Detroit Tigers ‘might look into the free agent market’ for a shortstop. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

Based on wins and losses, the Detroit Tigers are no longer the worst team in baseball.

Manager AJ Hinch has led his team to a 22-23 record since the beginning of May, but the Tigers are still worse than the 29 other teams at one position. They have a league-worst minus-15 defensive runs saved — how many runs a player has, or hasn’t, saved on defense — at shortstop in 2021.

The next closest team is the Philadelphia Phillies at minus-9 DRS, followed by the Oakland Athletics (minus-8), Cincinnati Reds (minus-6), Boston Red Sox (minus-5) and Baltimore Orioles (minus-4).

After testing five players at shortstop this season, the Tigers might not find a solution from within.

“At the end of the day, we might even look into the free agent market, you never know,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said. “Or if we can make a trade. It’s a position we’re looking at as we move forward into next year and into the following year. Who’s going to be that guy? Do we have him here, or do we have to go outside of the organization? That’s a situation right now that we’re thinking about.”

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Willi Castro opened the season at shortstop, but his poor defense forced a transition to second base. Since then, the breakdown has been: Niko Goodrum (43 games), Willi Castro (18 games), Harold Castro (11 games), Isaac Paredes (three games) and Zack Short (three games).

Goodrum and Harold Castro each have minus-6 defense runs saved at the position. Willi Castro has minus-2 DRS, and Paredes finds himself at minus-1 DRS. (Short has zero DRS.)

“That’s a premier position and a very important one,” Hinch said. “It’s involved in as many plays as any position on the field, one way or another. The more consistent play we can get there, the better. We’re going to keep pushing our guys to get better.”

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The Tigers have made 10 errors at shortstop: seven from Goodrum, two from Willi Castro and one from Paredes. Goodrum went to the 10-day injured list Saturday with a tendon sprain in his left index finger; Paredes was recalled from Triple-A Toledo to take his place.

Before going to the injured list, Goodrum was the biggest letdown at shortstop because of his past success. He was one of three Gold Glove finalists — alongside Houston’s Carlos Correa and Seattle’s J.P. Crawford — in 2020.

His offense is troubling, too. In 59 games this season, Goodrum is hitting .216 with five home runs, 17 RBIs, 20 walks and 80 strikeouts.

Hinch put Goodrum’s defensive struggles on his coaching staff.

“Based on the previous play at shortstop for Niko, I know he’s got it in him,” Hinch said. “We’ve got to try as coaches to get more out of him.”

The good news is that third base isn’t a problem, considering Jeimer Candelario has played 60 games there. Second base belongs to Willi Castro, with 37 starts, but is shared by Jonathan Schoop when he isn’t playing first base. (Schoop won’t play shortstop, Hinch said.)

Second base could get tricky to figure out in the future, depending on how Willi Castro, Paredes, Short and Kody Clemens develop. For now, however, the biggest concern is shortstop.

“Shortstop is a position that we’re looking at a lot of different options,” Avila said.

Moving forward, expect Paredes and the Castros to share playing time at shortstop — unless one of them earns a greater role — until Goodrum returns. Paredes seems to have the best path to earning a daily gig in the short term.

“That’s going to be an interesting one right there,” Avila said about Paredes.

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When the Tigers acquired Paredes from the Chicago Cubs in 2017, he was an everyday shortstop. The 22-year-old has since spent most of his time at third base because of his limited range, but his footwork, hands and fundamentals are sound.

Paredes has played 454 games in the minor leagues, making 248 starts at shortstop, 122 at third base and 40 at second base. He owns a career .208 batting average, 12 walks and 29 strikeouts in 41 MLB games across the 2020 and 2021 campaigns.

“My first impression of Isaac is that he’s a good infielder,” Hinch said. “Essentially, he’s going to have to learn the nuances of the position again. He needs a little bit more time and experience to do it. I expect him to make the plays he should make, and I expect him to struggle with plays that are maybe outside his comfort zone. It’s just the way new positions are. I think he can do it.

“I think the infield skills that he has can translate to that position, specifically with some of the shifting that we do. We put guys in awkward positions anyway. We’ll see over time whether or not it’s something he’s going to take more responsibility with. That’s part of the evaluation period. It takes time, game reps and some observation in order to paint that picture, but I’m not afraid of trying it.

The Tigers shortstops — combining the efforts of Goodrum, Willi Castro, Harold Castro, Paredes and Short — are batting .215 (25th in MLB) along with a .293 on-base percentage (23rd), .345 slugging percentage (26th), 8.5% walk rate (12th) and 30.2% strikeout rate (27th).

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This offseason, there could be plenty of shortstop upgrades on the free agent market.

The headliners include Correa, plus Javier Baez, Corey Seager and Trevor Story. The price for an All-Star will be hefty, but the Tigers would see immediate improvements offensively and defensively.

There’s also the chance the Tigers trade for a shortstop at the July 30 deadline.

But until anything happens, Hinch is stuck with what he has.

“We’re going to keep working with our guys,” Hinch said. “We’re going to keep trying to get better. We need more consistent play and, certainly, the shortstop position is a premium position. I get that. We’ve tried a lot of guys, and we’re going to continue to try the guys that we have and see how much better we can make everybody.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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