COMMENTARY | "I coulda' been a contender. I coulda' been somebody, instead of" ... a backup shortstop, "which is what I am."
Like Terry, from the classic film "On the Waterfront," Jose Iglesias has to wonder why he's not a contender, in this case for the starting shortstop position on the Boston Red Sox. The answer to why he is not is due to a move made by Red Sox brass in the 2012 offseason. The Red Sox signed a short-term, sure-handed shortstop in Stephen Drew for 1 year and $9.5 million.
On the surface, the move made sense at the time of the signing. The Boston Red Sox knew Jose Iglesias was a superb defensive shortstop going into the 2013 season, but there was concern that his batting had to improve. In limited action at the major-league level in 2012 (25 games), he hit a paltry .118. Therefore, an equally reliable defensive shortstop with a lifetime .265 BA over 7 seasons was a security measure.
Not so quick! $9.5 million? For the last decade, the Red Sox brass and their efforts to sign productive shortstops has resembled 18-year-old girls shopping for cars from Bob's used car lot, without having someone more wise to the ways of such charlatans helping out. Since the unthinkable trade of the lovable Nomah (Nomar Garciaparra) at the 2004 trade deadline, the shortstop position has been a revolving door.
Orlando Cabrera took over for the departed Nomar Garciaparra and performed admirably. However, for his effort, the asking price was "too high" for the 2005 free agent, and he was sent packing. In his place came Edgar Renteria, an even higher asking price, and what turned out to be a 30-error first (and only) season. How high was the price? $40 million over four years which, after all was said and done, resulted in $22 million for 153 games played, or $143,790.85 per game.
Alex Gonzalez came along in 2006, was a substantial improvement defensively and earned far less money than his predecessors -- $2.68 million. Yet, the Theo Epstein-laden Kool-Aid that the Red Sox brass were drinking resulted in a decision to let Gonzalez walk.
This was followed in 2007 by the signing of one Julio Lugo, who resulted in a defensive regression from the deft play of Gonzalez and cost the Boston Red Sox $36 million. Over his three years in Boston, Lugo played a painfully below-par 266 games. That's $135,338.34 per woeful game played -- an improvement (sarcasm clearly intended).
Over the next five years, a virtual potpourri of shortstops has been the Red Sox brass' solution: Alex Cora/Jed Lowrie (2008), Nick Green/Alex Gonzalez (yes, the same one)/Julio Lugo/Jed Lowrie (2009), Marco Scutaro (2010), Marco Scutaro/Mike Aviles (2011), and Mike Aviles (2012).
"He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark, and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville!"
Things have changed for Jose Iglesias since the signing of Stephen Drew. He impressed in spring training, batting .294 and compiling more at-bats (68) than any player in camp for the Boston Red Sox. His fielding percentage in his 24 games played was .986. Stephen Drew saw limited action due to a concussion and hit .188 in 16 at-bats, and his fielding percentage was perfect.
When the regular season started, Iglesias was the starting shortstop due to Drew's injury. He played five games before being sent back to Pawtucket upon Drew's return from injury on April 10. He hit .450 in 20 at-bats and was perfect defensively (1.000 fielding percentage). Sure, this was a small sample size, but any concerns by Red Sox management about Iglesias' bat had to have been somewhat allayed.
Nevertheless, on came Stephen Drew, brother of J.D. Drew, fabled for his mysterious "injuries" and robot-like under-performance in Boston. But are these two cut from the same cloth? To be fair, the Red Sox decided to let the younger Drew answer this question on the field ... and thus far he has managed to prove he is remarkably similar to his brother: great defensively (.995 fielding percentage), painful at the plate (.213 in 150 at-bats), and uncannily prone to injury (44/58 games played). Go figure!
"Movin' on up"
Injury resulted in a DL stint for Will Middlebrooks, and on May 24t Iglesias was brought back to Boston to play third base. Not only has he not made an error, but he has also hit .424 in 33 at-bats. When combined with his play in April, Iglesias is batting .434 after 53 at-bats with no errors. Stephen Drew is batting .213 after 150 at-bats with 1 error. With both options, the defensive play is great. At the plate, the difference could not be clearer.
What does this mean going forward? It means that when Will Middlebrooks returns from the DL, the Boston Red Sox have a decision to make. If choosing the player which gives the team the best chance to win is paramount to the decision-making process, which it surely has to be, then the choice is clear: Jose Iglesias is the starting shortstop or starting third baseman going forward for the Boston Red Sox until his performance dictates otherwise.
Patrick Bernier is a freelance writer who has been following the Boston Red Sox for 25 years. You can follow Patrick on Twitter @PatrickBern7.
- Sports & Recreation
- Boston Red Sox
- Stephen Drew