Most Detroit Tiger fans who regularly attend home games know that tucked deep inside Comerica Park, at the center of one of the food courts, is a fully functional merry-go-round.
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Children and adults alike gather there to experience the timeless pleasures of riding a wooden horse around in circles, serenaded by calliope music.
What’s less visible, though, is the presence of a second carousel at the park this year – it’s located between second and third base on the ball diamond, right about where the shortstop positions himself.
This second merry-go-round resulted from the season – ending injury to incumbent shortstop José Iglesias in early March. The team, which had been expecting the acrobatic Iglesias to perform his defensive legerdemain at the position for years to come, was suddenly without an everyday shortstop.
Cue the merry-go-round music, please…..
Several replacement candidates immediately came to the fore, none of whom was ideal. Utilityman Steve Lombardozzi, obtained in the Doug Fister trade, was briefly considered an option before being traded late in spring training.
Journeyman Danny Worth was also on the list of possibles, but failed to make the Opening Day roster.
Ultimately the Tigers left Lakeland with two new shortstops obtained in late March trades–the aged Alex Gonzalez (via Baltimore for Lombardozzi) and Andrew Romine (from the LA Angels for Jose Alvarez).
Gonzales was declared the starter, but was quickly released in late April when it became obvious that whatever skills he had flashed in the Venezuelan winter league did not accompany him to Detroit.
The Alex Gonzalez acquisition was as predictably ill-advised as the trade of Doug Fister and (Poof!) cost the club an astounding $1.1 million.
Romine then assumed the starter’s role, while Worth was recalled as his back-up. The pair shared the position for several weeks but neither hit, which led to Eugenio Suarez‘s promotion to the big leagues in early June.
The rookie exploded onto the scene with three home runs in his first 20 at-bats, and went on to lay down a pretty slash line of .279/.364/.485 for June. Though he dropped off a little in early July, his pre-All Star offense remained respectable at .265/.345/.429.
Suarez held the position throughout the summer, though his post-All Star numbers (.233/.296/.287) have been disappointing as pitchers learned how to get him out.
Though Suarez has fielded his position adequately for the most part, he arrived in the big leagues with a reputation for losing concentration at times. Unfortunately his play at the major league level has done nothing to alter that perception.
On several occasions during the year Suarez has done something inexplicable in the field, such as dropping an easy pop fly or relay throw, or suffering a related lapse. Even if you ignore the recurrent mental mistakes, which of course don’t formally qualify as errors, his fielding percentage of .966 still places him in the bottom tier of major league shortstops.
The late season calculus by the coaching staff is simple-given his below average defense, Suarez’s dropoff with the bat no longer justifies a regular spot in the line-up.
This is no doubt the reason the Tiger brass returned light-hitting Andrew Romine (.225/.272/.275) to the lineup, seemingly for the rest of the stretch run.
As the temperature drops and nerves jangle in September, pitching and defense become paramount. Managers retreat to their comfort zones, and turn to defenders who will make the routine plays.
Andrew Romine is such a player.
Anything he gives you offensively with his bat or legs will be happily accepted, but make no mistake–Romine is in the line-up because he can pick it and throw it.
At this time of year, that’s simply the way the world goes round.