Opening Day around Major League Baseball is just four days away and the Detroit Tigers seem to have their 25-man roster set. However, the team remains non-committal regarding some of their presumed bench personnel.
The team has made some roster announcements over the last few days. They first reassigned a number of players to minor league camp on Thursday. Then on Saturday, they granted veteran infielder Alexi Amarista his unconditional release. Detroit signed Amarista to a minor league deal with an invite to spring camp back in January. And on Sunday, one of those players reassigned on Thursday, lefty reliever Blaine Hardy was waived and eventually outrighted to Triple-A Toledo after going unclaimed.
So what does this all mean?
Well for starters, all signs point towards to the Tigers adding utility man Niko Goodrum to their 40-man roster in place of Hardy and bringing Goodrum north with the club for Opening Day. Goodrum, a former second-round pick of the Minnesota Twins back in 2010, was also signed by Detroit this offseason and invited to spring training to fight for the Tigers’ utility role.
The 26-year-old, switch-hitter Goodrum in 41 spring at-bats hit .317 with a 1.063 OPS for Detroit, playing in seven different positions throughout camp; all but nine of his defensive innings played were in the infield.
However, Goodrum is part of a trio — including outfielders JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes — that have yet to officially make the roster for Opening Day. Why? Well because the team still may make some additions to their organization through the waiver wire, as team general manager Al Avila reiterated to on Sunday.
“You want to wait to see what happens,” Avila said. “We still have two (exhibition) games to go. Injuries can occur. Injuries can occur in the workout. You always wait until just before the first game.”
“This is the time of year you see a lot of movement, just like with us and Hardy,” Avila said. “People are trying to create roster spots to add guys. Our job is, anybody who likes a guy, you recommend him and call him in. So far that hasn’t happened.
“Also, guys who were invited to Major-League camp, sometimes they get released, just like we released Alexi Amarista (on Saturday). There may be somebody out there that we like better. You look at that all the way through to the end.”
There is also a conundrum with both Jones and Reyes, two players who, as it stands now, would occupy two of the team’s likely four bench options as primary outfielders. The team is going to feel obligated to go with their Rule 5 pick Reyes, who must remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season for Detroit to be the sole owner of his services.
Both Avila and manager Ron Gardenhire have both said positive things about Reyes and his potential, making him a more likely candidate to stay over Jones, should the team acquire someone in the coming days before their first official game.
“He has not given us any reason to think that he can’t handle it,” Avila said. “We’re pretty excited about him, actually.”
“We’ll wait until the last day and see what happens,” Avila said of Reyes making the team.
Reyes has slashed .250/.291/.579 in 52 official at-bats thing spring. Defensively, he’s seen playing time in all three outfield positions, over 73 percent of his innings played in right field.
Meanwhile, Jones has slashed .326/.396/861 in 43 spring ABs (he’s hitting .318 with a .918 OPS in 110 ABs with Detroit over the last three spring training camps now). The question, however, continues to be whether Jones can translate that to the regular season in an everyday role, because the organization lauds him for his defensive prowess.
“If he hits, he’s set up to be a perennial all-star; he’s got that type of ability,” Avila said. “If he doesn’t hit, then he’s an extra outfielder. If you keep him up here and you can’t get him enough at-bats and enough action, there is no reason to say he can’t do enough to continue his development.
“And, quite frankly, you might protect him from failure a little bit. There is a lot that goes into a decision like this.”
Barring an addition to the roster from another club and/or an injury between now and Thursday, expect Goodrum, Jones and Reyes all to be on the 25-man Opening Day roster for the Tigers.
Detroit is also expected to put starter Mike Fiers on the DL to start the year, opening at least one start, perhaps two, for lefty Daniel Norris. He was expected to be the odd man out and be optioned to Toledo to start 2018.