Red Sox Do Smart Thing, Option Iglesias

This morning, the Boston Red Sox optioned Jose Iglesias to Triple-A. Given that he hit .235/.285/.269 in 387 plate appearances during his time in Pawtucket last year, this seems like a pretty obvious decision. While Iglesias has defensive skills that suggest he can have value even if he doesn’t ever develop into much of a hitter, there’s still a level of minimally acceptable offensive performance to make the big leagues, and it’s not clear that Iglesias currently crosses that level.

Even if we accept that Iglesias is a better hitter than his numbers last year indicate, ZIPS still projects him for just a .268 wOBA as a big leaguer this year, or about the same level of production provided by Alex Rios and Adam Dunn in 2011. Even if he was the best defensive shortstop in the game right now, that level of offense would mean he’d still top out as about a +2 win player. The upside for this skillset is basically Alcides Escobar, who posted a .282 wOBA and +10 UZR last year, and was worth +2.2 WAR in 598 PA. In reality, we’re dealing with a hitter who would need to improve significantly to get to a .282 wOBA, and projecting him as a +10 defender as a rookie is extremely aggressive.

If the Red Sox had no alternatives, Iglesias’ defensive value means that he probably wouldn’t kill them, but they do have alternatives – the perfectly useful tandem of Mike Aviles (.311 wOBA by ZIPS) and Nick Punto (.300 wOBA by ZIPS). It’s being reported that Aviles is going to be the starter, but in reality, we’re probably going to see the two share playing time, considering that they’re perfect complements for each other. Punto is a left-handed defensive specialist, while Aviles bats from the right side and is more of an offensive threat. Even if Aviles gets most of the starts, Punto can spell him as a defensive replacement and start on days that the Sox put GB starters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz on the mound.

During Aviles’ career, he’s been worth +2.5 WAR per 600 PA, while Punto has racked up +2.6 WAR per 600 PA during his time in the big leagues. While it’s reasonable to think that the 34-year-old Punto and 31-year-old Aviles might both be on the down side of their career, a job share between the two should project for between +1.5 and +2.5 WAR on the season, and let the team maximize their individual strengths based on the days match-ups.

In other words, if you think Iglesias is an elite defender right now, and will hit better in the Majors this year than he did in the minors last year, then he’d be about as good as a Punto/Aviles platoon with little upside beyond that.

Despite the mini media storm surrounding this decision, this really was a pretty easy call. Iglesias can hang out in Triple-A and work on improving his offensive performance while the Red Sox get similar or better production from the two useful veterans they already had in camp. If either gets hurt or performs poorly, Iglesias will be considered for a call-up, just like every other not-quite-ready-for-prime-time prospect in the sport.

In the end, this whole thing just seems like a manufactured story. The Red Sox have two guys on the roster capable of providing value at shortstop, and a shortstop prospect who probably can’t hit enough to justify a spot on the roster. That the kid got sent down shouldn’t really qualify as news.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

55 Responses to “Red Sox Do Smart Thing, Option Iglesias”

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  1. bonestock94 says:

    I don’t understand why anyone is clamoring over Cesar Izturis 2.0

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    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      who is clamoring? i never hear anyone mention iglesias, much less sing his praises. honestly i had forgotten all about him until this article.

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      • Mike says:

        Approximately half of the Sox fans in New England.

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      • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

        well if you live in new england and/or follow red sox media, thats a you problem.

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      • Sandy Kazmir says:

        Nice One Shot Kill, Sleight

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      • Mike says:

        It stems from three things really:

        1. Having not had a long-term answer at shortshop since Nomar was traded in 2004.
        2. Having heard for the past two years that Iglesias is the shortshop of the future
        3. Bobby V saying how much he liked the kid and suggesting he should be on the Opening Day roster

        Every team’s fans overvalue their own prospects. This is an example of the perfect storm with a touted prospect who fits the perceived positional need, coupled with a manager who suggests that the hype may be justified, which validates that valuation.

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      • Afrogoose says:

        Thanks, Sleight of Hand Pro. I’m glad you could take the time off from your pizza shop to post here.

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    • CampBrice says:

      Because many think he can be Ozzie Smith 2.0

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      • Steve says:

        Except Ozzie Smith could actually hit a little.

        He is more likely Rey Ordonez 2.0, and the only reason anyone has ever even heard of him is because he plays for Boston.

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      • EarlSweatshirt says:

        “and the only reason anyone has ever even heard of him is because he plays for Boston”

        Or, because he has as close to an 80 grade glove at the SS position as any prospect in the past decade. I think Keith Law was the one who said watching him take infield is the equivalent to baseball porn. He’s a flawed player, but guys who have a singular great tool (whether it’s power, speed, defense, etc.) always have a bit of hype…complaining about some Boston bias is ignorant and sounds pathetically whiny.

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      • Dan says:

        Actually, Ozzie Smith could not really hit. .262/.337/.328 stat line is weak even for an 80′s SS. Most overrated player of all time.

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      • termain says:

        Dan,

        “Most overrated player of all time.” Seriously? More overrated than Juan Gonzales or Ruben Sierra? And who was overrating him? He never placed higher than 2nd in the MVP vote and won just one Silver Slugger award.

        Smith actually hit pretty well, particularly after 1984 when he wasn’t injured. He posted 8 seasons with wOBA over .320 including one with (1987) with a wOBA over .350. Those numbers are good for a league average defensive shortstop, nevermind a “Greatest Defender of All Time” candidate.

        And offense is more than just batting, it’s baserunning, particularly for a low power/high OBP player like Smith. 580 Steals with a CS% of 20.0 means he added a lot with steals alone. As a result, Smith had 8 seasons with a wRC+ over 100. That is, he was a better than average offensive player in 8 seasons. Even with his weaker pre-1984 seasons considered, he was still a 94 wRC+ player for his career. That is, average Ozzie Smith was just 6% off the average hitter — for any position.

        Smith’s bat, averaged across his career, would be good enough to get a starting position with average defense. With great defense, well, you get a Hall of Fame player. Even if you think TZ overrates him by, say, 90 Runs Saved, he’s still a 60+ WAR player.

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    • mbrady16 says:

      Yea, Tampa’s a real dream in comparison to New England right Sandy?

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      • Sandy Kazmir says:

        I only lived in Tampa briefly, spending more time in Orlando, but I remember the winter’s generally being a lot nicer, though this year’s wasn’t so bad. I’ve never lived in New England, and Lawds willing, I’ll never have to.

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      • mbrady16 says:

        I was being sarcastic. Tampa sucks. I’d much rather be in the Boston area aside from the weather.

        The media is more annoying sure, but that’s mostly because in Florida nobody cares about the Rays (except you it seems).

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    • aquanarc says:

      Give me a break. Iglesias is the greatest defensive player of all time.

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  2. Ayuh says:

    I love ending a piece with, “this probably wasn’t worth reading.”

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  3. Sandy Kazmir says:

    Do you expect him to become a better batter in AAA this year? Otherwise you’re in the same situation next year a very good glove that can’t hit a lick. With fielding skill diminishing throughout a player’s career he probably won’t turn into a better fielder in the future. So if he’s not a viable option this year, what makes you think he will be one next year or ever?

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    • Brian says:

      Sandy–he’s 22 years old. Players that age are a good bet to continue improving for a while, regardless of what level they’re at. Another year of development could turn him into a .290-.300 wOBA hitter, which with his defense would make him a viable ML starter. It’s worth a shot, anyway.

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      • Sandy Kazmir says:

        That’s why I was asking since Dave never mentioned the point. Is it likely that he will show improvement? I have no idea, but I’d say there’s a decent chance he makes his bat useful enough. My concern is with a guy like Reid Brignac. Brignac is a very good defender, though you’re right that it’s a different situation as he’s older and I don’t think you can expect any improvement out of his bat other than regression from one of the worst seasons of all time. I’d say .300 is probably a bit of a pipe dream outside of his best seasons, but .280-.290 probably plays. I just wonder how likely it is that he can get to that level.

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    • NS says:

      This will be Iglesias’ third professional season and he has played way over his head (both in terms of age and experience) the entire time.

      How many 22 year old prospects do you ask that question about in general? Has to be close to zero.

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    • Preston says:

      They advanced him pretty aggressively, there’s a chance that he was treading water last year and will make huge strides this year. I’m not really concerned with his poor BA. The fact is he doesn’t walk much and doesn’t hit for power, those things aren’t likely to change. His .285/.315/.357 line in AA probably represents close to his max capabilities at the ML level. So he better be as good as advertised with the glove to be an above average player.

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  4. Brian says:

    Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe has been beating the drum for Iglesias this spring to an almost comical degree, and hinting that Valentine was sold on giving the rookie the starting job. I guarantee you that his column next Sunday will lead with an emotional diatribe about how the Sox have sold 2012 for a mess of pottage and probably ruined the kid’s career.

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  5. Josh Amaral says:

    Think he’s going to improve fairly drastically from those abysmal AAA numbers last year. I think maybe as soon as next year he can outperform a .300wOBA with excellent defense.

    That said, sending him down now is a no brainer. Allow him to get grounded in AAA, build some solid numbers up down there to build confidence in his newfound “approach” while delaying his service time. One Boston writer(probably Speier or Bradford) aptly pointed out that bringing him up in May/June would delay his entry into FA til after his age 28 season. If he’s actually valuable once in the bigs, it’s possible the Sox sign him to an extension like they have with their young talent, buying out the first two or so years of FA.

    Under that scenario, an improved Iglesias from 23-28(or 30!) with league avg offense and well above average defense? And he’s off the books right as his prime winds down, or 22-27 with the questionmarks and spotlight that exist on him?

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    • vivalajeter says:

      It seems to me like people are getting too carried away with service time issues these days. The pendulum has swung too far. This isn’t a Trout or Harper type of player. He may never even be an average regular at SS. The reason to keep him in the minors is because the team is better off with other options this year – it’s not to ensure that he’s a free agent in 7 years instead of 6 years (or whatever the correct number of years is). He’ll never be the type of player that scores in arbitration – unless the arbitration panel suddenly stresses defense instead of offense – so delaying his service wouldn’t be worthwhile if he was their best option at SS in a tight race.

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      • EarlSweatshirt says:

        The service time issue is overstated, but it’s certainly a factor if it’s close. Even if Iglesias was marginally better than Aviles/Punto (which I don’t think he is), a strong case could be made for stashing him at AAA for depth/insurance…it’s a long season.

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  6. Shane H says:

    Although he is known for his defense, scouts see some upside in his offense due to his athleticism and shore hands. Perhaps Elvis Andrus. Nomar Garciapparra got alot of accolades early in his minor league career due to being a strong glove. Garciapparra slugged about .380 at double A Trenton as a 21 year old, while Iglesias spent his 21 year old season really struggling offensively at AAA, partially due to a beaning and other injuries. At age 22 Nomar Garciapparra really started hitting at AAA in 1996 and was in the bigs by the end of the year. While I do not expect Iglesias to hit for power like Nomar, I could see him developing into a league average offensive shortstop in the next couple years. Interested to see how well he does at AAA this year. Disclaimer: I’m a Red Sox fan.

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      If Iglesias was on as many performance enhancers as Nomar then I think he’d be hitting with more power as well. If only the time machine was completed.

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      • Shane H says:

        True DAT!

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      • EarlSweatshirt says:

        Yeah, Nomar was all smoke and mirrors, a product of steroid usage. If only the rest of the MLB could’ve taken performance enhancers from 97-03, everyone would’ve had 7 WAR shortstp. It’s a shame Nomar was able to hoard all those PED’s for himself.

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  7. Makes sense to me. The two guys ahead of him on the depth chart warrant a look and are out of options anyway.

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  8. Greg says:

    Allegedly Bobby V. was drinking the kool-aid this spring, or at least that’s what the Boston media was reporting.

    Watching him a few games this spring though, he really is as advertised. His defense is incredible and even knowing his reputation there were a lot of impressive plays. At the same time, he’s embarrassingly bad at the plate. There were more than a few plate appearances that made me want to bury my head in my hands.

    That said, he was probably over-hyped going into 2011 for a player that was a 50-ish ranked prospect in baseball, but at the same time he’s being slammed too much following his 2011. He put up atrocious numbers in AAA, but he was also the second youngest player in the league. He realistically only needs to develop competency at the plate to be an average or better overall player.

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    • Sounds like the Carlos Gomez of SS

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    • NS says:

      His high ranking had a real basis, though. He was aggressively promoted in his first pro season and didn’t fall on his face. You combine that with good bat speed and an 80 glove at 21 and scouts are going to be impressed.

      He went ahead and fell on his face in AAA last year, and deserves to be off of all the top 100 lists for that reason. But there’s still plenty of warranted optimism – not about Iglesias as a major league shortstop, but about Iglesias as a prospect.

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  9. Miguel Arias says:

    No bench player has ever gotten this much coverage.

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  10. jdm says:

    Punto – left-handed? There was a right-handed guy impersonating him the other day in ST.

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  11. George says:

    When you are assessing the defensive value of a player, do you also take into consideration the effect that player’s defense (whether better or worse than average) has on the pitcher, or pitchers, on that team? It’s something I’ve always wondered. When talking about the position of SS, will saving 10 or 15 runs more than the average SS have a significant impact on a pitcher or pitching staff? Or is it negligible? Do they throw more innings but not enough so to warrant looking into it further?

    Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you had two 3 win shortstops. One was an average defender and an above average hitter, while the other was an average hitter but above average fielder, would the effect the fielder had on the pitching staff make the defender more “valuable”, since everything else is equal? Saving their starters from throwing more pitchers, then saving their relievers from having to come in earlier? Or is it so small that it makes very little difference.

    It’s something I’ve always wondered, because I would think a single player’s defense tends to affect others more than a single player’s offense. Or am I wrong in thinking that?

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    • RedClaw42 says:

      What I’ve read here in the past is that the effects are generally very small. The biggest one that I’ve heard of being real is diminishing returns – Imagine several amazing center-fielder types in the same outfield, they’d run down a lot of the SAME balls in the gaps.

      Beyond that sort of thing, which is pretty rare (I think), most of the other effects are quite small. Let’s say you’ve got an amazing shortstop. Let’s say he generates one more out per game than an average shortstop (Note: This is way more than actually happens in practice.).

      That saves, what, 3-5 pitches for the pitcher? That’s pretty minor. And that’s a severely overstated effect – I believe the best MLB defenders are something like 1/2 out per game or less. (But I’d have to run a bunch of numbers to be precisely sure.)

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      • ODawg says:

        Damn near every player who has ever worn a uniform will tell you “YES, having a great defender at shortstop is important to a team.” Are these guys going to be able to win an argument with Dave Cameron about it? No. But having a vacuum who doesn’t hit much out there has more value to a team than having a middling offensive and defensive player. That’s what Sox fans have been looking for – someone who feels like a permanent solution – and we’ve been stuck with middling or worse since 2005. That’s why this is news.

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  12. tz says:

    His glove is fantastic. Reminds me a ton of a former Red Sox prospect named Juan Bustabad, except Bustabad was able to work a few more walks in the mix.

    If Iglesias finally gets the knack of hitting, he could progress to be the next Alcides Escobar.

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  13. pft says:

    Fans have a tendency to overrate their own prospects, this is especially true in Boston.

    In Boston, SS who are all glove and no hit tend to get run out of town. Alex Gonzalez most recently. Punto is supposed to be a good glove but most fans were concerned after trading Scutaro because Punto is not a good hitter.

    But Iggy is a prospect, so who cares if he can hit.

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    • aquanarc says:

      So, “getting run out of town” = the FO letting him walk and signing a better player in Scutaro?

      Also I’d love to see some evidence for the “especially true in Boston” claim, other than the fact that so many people (sheep) believe it.

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  14. pft says:

    For all the talk of Iglesias great defense, he is prone to the occasional mistake with 19 errors in 154 minor league games.

    To put that in context, only 6 MLB qualified SS had a lower FP%.

    I believe MGL said somewhere that UZR may not measure the impact of errors enough in terms of runs allowed.

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