DETROIT – Zack Short had a really, really bad game Sunday in Cleveland, dooming the Detroit Tigers with a couple of critical errors. The fan base lost its collective mind over his struggles, but in reality, the team has much bigger problems at shortstop.
And we all know what it’s going to take to fix them.
Short joined the Tigers in late April and stabilized the shortstop position for a few weeks -- posting a .377 on-base percentage and .808 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) across 19 games. He hit three home runs and two doubles, drew 15 walks and played strong defense. Finally, the Tigers had a reliable all-around player at one of the game’s most important positions.
Well, so we thought.
Unfortunately, the last 21 games have been a nightmare for Short at the plate. He’s gone just 5-for-59 with three walks and 22 strikeouts. His .085/.123/.203 (batting average/OBP/slugging) slash line has made him borderline unplayable, but A.J. Hinch doesn’t have any other options, so the rookie was forced to play through it.
Luckily, during that slump, Short continued to play great defense at shortstop -- something the team’s other potential options can’t offer. That changed Sunday.
Short made two critical errors in Sunday’s loss to the Cleveland Indians -- one that extended an inning and allowed the Indians to turn a 5-2 lead into a tie game. His defensive struggles, combined with another hitless performance at the plate (with two strikeouts), drew out the torches on social media. Minutes after the game went final, Short was optioned to Triple-A.
That move needed to be made, but it’s not for the sake of the current team. It’s more so for Short’s long-term development.
Short has to work out some major holes in his swing -- mainly an inability to catch up to fastballs in the upper half of the strike zone. But has anyone been watching this team for the last three years? Short going to the minors won’t improve the 2021 Tigers, because nobody behind him is an upgrade.
Why Short’s demotion won’t help
It looks like Short’s replacement will most likely be Niko Goodrum, who has been on an injury rehab assignment since early July. Basically, the Tigers will be replacing a 26-year-old shortstop who strikes out too much with a 29-year-old shortstop who strikes out too much and is shaky on defense.
Short has had a few miserable weeks at the plate, but Goodrum has battled many of the same issues for two years. Since the start of the 2020 season, Goodrum has played in 106 games with a strikeout rate of 37.2%.
Oh, you’re frustrated by Short’s errors? He’s made three of them in 158 chances at shortstop this year. Goodrum has made seven in 166 chances at the position. By the numbers, Short has been about average as an MLB shortstop, and Goodrum is well below average.
Again, Short needs some time in the minors, but don’t expect his demotion to help the Tigers.
Harold Castro is another option, and while everyone appreciates his .283 batting average, he has also been a defensive liability at shortstop. Yes, Castro can play several positions, but shortstop isn’t one that he plays particularly well. Meanwhile, at the plate, his .643 OPS is well below league average. The Tigers would basically be hoping Castro could single his way to being a replacement-level player.
Beyond Goodrum and Harold Castro, we all saw what happened with Willi Castro at shortstop. The Tigers aren’t likely to try that experiment again.
The point is: Detroit only has one player who can truly handle shortstop defensively, and that’s Short. Unfortunately, his offense has forced the team’s hand. Now he’ll be replaced with someone who’s incrementally better at the plate and incrementally worse on defense. I’m not sure that’s a net gain, and even if it is, it’s minimal.
What needs to be done
It’s no secret what the Tigers have to do to address their hole at shortstop. It’s been the talk of the town all season: They have to open the check book in free agency.
This year’s crop of free agent shortstops isn’t likely to be matched in the near future. Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Baez and Marcus Semien will all be available this offseason. If the Tigers are serious about contending, they have to land one of them.
Semien has been playing second base this season in Toronto, and Baez leads the league in strikeouts. Still, they would be significant upgrades.
Landing Correa or Seager would be the biggest splashes. Both have MVP upside and would look great in the middle of the order, but as a result, the price will be steep.
It’s possible Story could be the best bargain of the bunch. He’s having a disappointing season at the plate, and he’ll come with the uncertainty of a player leaving the friendly confines of Coors Field. Regardless, he’s a star and would look great in the Old English D.
No matter which player they choose, the Tigers have to address shortstop in the offseason. It’s such a star-studded position throughout the league, and they can’t afford to be hopelessly behind the pack.
Chris Ilitch and Al Avila claim they’re ready to make a splash. Well, here are five names -- one of them needs to be the main priority.