March 16, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Lynn Henning

Possible long-term loss of Jose Iglesias at short puts Tigers in crisis mode

Jose Iglesias shin ailment has evolved into something more severe. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Lakeland, Fla. — This is all you need to know about Jose Iglesias’ shin ailment and how it has thrown a once-tranquil spring camp into distress.

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers front-office chief, was part of an e-mail exchange Saturday night. It was in response to a national tweet by Jim Bowden, the former Reds and Nationals general manager, quoting a Tigers teammate saying Iglesias would miss most of the 2014 season.

Was an unnamed teammate’s whisper a reasonable account of Iglesias’ situation, Dombrowski was asked?

“At this point,” he wrote, “I am not prepared to answer this question. Will have more information in the next few days.”

What had appeared to be a simple case of shin splints, treated with a week of rest and unlikely to be a long-term issue, has turned into a mystifying crisis that could threaten Iglesias and the Tigers at perhaps the most pivotal position on a baseball field.

Never did the Tigers or their doctors see this coming. Iglesias, who did not return a phone call Saturday night, imagined no such nightmare. He dealt with shin splits last September but missed only a couple of games. There was nothing to suggest to him or to the Tigers that a condition, fairly common among athletes, might turn brutally serious.

But days turned into weeks and Iglesias was “not appreciably better,” as Tigers trainer Kevin Rand acknowledged Friday. When a chiropractor and his “microcurrent machine with bio feedback” were brought aboard in a bid to help ease Iglesias’ pain, it was clear the Tigers medical staff, and Iglesias, were stumped and frustrated.

In they have lost their infield wizard, prepare for a somewhat less fleet, less defensive-flavored 2014 Tigers team. Their options are also limited. They come down to these potential choices:

■ Stephen Drew, free agent: Fans will want the Tigers to sign Drew — now. He is the best answer among available talent, no question. But consider realities beyond his name recognition.

He is 31. His batting averages the past five seasons, taking into account an ankle he badly fractured in 2011: .252, .223, .193, .250, .253.

Drew, who turned down $14.1 million from the Red Sox at the end of last season, will not come cheaply to Detroit, even on a one-year deal. The money can be absorbed. The greater cost is the Tigers will fork over their 2014 first-round draft pick to the Red Sox if he is signed.

The Tigers will, for now, look at some old and new names for their potential Iglesias fill-in, should he be lost for the short or long term.

■ Hernan Perez has been getting most of the work at shortstop during Iglesias’ hiatus. He has 34 games of big-league duty and the Tigers believe, in fairly fast fashion, he will become a solid everyday infielder.

Perez, though, is more effective at second base. He is also batting .167 in his Grapefruit League audition. He will not make the Tigers forget Iglesias, in the field, or at the plate, based on likely 2014 forecasts.

■ Eugenio Suarez is your wild-card contender. He is 22, a fine fielder, and could easily become the best hitter of the Tigers’ upper-tier shortstop prospects. He will get a hard look during these ensuing days.

His immediate problem is obvious. He has not played in the big leagues. Projections that Suarez can handle shortstop, on a daily basis against the world’s best pitching, is likely a stretch in March of 2014.

■ It brings us to Danny Worth. He is 28. He can play shortstop, he can fill in at third base, or second base, and reliably. He is batting .276 in his Grapefruit League tune-ups.

Worth does not have a 40-man roster spot, but that’s not an issue. The roster can be tweaked once the Tigers have a better bead on some current tenants who are either cementing or diminishing their status as camp rolls on.

More losses

Factor in the sudden loss of Andy Dirks to back surgery and anyone can see what has happened in Lakeland these past 12 days. What looked as if it would be one of the more tranquil Tigers spring camps in recent memory has given way to a series of personnel earthquakes.

If the Iglesias situation is as dire as Bowden has reported, and Dombrowski’s non-dismissal suggests, signing Drew will be the popular move, no question. It will be seen by most as a season-saver.

It might be wise to wait, though, at least until June, when Drew can sign minus the loss of that first-round draft pick. That’s because the kids, for all their March deficiencies, could contribute something in the vicinity of Drew. Check out those OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) figures from the past five seasons: .713, .657, .601, .701, .777.

His bad ankle led to some colder numbers, no question. Last year’s better season reflected a healthier Drew, which was certainly the Red Sox view when they made him that $14.1 million qualifying offer for 2014.

And so, if the season really has all but ended for Iglesias, the Tigers could always do what they did 26 months ago when Victor Martinez shredded his knee and was lost for 2012.

As his team and his town dealt with preseason depression, Mike Ilitch, the Tigers owner, began talking with Scott Boras, who often has a player available, at a hefty price, for teams in strife. A few days later Prince Fielder was in Detroit.

Drew’s agent in 2014 happens to be that same rescuer of seasons, Boras. Given that he and the Tigers are regular business partners, another deal might be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox, who last summer dealt Iglesias to the Tigers, could be in position to inherit yet another first-round draft pick as part of a potentially gut-ripping turn of events at Tigertown.

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com
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