Machado could force way into role with Tigers

Machado could force way into role with Tigers

DETROIT -- Dixon Machado has spent the last couple of years as a shortstop option for the Tigers when Jose Iglesias has been injured. Now he's an option for the Tigers if Iglesias -- or even second baseman Ian Kinsler -- is traded this offseason.

It's a nice spot for Machado, who has been at Triple-A Toledo the past two seasons. But if Detroit's middle infield remains intact going into next spring, the Tigers could have a tough decision to make, since Machado is out of Minor League options.

What was once a burgeoning crop of Tigers middle-infield prospects has been whittled down to Machado. Devon Travis was blocked at second base by Kinsler before he went to Toronto in the Anthony Gose trade two years ago. Two-way shortstop Eugenio Suarez went to the Reds later that offseason in the trade that brought Alfredo Simon to Detroit. Hernan Perez went to Milwaukee on a midseason waiver claim in 2015 and has found a role with the Brewers.

All of those guys have shown promise with their bats. With Machado, currently the 14th-ranked Tigers prospect by MLB Pipeline, the appeal has always been the glove.

Machado has played in 258 games as a Mud Hen over the past two years, having risen through the system as a slick-fielding shortstop with quietly good baserunning. His glovework has produced highlights in Toledo -- where his acrobatic catch in short left field was one of the plays of the year in the Minor Leagues -- as well as Detroit, where his range up the middle rivals that of the Gold Glove Award finalist Iglesias.

"If the right deal for Iglesias were there, then you'd probably plug in Machado as your shortstop," general manager Al Avila said at last week's Winter Meetings. "When we were looking at the possibility of [trading] Kinsler, he would've played second base. If we have the infield intact, then there would be competition."

That competition would be with Andrew Romine for a utility spot. It's possible both Machado and Romine could make the team, considering Romine and Erick Aybar were both utility infielders on Detroit's 25-man roster for the stretch run of a playoff race this past season. But with slugging outfielder Steven Moya also out of options, the Tigers might have to find room for him, too.

The question with Machado has always been his bat, not just because of a .218 (17-for-78) batting average in Detroit, but also a .246 average over eight Minor League seasons. That includes a .266 batting average and a .705 OPS at Toledo this past year, and .261 and .645 in 2015.

"There are guys that think that he should be able to hit enough to be an everyday guy," Avila said. "That's a projection."

If Machado can do that, it would behoove the Tigers to find a way to keep him, with or without a trade. Iglesias is two years away from free agency, and with the Tigers looking to future payrolls with caution, his free agency could force them to decide where he fits. Kinsler could be a free agent next offseason unless his club option is picked up.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.