Detroit Tigers are interested in Jorge Mateo, per report

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Jorge Mateo #57 of the Oakland Athletics poses for a portrait during photo day at HoHoKam Stadium on February 22, 2018 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Jorge Mateo #57 of the Oakland Athletics poses for a portrait during photo day at HoHoKam Stadium on February 22, 2018 in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /

The Tigers are reportedly exploring the idea of trading for infielder Jorge Mateo, and apparently, this isn’t the first time.

In an article published on Sunday, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic included an interesting tidbit for Tigers fans. Reportedly, the Tigers have expressed trade interest in shortstop Jorge Mateo, one of the Oakland Athletics’ top prospects.

As Opening Day draws nearer, the A’s are facing some tough choices about how to handle their abundance of middle infielders. Four of their players all have a compelling reason to be placed on the active roster, but there simply isn’t enough room for all of them.

Marcus Semien was one of baseball’s best in 2019, he’s a shoo-in. Rule 5 draftee Vimael Machin, who the A’s front office reportedly finds very intriguing, must be on the active roster all season or be offered back to his original team. Franklin Barreto and the aforementioned Mateo – both former top 100 prospects – are out of options and would be have to be exposed to waivers in order to be sent to Triple-A.

It’s understandable, then, that they’d be interested in a way to relieve the pressure.

Detroit’s interest in the 24-year-old infielder is fairly intuitive as well, given their struggles at second base and shortstop in 2019 and their overt desire to add controllable batters for the last two years. He was recently ranked as the seventh-best prospect in the A’s farm system by MLB Pipeline. He’s accrued zero MLB service time, therefore, upon acquiring him, the Tigers would retain all six years of club control.

Mateo signed with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2012, but was sent to Oakland in the ill-fated Sonny Gray trade. He receives glowing reviews for his tremendous athletic ability. He’s like lightning on the basepaths and routinely grades out as a top-shelf runner. He as the building blocks for plus defense and has seen playing time at shortstop and the keystone, along with limited reps in center field three years ago. His range would hypothetically play very well in any of those positions and he has a strong enough arm to make it work.

MESA, AZ – FEBRUARY 19: Jorge Mateo #57 of the Oakland Athletics (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images)
MESA, AZ – FEBRUARY 19: Jorge Mateo #57 of the Oakland Athletics (Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images) /

The drawback? Unsurprisingly, his offensive skills haven’t been up to par thus far. It’s why he’s being discussed here at all; players with his athleticism are coveted as amateurs and given tons of chances as pros. If he were an imposing batsman, he’d be off the table for anything the Tigers would be willing to part with.

However, if the team believes he’s able to make the leap to the big leagues, he’d be a natural fit for their long-term hole at second base.

Evidently, that assumption isn’t much of a stretch. The Tigers purportedly checked in with Oakland’s management group on the young shortstop before signing Jordy Mercer as a break-glass option. The ongoing struggles that have plagued both Jeimer Candelario and Dawel Lugo makes the likelihood that Mercer is served a larger slice of the playing time pie than anticipated seem stronger every day. If thing work out that he’s no longer in the picture as a regular backup option up the middle, it offers strong incentive to line up his replacement as soon as possible.

Frankly, it seems unlikely that Mateo will be the solution the Tigers are seeking. His perfomance in Triple-A was four percent below average last season as he struggled with his strikeout and walk rates all season. Although his .289/.330/.504 line doesn’t look too bad at first blush, it came in a year where offense was at a record high across the highest level of the minors.

“The Oakland front office, however, is less than enthralled with Mateo’s inability to control the strike zone, his high strikeout rate and low walk rate,” wrote Ken Rosenthal in his piece.

It should be a massive red flag to Tigers fans that both the Yankees and the Athletic were unable to help him make progress towards a more mature approach at the plate, it seems strongly unlikely the Tigers will be able to do so either. True, some guys simply turn the corner on their own, but it shouldn’t be counted upon.

There are also questions regarding his maturity. “He did sulk when he wasn’t promoted, and it showed in his performance.” wrote MLB Pipeline. That lack of maturity can surface on both sides of the ball, as he sometimes waffles between impatience and passiveness and it can cause problems in different ways.

That being said, it’d be hard to pass up on the opportunity to add Mateo to the organization if he comes at a low price, especially as a waiver claim if Oakland decides to designate him for assignment. He offers more upside than many of the Tigers’ current middle infield prospects, but in the instance that the Tigers acquire him, he’d almost certainly be given a major league opportunity.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be in the fashion to how the team handled Travis Demeritte – handing him an everyday job out of the gate – but a bench role opening for him isn’t unimaginable. Regardless, he needs to be on the 26-man roster or designated for assignment. That’s why he’s being discussed as trade fodder in the first place. At the very least, he may provide some stiffer competition than Harold Castro for an up-and-comer. And he doesn’t work out at all, he could be removed from the roster with little heartburn.

In any case, the Tigers need a solution at second base for the future. It seems unlikely that the solution will come from within the system, so it doesn’t hurt to try poking around in other team’s castoffs to try to find good value on a decent role player with some upside. Like it or not, Mateo is just that.