DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers lineup suffered a major blow Tuesday when Miguel Cabrera ruptured a tendon in his bicep that will require season-ending surgery.
Cabrera was one of three players leading the Tigers' offense this season, posting an .843 OPS in 38 games. He only hit three home runs, but his 11 doubles and 22 walks made him an effective bat in the middle of the lineup.
Now, Nicholas Castellanos and Jemier Candelario are the only active Tigers with an OPS over .800. They've been the two best hitters on the team -- combining for 16 homers, 37 doubles and six triples -- but Cabrera's injury leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the lineup.
Christin Stewart call-up makes sense
The Tigers aren't competing for a playoff spot this season, so making a trade to replace Cabrera wouldn't make any sense. Whoever is asked to replace his production will have to come from inside the organization.
There's no better candidate than Christin Stewart.
The 24-year-old outfielder is a perfect fit for the situation, at least on the offensive side. He's got 13 home runs and 13 doubles in Triple-A this season and an excellent .878 OPS. For a Tigers team that ranks last in Major League Baseball in home runs, Stewart's power would be welcome in the middle of the order.
Stewart has proven he can hit at all minor-league levels, racking up 81 home runs over four seasons. He has a career on-base percentage of .362 and an OPS of .872, so he's not a home run or bust type of guy.
Realistically, there's no reason for the Tigers not to call him up.
Stewart is 24 years old, which isn't necessarily young for a prospect in today's game. The Tigers aren't competing for a playoff spot, so they can afford to give him consistent playing time, even if he struggles.
Stewart is considered a poor defensive outfielder, but that's not going to change, no matter how long the Tigers wait to call him up. He's not going to improve significantly in the minor leagues, so keeping him in Toledo to work on his defense is becoming a tired excuse from Tigers brass.
Detroit is trying to build for the future, and so far, the only position players who appear to be in it for the long haul are Candelario and Castellanos. It's time for the Tigers to find out if Stewart can be part of that group.
Cabrera's injury gives them an opportunity to begin the process.
Should Nicholas Castellanos move to first base?
There's one obvious problem with calling up Stewart to replace Cabrera: Stewart is an outfielder and Cabrera is a first baseman.
Position crunches have a way of working themselves out when teams want to add a really good hitter into the lineup, and the Tigers could find a way to get everyday at-bats for Stewart.
One of the most popular theories is that Castellanos could move to first base to make room for Stewart in the outfield. Many fans were calling for the move even before Cabrera's injury, hoping he would move to designated hitter and bump Victor Martinez out of the lineup.
Moving a position player to first base can often be oversimplified in baseball. People believe anyone who struggles in the field can simply be moved to first base because it's easy and relatively unimportant. In reality, first base is a difficult, important position to play at the big-league level.
But that doesn't mean a Castellanos move to first base is a bad idea.
Castellanos has developed into the hitter Tigers fans dreamed he would become, leading the team with an .846 OPS. He's batting .316 with the elite hard-contact rate to back it up, and 31 extra-base hits in 65 games.
At 26 years old, Castellanos looks like the best hitter on the team, and he's a bat the organization can build a lineup around. But he's a bad defensive player.
After four years of below-average defense at third base, the Tigers moved Castellanos to right field to make room for Candelario this offseason.
Castellanos grades out as the worst defensive right fielder in baseball with negative-nine defensive runs saved. His range and arm strength have graded out well below average.
Castellanos is an excellent hitter, but a defensive liability.
To put Castellanos' defensive struggles into perspective, Jose Iglesias has been a more valuable overall player -- a 1.3 WAR to a 1.1 WAR -- despite his below-average offensive numbers.
There's no guarantee that Castellanos would work out at first base, but the position could theoretically hide his range limitations.
Why not give it a try?
The Tigers have plenty of time to experiment during their rebuild, so they could at least give Castellanos a chance at first base and see what happens.
In the worst-case scenario, the move wouldn't work and the Tigers would have to move Castellanos back to the outfield -- no harm, no foul.
But the best-case scenario is that Castellanos can play a solid first base, which would keep his bat in the lineup without the defensive concerns. That would also allow the Tigers to truly find out what they have in Stewart.
The lineup has been starved for a left-handed power hitter, and maybe Stewart is the answer. The Tigers will never know unless they give him a chance.
Stewart has played nearly every game of his career in left field, so the Tigers would have to move another outfielder to right field. JaCoby Jones and Niko Goodrum would be possible options.
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