Mar 31, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers short stop Alex Gonzalez (center) is swarmed by teammates after hitting a walk off hits an RBI single against the Kansas City Royals in the ninth inning of an opening day baseball game at Comerica Park. Detroit won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Like an election in a third world country, the early returns on the new Detroit Tiger shortstop have taken a couple weeks to trickle in.
So far candidate Alex Gonzales is not running very well.
Following the loss of incumbent Jose Iglesias to a season-long injury early in spring training, an open competition ensued in Florida. Early hopefuls included utility man Steve Lombardozzi, journeyman Danny Worth, and young prospects Hernan Perez and Eugenio Suarez.
For various reasons, by late March the answer to the multiple choice shortstop quiz was that old standby, “none of the above.”
Eschewing their internal options, the Tigers made a late spring training trade, obtaining veteran Alex Gonzales from Baltimore (for Lombardozzi) to fill their shortstop void. In a separate move, they also acquired utility infielder and defensive specialist Andrew Romine from the Los Angeles Angels, who has played sparingly.
Reportedly new Tiger first base/infield coach and future Hall of Fame shortstop Omar Vizquel recommended both Gonzales and Romine based on his recent observations of their skills.
So how has it worked out?
Unfortunately, not so well.
Gonzales, who has received the bulk of the playing time, is off to a slow start. Aside from his Opening Day heroics, when he tripled in a run and added a walk-off single, he has been uninspiring with a bat in his hand.
In 30 AB’s, he has a slash line of .167/.219/.233.This contrasts with his career numbers of .245/.290/.395.
Worse, the 37 year-old has shown his age in the field, committing three errors while showing limited range. Curiously, while the Tigers’ stated rationale for acquiring Gonzales was his experience, at times his decision-making at shortstop has also been suspect.
None of this should be surprising.
In addition to his advanced age for a key defensive position, Gonzales is years removed from regularly playing shortstop in the major leagues. He suffered a torn ACL in May, 2012, and tried to come back with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013, but was released in June.
Coming into 2014, he’d played in a total of 61 games in the two previous years.
Although regarded as a steady shortstop, Gonzales’s impressive offensive statistics were posted several years ago. The latest year in which he put decent numbers on the board was 2011, when he hit .241 with 15 home runs for Atlanta.
In trading Lombardozzi for Gonzales, the Tigers took a minor gamble. So far it has not paid off.
Since Gonzales has a track record of success and the season is still young, his situation gives rise to two questions.
Considering his age and recent periods of inactivity, can Alex Gonzales re-capture his mid-career consistency?
And if he falls short, how much time will the Tigers allow before his playing time is reduced?
We can only speculate.
There is one certainty, though.
The final vote could be in at any time.