As the Boston Red Sox front office rebuilds the team roster in the offseason, there are plenty of problems. What else could you expect from a team that ended with its worst record in nearly half a century? One of the vexing questions for a team that shed nearly a quarter billion in salary commitments with a blockbuster August trade is an odd one. Can the Red Sox afford to stick with Jose Iglesias at shortstop?
Boston gave the young Cuban defensive whiz an extended look in September. Iglesias played 25 of the 36 Red Sox games after the trade, relegating an unhappy Mike Aviles to the bench. It was the smart thing to do. In a season going nowhere, it gave general manager Ben Cherington and his staff a chance to evaluate Iglesias's readiness for the big leagues, and showcased his skills in case the team decides to include him in an offseason trade.
During the late-season tryout, Iglesias gave the Red Sox what they expected, but not what they had hoped.
In the field, the 22-year old was as spectacular as advertised. He made just two errors, but showed great range and incredibly soft hands. Teammates and opponents raved about his defense and marveled at a handful of truly spectacular plays. Clearly, Iglesias would be among the best defensive shortstops in the game if the Red Sox decided to make him the permanent starter.
At the plate, however, things weren't so positive. Iglesias began with a 2-for-35 stretch after being called up, an eye-catching .057 average. He improved somewhat as he played more, but ended the season batting just .118.
"I think the more important thing is you just stay positive in this game and you don't focus about the results," Iglesias said. "If you're healthy and you're on the field and helping the team, good things are going to happen."
But the question that faces Cherington and whomever is chosen as the new Red Sox manager is whether the team can afford to carry such a weak hitter in its everyday lineup. Winning baseball is about preventing runs as much as it is about scoring them. But on which side do the scales fall when measuring Iglesias? Do his superb fielding skills outweigh the drag he would be on the Boston batting order?
The Red Sox were at the forefront of the statistical revolution in baseball, and have sabermetrics guru Bill James working for the team. So, if any club is equipped to make a value judgment on Iglesias's ability to save runs versus his struggles to create runs, it is the Red Sox.
If not Iglesias, Boston has options. Both Mike Aviles and Pedro Ciriaco remain under team control. Perhaps the decision on Iglesias will be delayed, and the Red Sox will send him back to the minors to work on his hitting. But the decision process will be one of the intriguing story lines those of us in Red Sox Nation will be following, through the winter and into spring training.
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Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.
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