Las Vegas — On Tuesday night, Tigers general manager Al Avila said he was slow-playing the shortstop market, not wanting to rush a deal now and potentially miss out on a bigger and better deal later.
Less than 12 hours later, he is closing in on deal with veteran shortstop Jordy Mercer.
Reports from the camp of Mercer's agent, Scott Boras, first reported by MLB Network's Jon Heyman and Jon Paul Morosi, said Mercer and the Tigers agreed to a one-year deal worth $5.25 million.
Tigers general manager Al Avila, however, would not confirm that any agreement was finalized.
"I can't comment on that," he said. "Obviously, somebody put something out there, but I can't acknowledge that at this point. But our intention is to have a shortstop pretty soon."
There was no indication from either side that the deal was off or hung up. It is possible that Avila, as has always been his policy, would not confirm the deal until Mercer passed a physical.
Mercer, 32, has a career slash-line of .256/.316/.383 in seven seasons with the Pirates. Last season, sidelined by a hand injury in August, he played in just 117 games, hitting .251 with a .696 OPS and six home runs.
He has been a steady, positionally-sound defender over his career, but his metrics have slipped in recent years. In terms of defensive runs saved (per FanGraphs), his last plus season was 2014 (plus-9). He’s been a minus-19 the last three years (minus-9 in 2016, minus-1 in 2017 and minus-9 last season).
He has been at the top of the Tigers candidates list at shortstop since they decided not to bring back free agent Jose Iglesias. The Tigers are hoping he can bridge the gap at shortstop until top prospects Willi Castro and/or Sergio Alcantara are ready to compete at the big-league level.
Once the deal is official, the Tigers are expected to monitor the free agent market for a veteran second baseman, as well. There is a big list of potential candidates, including former Tiger Ian Kinsler, Brian Dozier, Neil Walker, Gordon Beckham and Logan Forsythe.
"We want to sit back and wait a bit, to see how the market develops," Avila said.
Avila said it was also likely the Tigers will leave the Winter Meetings without a trade partner for right fielder Nick Castellanos.
"There has been interest in him," Avila said. "But it still seems like other things have to happen, whether it be other free agents people are looking at or other bigger deals teams are looking to make, that have to fall in and then we will see where we fit in."