After the Detroit Tigers traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals on Dec. 2, some Tigers fans were left feeling underwhelmed by the package of talent the Tigers received in exchange for Fister. However, fans should rest assured that the Tigers did acquire at least one very solid utility player in Steve Lombardozzi. Moreover, Ian Krol will likely be a nice left-handed weapon out of the bullpen as well. Dave Dombrowski knows what he is doing, and rumor has it the Toronto Blue Jays also tried to acquire Fister but Dombrowski turned them down due to the fact that the Blue Jays simply did not have the players he wanted. Dombrowski liked Lombardozzi, Krol and pitching prospect Robbie Ray, and he brought them to Detroit for a reason.
After the trade was made, Dombrowski did not waste any time making the announcement that the addition of Lombardozzi will effectively end longtime Tigers utility infielder Ramon Santiago‘s tenure in Detroit. Santiago became a free agent after the 2013 season ended, and few believed the Tigers would attempt to re-sign him anyway.
Although Santiago had some great moments as a Tiger and Tigers fans will always remember his stellar defense and “sneaky power,” Lombardozzi will most likely be able to contribute much more to the team than Santiago has over the past few seasons due to the fact that he can play more positions and has the ability to hit for higher average. Lombardozzi is also nine years younger than Santiago.
Santiago came up with the Tigers way back in 2002 when he and Omar Infante were being hailed as the next Alan Trammell-Lou Whitaker double play combination. He was traded to the Seattle Mariners after the Tigers’ dismal 2003 season as part of the deal that sent Carlos Guillen to the Tigers, but he would return in 2006 and spend the next eight seasons as a Tiger.
From 2008-11, Santiago was in his prime and he was a fine utility player as his batting average would range from .260-280 and he always brought his glove to the party whether he was playing second base, shortstop or third base. However, Santiago has really tailed off over the past two seasons. Last season, Santiago hit just .224/.298/.288 with one home run and 14 RBI, and in 2012 he hit just .206/.283/.272 with two home runs and 17 RBI. Santiago is still a magician with the glove, but Lombardozzi will likely be a more consistent hitter for the Tigers.
Lombardozzi has a career line of .264/.297/.342 over three seasons and batted .259 last year and a rock solid .273 back in 2012. Moreover, it is also relevant to note that Lombardozzi was nearly a lifetime .300 hitter in the minor leagues as he batted .298 over four seasons.
Lombardozzi is most likely going to be used primarily at second and third base. If the rookie Nick Castellanos struggles at the plate, Lombardozzi could actually end up seeing a lot of playing time at the hot corner. He also has the ability to help out in left field which is something that Santiago could not do.
Lombardozzi can also be expected to see some time at shortstop, but some have raised concerns that the Tigers will not have a “natural backup” at shortstop in 2014 due to Santiago’s departure. However, that should be a non-issue. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has recently announced that the plan is to use Jose Iglesias at shortstop in upwards of 150 games next season, and Lombardozzi should be more than capable of filling in during the dozen or fewer games the Tigers need him to.
Even though Lombardozzi has only started two games at shortstop in the big leagues, he will have plenty of time to polish his skills at that position in Spring Training. He has a lifetime .987 fielding percentage at the four positions he has played and has not committed a single error in the 18 big-league innings he has logged at shortstop. He will be able to handle shortstop when called upon.
At any rate, Lombardozzi is a National League style player who will fit very nicely as Ausmus is likely to induce a bit of National League style baseball into the Tigers team in 2014 after spending the overwhelming majority of his 18-year career in the NL. Lombardozzi and the Tigers are a perfect match, and he will likely perform much better than Santiago.