Tigers first baseman C.J. Cron hit the injured list due to a left knee sprain yesterday, and the outlook on the slugger doesn’t appear good. Cron spoke with Tigers beat reporters today, revealing that surgery to repair a ligament in his knee will likely be required (Twitter links via Evan Woodbery of MLive.com and Jason Beck of MLB.com). Cron’s hope, however, is that he can strengthen the ligament enough to return to play this summer and undergo any necessary procedure in the offseason. For now, he’s in a brace and gathering more information while the swelling goes down.
The play that caused the injury saw Cron drop to one knee to field a sharp one-hop grounder (video link). The first baseman explained that during his crouch, he sustained damage to a stabilizing ligament in his left knee that caused his kneecap to pop out of place. Cron was helped off the field by manager Ron Gardenhire and athletic trainer Doug Teter. He did not appear able to put any weight on his left knee.
“It’s kind of just floating around in there, so it could pop out at any time really,” Cron said of his kneecap (Twitter link via Beck). “That’s why, if we do this, we’re going to have to be super smart about taping it, bracing it and trying to keep that kneecap as stable as possible.”
It’s a tough blow for both Cron and the Tigers. The 30-year-old is playing the 2020 season on a one-year, $6.1MM contract and had hoped to position himself for either a raise or a multi-year deal as a free agent this winter. He was hitting just .190 through his first 52 plate appearances, but that was largely a function of a fluky .182 average on balls in play. Cron had belted four home runs and already drawn nine walks — he walked just 29 times in 499 plate appearances a year ago — resulting in an overall .190/.346/.548 slash. He ranked among the league leaders in terms of walk percentage and (per Statcast) barreled-ball percentage in the season’s early stages.
For the Tigers, meanwhile, they’re now left with a hole at first base for the foreseeable future. Gardenhire said yesterday that he doesn’t expect Miguel Cabrera to return to first base with regularity, though he may get an occasional start there. For now, it sounds as though the plan is for Jeimer Candelario to line up at first base with Dawel Lugo seeing regular reps at third base. That figures to represent an offensive downgrade for the surprising Tigers, who’ve gotten out to a 9-6 start on the season.
Speculatively speaking, it seems possible that the Tigers could look outside the organization for some alternatives at first base. Veteran Logan Morrison and promising-but-oft-injured Greg Bird were both designated for assignment this week and could make some sense. As far as in-house options go, first baseman Frank Schwindel is already in Detroit’s player pool. Fans may clamor to turn things over to 2020 top overall pick Spencer Torkelson, but starting his service clock the same year he was drafted seems both unlikely and sub-optimal from a developmental standpoint.