Lakeland, Fla. – Unless general manager Al Avila has another surprise or two up his sleeve – and he might – the position-player portion of the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day roster appears set.
By giving veteran utility man Alexi Amarista his release Saturday, and presuming the Tigers carry four bench players – John Hicks, JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes and Niko Goodrum have made the club.
“We haven’t named them yet,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We are still talking with Al. People will be coming off waivers (from other teams). All kinds of things can still happen here.”
Certainly if Avila and his staff see a potential affordable upgrade among teams’ late cuts, they will pursue it. Until then, Reyes (who hasn’t played beyond Double-A) and Goodrum, will start the season in the big leagues for the first time.
“We’re just trying to get down to the right guys here,” Gardenhire said. “We told Amarista that we got other people in this situation who can cover more parts of the field. Amarista is kind of limited to the right side of the infield, arm-strength wise.”
Amarista, who played through shoulder soreness this spring, was informed of the club’s decision Saturday morning. He had an opt-out so he can re-sign with any team.
“We’re trying to keep him,” Gardenhire said. “Our goal is to try and re-sign him because we will probably end up needing him at some point this season. He has an opt-out where he can take it and go elsewhere, but we asked him to stay.”
Reyes, whom the Tigers selected with the first pick of the Rule 5 draft, and Hicks were veritable locks all spring. Jones (.326/.396/.465) and Goodrum (.300/.341/.700, four home runs, four doubles) have had sterling springs.
Jones will be the fourth outfielder, Reyes the fifth. Gardenhire was asked if finding playing time for those two would be a problem.
“No,” he said. “If we take them, we’re going to use them. We’re going to move people around. We have a left-handed hitting center fielder (Leonys Martin) and there’s going to be numbers that say he doesn’t do well against certain left-handed pitchers.
“We’ve got guys we’re going to pinch-run for late in games. There’s lots of ways to use them. We’re just going to kind of ad-lib as we go along.”
Goodrum, a switch-hitter, essentially replaces Andrew Romine as the Tigers’ Swiss Army knife utility man.
“He plays everywhere; I can put him anywhere,” Gardenhire said. “I knew him from before (Minnesota). I hadn’t seen him a while, but he’s done really well.”
The Tigers need to lop a player off the 40-man roster to make room for Goodrum, who was a non-roster invitee this spring.
The Tigers have two more cuts to make within the pitching staff – though both could be avoided because of injury concerns. Both starting pitcher Mike Fiers (back) and reliever Johnny Barbato (elbow) could start the season on the disabled list or in extended spring training.
“Fiers threw a bullpen (Saturday) and said everything felt great,” Gardenhire said. “But he needs more time. He’s not ready for this thing.”
Left-hander Daniel Norris will be the fifth starter in the rotation, but he too will stay in Lakeland and work for a week in extended spring training.
“He will come north with us for Opening Day,” Gardenhire said of Norris. “But he’s going to go back down and make another start (in Lakeland) and then come back up when his spot comes up in the rotation.”
Barbato threw a bullpen Saturday and came out of it feeling strong. He is expected to pitch in the final exhibition game on Tuesday.
“He’s not going to be ready to break with us,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got to see him throw. We have to seem him healthy and throwing.”
If that’s the case, the bullpen as it stands now is set: Closer Shane Greene, Alex Wilson, Daniel Stumpf, Drew VerHagen, Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer and Warwick Saupold.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Gardenhire said. “We haven’t told anyone yet (that they made the team). We will let Al do some more – there’s going to be all kinds of waiver action. People are making moves.
“You don’t announce a team until you see everything that’s there. I don’t want to tell somebody he’s made the team and then something comes up that fits us better.”