn’t really need to do a reunion tour.

The beard, however, is still there, as is the Midwestern speech patterns. The confidence, while tempered a bit by age, is still there, too.

He has the mileage of that 1998 Chevy Tahoe he still owns, the one Magglio Ordonez and Jeremy Bonderman used to rag him about. But unlike the Tahoe, which is sitting back home in Wichita with 185,000 miles on it after some scary shakes on a cross-country trip, Robertson feels he can still go at game speed.

“I reached out to Detroit,” he said of his minor-league deal signed a couple weeks ago. “I know there’s a lot of factors involved. Just with all being said, I wanted at least these guys here to get their eyes on it, just to look at it. And I’m fortunate and thankful for them just to take a look. And I’m having fun. But I wouldn’t have reached out unless I was confident in it.”

While Rick Porcello got in his work Wednesday pitching in a minor-league intersquad game on the back fields at Tigertown, Nate Robertson was quietly standing around outside the opposite field. Perhaps it was fitting. While Porcello works on finding the next step in his career towards becoming a front-line starter, Robertson is back where his career took off.

“Some guys think I’m a coach,” Robertson joked, noting that ex-teammate Mike Maroth — born the same year — is the pitching coach at Class A Lakeland.

Robertson believes his stuff can play, and his stats from last year at least make it intriguing. He had some respectable numbers in the Pacific Coast League last year, going 4-4 with a 3.04 ERA and allowing 45 hits over 50 1/3 innings for Triple-A Round Rock in the Rangers system. He walked 23, struck out 40 and didn’t allow a single home run. He held left-handed hitters to a .213 average (17-for-80) with eight walks and 23 strikeouts.

“Here’s the thing: Even if you miss your spot, you have enough movement on the ball to just get off that barrel,” he said of the home-run power outage. “These guys are just trying to barrel it up, and if you leave something out over the plate, they can track it and barrel it. But if I have just enough, just a half an inch, to get off that barrel, it keeps it in the ballpark. …

“To do what I did in a very hitter friendly league, it proved well. Those are tough places to pitch.”

The Rangers bullpen, meanwhile, is a tough place to crack. Simply put, as good as his numbers were, there wasn’t a place for an old lefty in Texas.

“They really didn’t need me,” he said. “They had a couple lefties up there, Neal Cotts and Robbie Ross, that threw extremely well all year.”

He might have been hoping for another non-roster invite to Spring Training, but it never came together. The Tigers were looking for lefty relief depth in the system, having just added fellow ex-Tiger Wil Ledezma under similar circumstances, but not a camp invite this late.

If he’s going to try to make it under these circumstances, he might as well do it where he feels comfortable. He said he had goose bumps making the drive in to Tigertown once again, putting him back in Lakeland.

“You have to ask yourself if you think [the stuff] plays with a big-league lineup and a big-league hitter’s approach, and I think so,” Robertson said. “But the biggest thing is I’m back here where it feels like it’s home, and I’m glad to be back. I’m just having fun with it. I’m in a good place with it, and we’ll see where it goes. …

“I’ll tell you this, and it’s no knock, it’s just an acknowledgement from my standpoint: Out of eight organizations I’ve been with, it’s not even close. Now there’s really good baseball people in all these organizations I’ve been in, but as an organization, nothing compares. I just think it’s as good as it gets.”

Either way, he said, he’s going to be fine with it. Even if this is it for him, it’s back where he started.

“I think it’s going to end OK no matter what. That’s how I feel,” he said. “The biggest thing is just how much I appreciate the organization to just take a look.”

Tuesday: Tigers (Davis still out) vs. Blue Jays

The original lineup for today had Rajai Davis leading off and playing left field, which seemed to be a good sign of his return. Then manager Brad Ausmus announced this morning that he had scratched Davis from the lineup as a precaution. The Tigers are off Wednesday, and Davis already was scheduled to be off for Thursday’s game against the Nationals, so the plan is for him to take it easy on his sore right hamstring for a few days before returning to action (hopefully) Friday against the Braves at Disney.

With split squads today, the benches are kind of thin, so Ben Guez gets the chance to walk across the street from minor-league camp and right into the leadoff spot today.

TIGERS

  1. Ben Guez, LF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Alex Avila, C
  6. Austin Jackson, CF
  7. Don Kelly, 1B
  8. Danny Worth, 3B
  9. Hernan Perez, SS

P: Drew Smyly

BLUE JAYS

  1. Jose Reyes, SS
  2. Melky Cabrera, LF
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
  5. Brett Lawrie, 3B
  6. Adam Lind, DH
  7. Dioner Navarro, C
  8. Colby Rasmus, CF
  9. Maicer Izturis, 2B

P: Ricky Romero

Iglesias confirms stress fractures in both shins

Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias confirmed reports Monday morning that he has been diagnosed with stress fractures in both of his legs.

The diagnosis came late last week from a specialist Iglesias visited for additional opinion.

“This is small fractures in the legs,” Iglesias said. “I was able to play through it last year, but that’s not going to happen this year.”

Iglesias said he won’t know how long he’ll be out until he visits another specialist, Dr. Thomas Clanton, on Tuesday in Colorado to determine the best course of treatment. He expects to play at some point this season.

“Absolutely,” Iglesias said. “I’ll get a better idea when I see the doctor in Colorado. But for now, my goal is to get healthy, get rid of this, because the pain is really bad. I just want to get rid of it and come back 100 percent.”

Iglesias said he has been playing through pain in both shins since last Spring Training, when he was a member of the Red Sox. Not until the last few days, however, did he know how severe the issue was.

“I just felt it from the very first moment of [last] Spring Training,” Iglesias said. “I just told myself to play through it, because I never expected something like that. I just feel pain, but Stephen Drew had a concussion at the time and that was an opportunity for me to start with the team. And I was like, ‘You know what, you’ve got to play through it.’ And I did it.”

The pain was severe enough at times that he had to sit occasionally, both before and after his midseason trade to Detroit.

“Last year I played through the pain all year long,” Iglesias said. “Sometimes [Red Sox manager John] Farrell had to give me some days the same as [former Tigers manager] Jim Leyland here. He had to give me some days or take me out of the game because the pain was so bad. And I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know what to do to get rid of it.’ And I never found out until right now that it was a fracture.”

Iglesias missed time at points last year with the Tigers while dealing with shin splints, but returned in time for the postseason. He said an offseason of rest was expected to take care of the issue, but the pain returned this spring.

Iglesias hasn’t played since Feb. 26. He was originally diagnosed with stress reactions in both shins, similar to shin splints but different in severity. He has tried to work his way back, hitting in batting practice and taking ground balls in the field, but continued to feel pain while running.

The Tigers announced Sunday that Iglesias will open the season on the disabled list, but did not announce a diagnosis pending Tuesday’s report from Dr. Clanton.

After a full year of pain, Iglesias said he feels relieved simply to have a diagnosis what’s going on in his legs.

“It’s bad news for me and bad news for the team as well,” Iglesias said, “but at the end of the day, it’s good as well, because I know what’s going on now. It’s something that I’ve got to deal with, but something that will go away with time.”

Monday: Tigers vs. Nationals

spring training 001

The forecast is not very good for this afternoon, and it gets worse as the day goes on. The fact that the tarp was already on the field this morning probably wasn’t a good sign. Still, I would expect they’re going to wait out the forecast to see what the weather is actually like around game time.

Hernan Perez is next up at shortstop, getting the start today. Brad Ausmus invoked an 0ld Leyland phrase yesterday in describing Perez: He’s a baseball player. He likes Perez’s instincts and awareness, and he sees Perez as somebody who can handle the bat. The question will be how well he handle shortstop, which for him is a secondary spot. He was good there at Erie, though not as good as Suarez at his best. If Ausmus does decide to go with two shortstops going into the season, it’s pretty easy to see where Perez fits in.

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, LF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Alex Avila, C
  5. Austin Jackson, CF
  6. Don Kelly, 3B
  7. Tyler Collins, DH
  8. Hernan Perez, SS
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B

P: Anibal Sanchez, Ian Krol, Al Alburquerque, Blaine Hardy, Luke Putkonen

On Jose Iglesias, the next Tigers shortstop, and defense

In the wee hours at Comerica Park on the night of July 30, as Dave Dombrowski put together the deal that brought them Jose Iglesias from Boston in exchange for Avisail Garcia, one of the things he mentioned was the importance of shoring up the position defensively. They had a lot more offense around the lineup at that point, but they also had a much better offensive player they were preparing to replace, and they felt Iglesias fit in with what they wanted to do long term.

“We’ve had some other people throw some names at shortstop for us that we didn’t see fitting in for us,” Dombrowski said.

As Dombrowski talked about the position Sunday morning at Space Coast Stadium, and how to fill the void left by Iglesias’ injury, that emphasis on defense was there again. They’re trying to shore up the void at shortstop, Dombrowski emphasized, not the void at the bottom of the lineup.

“I think we need to keep it in perspective,” Dombrowski said. “There’s no question [Iglesias is] a very fine player but for us, from an offensive perspective, it’s the bottom of our order. It’s not the middle of our order. I think it’s very important that whoever we have catches the ball, plays defense. That’s extremely important for us.”

They were already prepared to go into the season with Iglesias at the bottom of their lineup, producing some offense but not having to be a catalyst. With Iglesias out, that’s the void.

If they go after another shortstop, Dombrowski does not seem inclined to trade defense for offense. With a rookie third baseman still adjusting back to the corner after spending the previous season and a half in the outfield, with a team built around pitching and defense, they can’t afford to comprise fielding there.

“You have to catch the ball at shortstop to play defensively on our club,” Dombrowski said. “We have a good pitching staff, we think we’re going to score enough runs. It’s a very important part, and we think we have some guys that can do that.”

There’s a lot of question whether Eugenio Suarez will hit enough to stick as a Major League shortstop, questions that have followed Danny Worth during his career, questions that have been asked about Hernan Perez as well. Defensively, though, they think a lot of what they have. None are as good as Iglesias, none are likely as good defensively as Stephen Drew for that matter, but there’s enough talent there to try to fill the gap on defense without worrying as much about offense.

When the Tigers look around at the trade market, or if the Tigers do end up making a run at Drew, it’ll be with defense in mind. They’ll have to figure out whether Seattle’s Nick Franklin is a Major League caliber shortstop or, realistically, a second baseman/utility type, as some evaluators say. And they’ll have weigh whether the upgrade on Drew defensively is big enough to make it worth the price in contract or draft compensation. Same goes for Jimmy Rollins in any trade speculation, for that matter, unlikely as that possibility seems.

Drew would not be a major presence offensively. His recent numbers, and especially his numbers away from Fenway Park last year (.222 average, .687 OPS) make that clear. He had a very good 2013 season against right-handers (.284/.377/.498) but under .196 against lefties. If you bring him in, it’s not going to be for offense.

Again, part of the debate hinges on Iglesias’ timetable, as well as how confident they can be that his shins will finally be healthy for good when he returns. Will Carroll of Bleacher Report pointed out that the foot-and-ankle specialist Iglesias has been set up to visit Tuesday — Dr. Thomas Clanton at the Steadman Clinic in Colorado — is an expert in chronic conditions.

Iglesias will start to DL, seek more opinion on shins

Jose Iglesias will open the season on the 15-day disabled list, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed Sunday morning. How long he’ll miss, and the exact details of his shin condition, is still to be announced.

Iglesias, who has missed the last two weeks with what has been termed as a stress reaction in both shins, will visit another foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Thomas Clanton of the Steadman Clinic in Colorado, for another opinion on his injury Tuesday. The Tigers will reserve comment on the injury until then.

Dombrowski did not comment on a Sunday morning report from ESPN that Iglesias will be out until midseason with stress fracture. Likewise, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand did not have an update.

Still, the Tigers are clearly preparing themselves for the possibility that Iglesias will miss a significant chunk of the season.

Dombrowski did not rule out the possibility of bringing in another shortstop. For now, the team plans to look internally at prospects Hernan Perez and Eugenio Suarez along with utility infielder Danny Worth.

Iglesias saw a Lakeland-based foot and ankle specialist last week and received an adjustment in his orthotics that he has been wearing since at least last year. The initial adjustment, adding extra cushion under the foot, made an immediate difference according to Iglesias. From there, the doctor analyzed video of Iglesias’ running stride.

Iglesias resumed workouts since then, taking batting practice and fielding ground balls at shortstop. However, he continued to feel pain while running, specifically while slowing down.

Iglesias tried running as recently as Thursday, but continued to feel pain.

“He can run,” Rand explained earlier this week, “but slowing down is where he has the biggest issue. And then the problem is that as he progresses, it gets a little worse.”

That prompted the Tigers to consult with Dr. Rick Smith, a Winter Haven-based chiropractor. He provided Iglesias with “a microcurrent machine with biofeedback,” for pain management.

Iglesias has been bothered by shin issues since last season in Boston, before he was traded to Detroit at the July trade deadline. When Iglesias was sidelined two weeks ago, the Tigers were hoping to figure out the cause once and for all and get rid of it.

Whatever the timetable, Tigers preparing for potentially long spell without Iglesias

The Tigers had no medical update Saturday on Jose Iglesias, which seemed somewhat significant after he spent Friday trying out a device for pain management. Now that reports cite peers and ex-teammates saying Iglesias expects to miss a half-season or more, the Tigers aren’t commenting on those reports, either.

“At this time, I do not have anything to discuss on Iglesias’ situation,” Dave Dombrowski wrote in an email. “Will have more in a few days.”

Coincidentally, Iglesias’ agent, Scott Boras, said late Saturday night that Iglesias will visit two specialists in the coming days to determine the best course of treatment.

Whether it’s a half-season (Jon Heyman’s report), most of the season (Jim Bowden’s tweet), or something else, however, the Tigers are preparing for the increasing possibility they’ll be without their gifted young shortstop for a significant amount of time. The fact that all this comes after Iglesias saw another specialist in Florida earlier this week for additional opinion on his injury point to a more significant injury to his shins.

Saturday was the first time manager Brad Ausmus talked about filling in for Iglesias on more on a short-term basis. He had no new medical info to share, but he had thoughts on what they might face.

“Depending on how long he’s going to be out, we may or may not need two shortstops,” Ausmus said.

Roster math suggests the Tigers shouldn’t need two shortstops if Iglesias faces a minimal stint on the disabled list.

When asked whether they’re waiting on medical results or a timetable, Ausmus didn’t give a specific answer.

“We want him to be healthy is the primary goal,” Ausmus said, “but we’re kind of at that point where with every passing day, it’s becoming extremely more difficult for him to get the number of at-bats ready to prepare for a season. In relatively short order, we’ll be past that tipping point, where we’d essentially have to open up the season without Jose.”

Whether that points free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew to Tigers camp remains to be seen. Nothing is believed to be imminent, and it’s unclear just how serious the Tigers’ interest would be. Drew is represented by Boras, who also picked up Iglesias as a client last summer. But the Tigers are about to face the tough decision between long-term and short-term outlooks.

If the Tigers make a serious run at Drew, they’ll do so knowing they’d have to give up a first-round draft pick (23rd overall) for a short-term fix. If they pass, they’re going to have to be confident in their alternatives, either an in-house mix of youngsters and utility infielders, or somebody off a trade market one AL scout said “stinks.”

The Diamondbacks could have an extra shortstop in their battle between Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings, but both are young talents in their early 20s, not veterans, and likely wouldn’t come cheap. Other clubs are likely to have serviceable utility infielders become available as rosters whittle down, but not necessarily deserving of regular playing time.

Drew has served as a shortstop for a World Championship team, having held down the job for Boston last season over Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts. He hit .253 last year with 13 home runs, 67 RBIs and a .777 OPS. He finished strong with an .837 OPS after the All-Star break, but he also hit just .222 with a .687 OPS away from Fenway Park.

The Tigers were believed to have interest in him for at least a brief flirtation last offseason before they recommitted to Jhonny Peralta. They know what they’d be getting. The debate will be what they’d give up.

Saturday: Tigers vs. Astros

Victor Martinez gets his first game behind the plate today, albeit only for a few innings. Brad Ausmus said this morning that Martinez will catch three innings. By batting leadoff, Martinez will be able to squeeze in two at-bats in that time.

“You don’t have to catch nine innings to be ready to catch nine innings,” Ausmus said. “That sounds like a Yogi-ism.”

Steve Lombardozzi, meanwhile, gets his first game action in left field. Ausmus wasn’t planning on doing that this spring, but with Andy Dirks currently limited to couch potato duty following back surgery, Ausmus is now viewing Lombardozzi as an outfield option — maybe not platoon duty, but spot duty and late-game versatility.

Max Scherzer and Lucas Harrell pitch opposite each other for the second time this spring. They played against each other and sometimes on the same team while growing up in Missouri — Harrell in Springfield, Scherzer in the St. Louis area.

TIGERS

  1. Victor Martinez, C
  2. Tyler Collins, CF
  3. Torii Hunter, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  6. Austin Jackson, DH
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Danny Worth, SS
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, LF

P: Max Scherzer

ASTROS

  1. Jonathan Villar, DH
  2. Dexter Fowler, CF
  3. Jose Altuve, 2B
  4. Marc Knauss, 1B
  5. Jesus Guzman, 3B
  6. Robbie Grossman, LF
  7. Carlos Corporan, C
  8. L.J. Hoes, RF
  9. Carlos Correa, SS

P: Lucas Harrell

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