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McGair: Red Sox shortstop? Why not Jose Iglesias?

January 29, 2012

Jose Iglesias

Why not Jose Iglesias?
More than a week has gone by since the Red Sox traded shortstop Marco Scutaro. The exchange with Colorado marked the second time this offseason that general manager/budget balancer Ben Cherington has shipped away a potential starting shortstop, last month’s Jed Lowrie-to-Houston swap officially re-catalogued as the first domino to fall.
The question emanating from Red Sox fans was simple, direct and to be expected. Who was going to become Dustin Pedroia’s double-play partner in crime? In the aftermath of the Sox shooing Scutaro to the Rockies, the notion of Boston hitching its wagon to a shortstop platoon headlined by Mike Aviles and Nick Punto has received plenty of pub. Two heads are better than one? Sure appears to be the resolution Cherington & Co. had in mind when flipping Scutaro with less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers. Consider this: Boston is now banking on two players in Aviles and Punto who since the start of the 2010 season have combined to appear in 66 games at shortstop. For comparison’s sake, Scutaro averaged 120 games at shortstop during his two-year tenure with the BoSox.
Again, why not Jose Iglesias?
It is Iglesias, not Punto or Aviles, who should be entrenched as the Red Sox’ primary shortstop. Don’t bring to the table the fact that Iglesias hit .235 in 101 games with Pawtucket last season and has amassed 618 at-bats in two minor-league seasons, because that’s what one industry type hinted at when writing, “he needs more time in AAA to develop fully as a player.”
In the same email, the source added “Jose’s defense is major-league caliber and having that type of defense at SS can absolutely help a pitching staff.”
Bingo.
If Iglesias’ glove is the stuff of big leaguers, then surely the on-field dividends are well worth the exchange of carrying a perceived weak bat on a Red Sox team that has plenty of offense to begin with. After all, we’re talking about someone who was front-and-center in the PawSox turning 148 double plays in 2011, one off the franchise record.
“We get a double play and it’s less pitches for the pitcher to throw and it’s better for the team,” Iglesias remarked last September.
Again, bingo. The job of a middle infielder is to track down balls that lead to outs that result in the starting pitcher remaining in the game longer. Surely that skill is held in greater reverence, especially when two-fifths of the staff, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, are noted “worm killers,” i.e. contact-inducing groundball pitchers.
The problem with Iglesias isn’t that he’s a lineup liability. It’s the perception of the shortstop position in general, particularly when referencing those associated with American League franchises. Once upon a time, teams keened in on the notion of having a slick-fielding shortstop rather than someone who fit the bill as a staunch run producer. Nowadays the mandate calls for the shortstop to not only anchor the defense, but also provide some offensive punch.
Blame such modern day thinking on the accomplishments of Cal Ripken Jr. during his Hall of Fame career. Legend has it that when Orioles manager Earl Weaver shifted Ripken Jr. from third base to shortstop during the 1982 season, it was seen as an offensive-minded skipper looking to add more firepower to a position typically devoid of such.
The rest, as they say, is history. Ripken Jr. made Weaver look like a certified genius by generating plenty of pop – Ripken Jr.’s 345 home runs as a shortstop stands as a position record – while also providing the Orioles with rock-steady glove work.
A quick overview of Ripken on defense: Cal holds American League season records for most assists by a shortstop (583) and fewest errors by a shortstop (three). He led AL shortstops in fielding percentage an astounding eight times. He also won two Gold Gloves.
To summarize, Cal did it all. He set the bar high for those shortstops following in his 6-foot-4 shoes. The doors in Cooperstown will swing open this summer to welcome Barry Larkin, a gifted two-way player who in 1996 distinguished himself as the first shortstop to register 30 homers and 30 steals in a season. Larkin also received three Gold Gloves at a time when Ozzie Smith enjoyed a stranglehold on the National League’s version of the award.
Further examples include Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and A-Rod (before he moved to third) right up to and including today’s premier shortstop, Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. All of them took the torch from Ripken Jr., displaying power and size – each stood at least six feet – that re-defined what’s expected from a major-league shortstop.
Iglesias, all 5-11 of him, shouldn’t be confused as shortstop’s next great duel threat. He doesn’t have to produce at the level of Smith (lifetime .262 hitter) or Omar Vizquel (.272) or steal bases at the rate Luis Aparicio did during his Hall of Fame career (the Venezuelan native swept 506 bags in 18 seasons, which included nine Gold Gloves).
He just has to go out there and be light on his feet and quick with his wrists. Do those two things over and over and it won’t matter how high or low he hits.
Last week an article posted on ESPN.com suggested that Iglesias could wind up having the same type of career as former New York Mets shortstop Rey Ordóñez. In the field Ordóñez had few peers, displaying a smooth glove that overshadowed the fact that he never hit higher than .258 in his six seasons as a Met. It’s worth noting that Bobby Valentine served as Ordóñez’ manager during the majority of the player’s New York tenure. One wonders if the new Red Sox skipper ends up flashing back to the 90s while watching Iglesias go about his business during spring training.
As of today, the tandem of Punto and Aviles has been entrusted with the task of replacing Scutaro at shortstop. Meanwhile Iglesias, the perceived long-term answer upon signing with Boston in 2009, is being mentioned as Pawtucket’s starting shortstop. The guy with “pitcher’s best friend” written all over him should be the one teaming up with Pedroia with the Red Sox at the start of the 2012 season, not two guys who could end up inducing more John Lackey-esque stare downs/gnashing of teeth from those toeing the rubber rather than double plays.
For one final time, why not Jose Iglesias?

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