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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