Finding playing time for Nick Castellanos in September would have been difficult had Avisail Garcia not been shipped to Chicago. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)
Here are the Tigers, making trades, winning games (nine of their last 10), trying to shake the relentless Indians and, quietly, working as much on their future as on a scary playoff push.
A positional realignment already is in place at Comerica Park. And that rearrangement of manager Jim Leyland’s everyday cast will become clearer in the next 30 days, after Nick Castellanos is brought north, and after the Tigers camp will have had at least a few games to digest the double-play combination of Jose Iglesias and Hernan Perez.
The past week’s trades, coupled with Omar Infante’s lingering ankle injury, have changed the Tigers timetable, as well as a few names, in late-season plans that will spill into 2014.
Avisail Garcia is no longer in the system after becoming the key trade piece in Tuesday acquisition of Iglesias. It means he will not need a precious roster spot either before, or after, Sept. 1.
When their first choice to work at a corner outfield post — apart from the current group — headed to his new job with the White Sox, life changed for Castellanos and the Tigers. A top prospect learning to play left field at Triple A Toledo moved to the head of the line. He will be called up on or before Sept. 1 as the Tigers decide whether he can be trusted with the starting left-field job in 2014. Finding playing time for Castellanos in September would otherwise have been difficult had Garcia not been shipped to Chicago.
As was the case with Garcia a year ago, the Tigers could also add Castellanos to any potential playoff roster. But that would require him to be part of the 25-man list ahead of Sept. 1, and only in the event of an injury would that seem likely. The Tigers are happy with their current outfield platoon and figure to remain so.
Ready for change
Iglesias and Perez represent the most dramatic changes in Detroit’s impending early August batting order. Iglesias was brought aboard as the replacement for shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who is expected at any hour to be part of baseball’s wide swath of suspensions stemming from the Biogenesis clinic investigation.
Perez arrived at Comerica Park last month after Infante was felled by a reckless slide in Toronto. He has played well at second base, which surprises no one in the Tigers front office. He was viewed as the next everyday second baseman, post-Infante.
The question all along has been: Would the Tigers re-sign Infante, who becomes a free agent this autumn, when everything pointed to mutual interest between the two parties?
That’s where Perez’s audition has been indirectly helpful. The Tigers believe he will handle the job and steadily get better on all fronts. They now believe they can play him.
Infante wants a multi-year contract and will no doubt get one. But probably not from the Tigers. They realize they could always sign Infante and later trade him. They’re not averse to hanging onto a solid player as insurance. But it makes more sense to not hamstring payroll and Perez’s progression and to get on with a new double-play combination at the same time Iglesias is beginning his reign at shortstop.
Infante, of course, still carries the veteran skill Leyland and the Tigers require in their race with the Indians and Royals. They will happily welcome back Infante as quickly as he is healed, which could be within a week or so.
But the Tigers otherwise are ready for a transition to their new double-play combination. They see Iglesias’ defense as being the biggest single change in their everyday construct. They believe he will hit acceptably in the interim and that a 23-year-old athlete of his elevation will only get better with the bat.
Perez, they see in a similar light. He doesn’t match Iglesias’ lofty defense, but he could be, at least initially, a bit better with the bat. In neither case are the Tigers worried. They like their new faces and what it should mean toward building a more nimble, more athletic infield.
Factor in Castellanos’ migration to left field — ahead of his 2015 return to third base, which is likely — and it’s not just 2013 that you’re seeing unfurl at Comerica Park. It’s also the future.