Detroit – It was highly unlikely that the Tigers were going to go into spring training with two inexperienced shortstops – Niko Goodrum and rookie Willi Castro. Both general manager Al Avila and manager Ron Gardenhire talked about the likelihood of adding a veteran to that mix – at least as a safety net.
Meet the Tigers’ safety net. You already know him.
On Thursday, the Tigers and Jordy Mercer agreed to terms on a minor-league deal with an invitation to big league camp next month.
Mercer, 33, was expected to be the Tigers’ starting shortstop last season but a lingering right quad injury limited him to 74 games. Once he got healthy, though, he not only showed he could still produce offensively – slashing .305/.335/.497 after the All-Star break with eight home runs -- but he also showed multi-positional skills, playing third, second and first base.
"I feel like (last year) wasn't the year I wanted health-wise, but I feel like I rebounded really well," Mercer said at the end of last season. "I think I showed people I can still play. That's the biggest thing.
"I was able to get hot and play well for an extended period of time (50 games). I showed I can still run and then, moving around the diamond, I showed I could play other positions, as well."
Asked if he'd entertain a return to the Tigers, Mercer said, "I am not closing the door on anything. I definitely wouldn't mind coming back. They have to have some kind of veteran presence around here."
The Tigers seem committed to giving Goodrum every opportunity to seize the starting shortstop role and signing Mercer won’t change that.
“We want competition,” Gardenhire said before the winter caravan last week. “It’s time to win and show our fans that we’re heading in the right direction. We want to hold players accountable. There are no more gimmes.
“We want players to develop but they are going to have to earn playing time now.”
Barring injuries, Mercer’s best shot at making the club likely will be as a utility player. With rosters expanding to 26, the Tigers could use both Mercer and Harold Castro, who can also serve as an extra outfielder, in utility roles.
Brandon Dixon, also a non-roster invitee, is in the mix for a utility spot, as well.
If the Tigers could carry two veteran utility players, it would also allow Willi Castro to play every day at Triple-A Toledo. Which is probably the preferred scenario.