Jose Iglesias is not likely to return this season. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Detroit — It was necessary to ask Dave Dombrowski during a Monday phone conversation about a player who no longer works for the Tigers.
Steve Lombardozzi, specifically. Why, a scribe wondered, did the Tigers general manager insist on including Lombardozzi in last November’s fan-delighting deal that sent Doug Fister to the Nationals?
If you remember, and apparently most Tigers fans recall this trade in the same way Nancy Kerrigan has memories of Tonya Harding, Dombrowski sent a prized right-handed starting pitcher to the Nationals in exchange for two relatively unknown left-handed pitchers, as well as Lombardozzi, who was to serve as a bench player at a lot of places except for the one position Detroit was destined to need help: shortstop.
Lombardozzi never made overwhelming sense, given that the player he was replacing, Ramon Santiago, was above all an infielder who had equal dexterity at shortstop or second base.
Along with Ian Krol, one of those acquired left-handed pitchers who is throwing well in the Tigers bullpen, and Robbie Ray, a young starter who is being groomed at Triple A Toledo, here came Lombardozzi, with skills as a second baseman, third baseman, or as an occasional outfielder, but who never qualified as more than a stop-gap reserve at shortstop.
And that was a mix Dombrowski believed would work satisfactorily for the Tigers for one reason: Jose Iglesias was anchored as the everyday shortstop. Plans crashed in early March when Iglesias was found to have stress fractures in his shins that would all but cancel his season.
“I’m not sure people have focused on how impactful was that injury,” Dombrowski said. “Iglesias was going to be a 150-game shortstop that we were counting on. You would not have counted on anything short of 150 games.
“He was to have been in the lineup virtually every day. He wouldn’t play every day — Lombardozzi could spell him in the right situations. But when Iglesias got hurt, and not for the short term but for the long term, it complicated the whole complexion of our middle infield and utility guys.”
To make matters less complicated before ironically they became more entangled, the Tigers traded Lombardozzi to the Orioles for Alex Gonzalez. Dombrowski soon realized Gonzalez, who had been playing short for the Orioles and who was going to make the team, was not the Gonzalez advertised.
He, in fact, could not play short. Not at age 37. The Tigers soon released him, after all of nine games, with his salary of $1.1 million still Detroit’s responsibility. It was your basic front-office mistake.
This is the way a somewhat bizarre story has evolved. And, obviously, it was all set in motion by Iglesias. Had a 24-year-old defensive demon not been felled by his cracked legs, Lombardozzi would be helping out at multiple positions and shortstop would not have become the six-week soap opera it came to be.
How the Tigers fare at shortstop in 2014 is a question no more critical than the matter of Iglesias and his prospects for returning, healthy and at full speed, no later than 2015’s spring camp.
Dombrowski says doctors have no concerns about Iglesias and his long-term health. His condition, which manifested itself in shin splints and later morphed into stress fractures, is not, doctors have assured the Tigers, a chronic or recurring affliction.
Shortstop has since been like MSNBC’s lineup of show hosts: a lot of names and faces at different times.
During camp, post-Iglesias, there was Hernan Perez, Eugenio Suarez, Danny Worth, and then Gonzalez. Andrew Romine soon arrived in a trade with the Angels. Gonzalez disappeared last weekend and Worth returned.
Pair workable - now
Dombrowski believes he has it right, for now, with Romine and Worth. He is keeping an eye on Perez (Triple A Toledo) and Suarez (Double A Erie) with thoughts either might be ready later this season for duty in Detroit.
Without naming names, he is not — for now — interested in Stephen Drew, the expensive free agent who is unsigned and who would become even more expensive if he is signed before June 8, which could require forfeiture of this year’s first-round draft pick.
“If you get a guy everyone’s talking about,” he said, referring to Drew, “you’re paying an arm and a leg for a guy who’s only going to be playing for a year.”
Meaning, whoever signs Drew might well sign him only for 2014. And the Tigers have no such plans. For all the commotion at an enormously difficult position, Dombrowski believes the Tigers will survive 2014, and well beyond when Iglesias returns next spring, legs healed.
Lombardozzi, for his part, never fit into a puzzle blown apart when Iglesias went down. He was a piece designed for a different mosaic a GM has been left to re-design in the weeks since Iglesias returned to Miami for a long, and thoroughly unanticipated, recovery.