Tigers’ Goodrum, Amarista not sweating roster battle

Chris McCosky

Lakeland, Fla. — Their lockers are on separate ends of the clubhouse. One is a 28-year-old journeyman from Venezuela with more than six years of big-league service time. The other is a 25-year-old from Georgia in just his second big-league camp with 11 big-league games under his belt.

One stands 5-foot-6, weighs 160 pounds and looks like he might be a dangerous kick returner or scat back. The other is 6-3, weighs 200 pounds and looks more like a tight end or wide receiver.

One has been through this before, the other is experiencing it for the first time.

Detroit Tigers infielder Niko Goodrum throws out a New York Yankees runner after fielding a ground ball in the fifth inning.

Both have had productive springs.

Neither seems overly stressed by their tenuous grip on a roster spot.

With four spring games left, Alexi Amarista and Niko Goodrum — two sixth-year free agents signed to minor-league deals this off-season — still are on the island, still in the hunt for the final two position-player spots on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster.

You would expect them to feel some anxiety, some tension as the clock ticks down. But if they do, they are hiding it well.

“No,” Amarista said through Tigers’ interpreter Bryan Loor-Almonte. “I don’t feel any anxiety or extra pressure because these aren’t decisions I have to make. These are decisions for someone else.

“All I plan on doing is work hard, continue to have good at-bats, play great defense and do what needs to be done to help the team win. In terms of anxiety and all that — I don’t control that.”

Goodrum said what he felt more than anxiety was excitement.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “But as far as pressure or nerves, it’s not there because I can’t control the decisions they are going to make.”

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Truth is, they both could end up making the team. The third man in the mix, the fulcrum in this decision, is outfielder JaCoby Jones. If the Tigers decide to keep Jones, it means either Amarista or Goodrum would be reassigned.

And because keeping Jones would mean the Tigers were carrying five outfielders — Mikie Mahtook, Nick Castellanos, Leonys Martin, Rule 5 draftee Victor Reyes and Jones — it would increase the probability of Amarista winning the utility spot.

Amarista, a left-handed hitter, is the better fielding infielder but hasn’t taken any outfield reps this spring.

Goodrum, a switch-hitter, has taken reps everywhere except behind the plate. So if the Tigers carried four outfielders, Goodrum would have more value because he would serve as the fifth outfielder.

However, the most probable scenario is that both make the team. Here’s why:

Jones has a minor-league option remaining. And although he’s played well enough to secure a roster spot, the Tigers need to consider how much playing time he’d get as a fifth outfielder — possibly not much — and how that would impact his development.

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With early off-days in March and April, the starters don’t need rest days. So, it would probably serve Jones best to start in Toledo, where he can play every day.

But don’t try to float any of these scenarios by Amarista or Goodrum.

“In years past, I would already know where I was going to be sent down,” Amarista said. “But you just keep working hard and you do what you need to do to make the club.”

The last time Amarista started the season in the minor leagues was with the Padres in 2016, when he was beaten out by Yangervis Solarte. But he was called up a week later when Solarte went on the disabled list.

As for Goodrum, this is as close as he’s come to making a big-league team out of spring training.

“Just my second big-league camp,” he said. “Last year I did well in spring training (with the Twins) and I was in the first or second cuts. So, this is exciting, just trying to see what they want to do.”

He was asked if he was aware of the scenarios.

“Oh no,” he said. “I can’t control it. All I can control is what I do on the field. That’s why it doesn’t really bother me. I don’t have control over what decision they are going to make — I have to go with it either way.”

Goodrum has an opt-out date in June.

“I am not even thinking about that,” he said. “I just have to focus on how I can help the team. I am just here trying to perform and do what I can to leave my mark. I can’t get wrapped up in all that.”

Amarista has an opt-out, as well. Typically, if the Tigers were to cut a veteran player like this, they would allow him time to find another big-league opportunity. So Amarista’s opt-out would likely be earlier than Goodrum’s.

“I will just wait until the last day,” Amarista said. “Just see after where I stand and then evaluate what I want to do.”

What he really wants to do — same for Goodrum and Jones — is to start the season with the Tigers.