Last week, Detroit Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks officially started his rehab assignment with Class-A advanced Lakeland. Dirks, of course, was originally expected to platoon in left field with Rajai Davis, but he has been sidelined since undergoing back surgery in March. So far, Dirks has gone 4-for-13, batting a solid .308 in his first four games down in Lakeland.
The issue of what will happen when Dirks is ready to rejoin the team has become one of the hottest topics among Tigers fans, as none of the options are particularly attractive or comfortable. The most likely scenario seems to be that the Tigers will designate longtime utility man Don Kelly for assignment, but he is a valuable member of the team due to his versatility and he seems to be well-liked by his teammates as well as the fanbase. The possibility of cutting Andrew Romine has also been floated, but then the Tigers would be left without a true backup at shortstop. Kelly would have to play short when Eugenio Suarez sits, which is something he has not done in the big leagues since 2007. Another possibility is that the Tigers could opt to carry just 11 pitchers.
There is also, of course, the wild card that the Tigers could trade an outfielder, but who? Certainly not the hot-hitting J.D. Martinez or the speedy Davis. The Tigers could trade Austin Jackson, but would they feel comfortable enough with Dirks and Davis platooning in center field? Some fans have also talked about trading Torii Hunter, but he is making a lofty $14 million this year and the Tigers would miss his veteran leadership. Plus, his bat has perked up a bit lately.
Therefore, some have been wondering why Dirks, who batted a mere .256 with a .686 OPS last season, should automatically be considered “in” and take the roster spot of another Tiger once he is ready to do so. This is more than understandable, but the value of a healthy Dirks should not be underestimated.
Yes, Dirks’ 2013 campaign was a far cry from what Tigers fans hoped it would be, but it was later revealed that he was playing through a lingering knee injury all of last season. Just two years ago, Dirks batted .322 through 88 games with an .857 OPS. He also batted an eye-popping .336 against right-handed pitching.
If he is finally healthy, Dirks could provide the right-handed-heavy Tigers with a quality left-handed bat, and no matter what, he can also always be expected to play Gold Glove-caliber defense in the outfield. Although the Tigers will undoubtedly have a tough decision to make when Dirks is ready to rejoin the team, he deserves to have another chance to show what he can do when he is at full strength. The Tigers would be in the right to give him his job back.