Jose Iglesias gives insurance now, infield keystone later

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This was a pragmatic deal with the potential to become something special.

Dave Dombrowski appears to have done it again.

In the winter of 2010, he traded fan-favorite Curtis Granderson, in returning bringing back a young, talented center fielder of the future, Austin Jackson. The package included a pitcher who would later go on to start the All-Star Game for the American League and a bullpen steadfast in Phil Coke. Looking back, you can't help but marvel at how Dombrowski set up his team for future success.

With the acquisition of 23-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for outfielder Avisail Garcia and relief pitcher Brayan Villarreal, it looks like Dombrowski has again shored up a keystone position up the middle for years to come -- and this time, the cost was substantially less.

Iglesias, of course, may never touch the production of Jackson, a top-of-the-order batter with a .278 average and .345 on-base percentage. True, those aren't numbers that get a guy into Cooperstown. But again and again we've seen what an important cog in the offense Jackson plays, in addition to his being a vacuum that sucks up seemingly every fly ball hit to center field.

Yet watching the Iglesias highlight package this morning, "exciting" is the first word that comes to mind. Exciting to see the range Inglesias has, the hands, the arm. He's doing things on the field an entire generation of Tigers fans has only watched play in opposing uniform or old highlights. Exciting to think that he's not just in Detroit as a stopgap measure, he's going to be around for years to come. And in the short term, he can help shore up the other infield positions as a defensive replacement or in case of injuries.

A taste:

The added benefit of that is that the Tigers can already cross shortstop off their shopping list. This season marked the last of Jhonny Peralta's contract with Detroit. With averages .300 or better and OPS of better than .820 in two of the last three seasons, the 31-year-old Peralta was probably going to see a pretty great payday -- even though he's been linked to the Biogenesis scandal and faces suspension. The Tigers don't have to worry about forking over a large chunk of cash for an aging player now. They've instead got a young defensive wizard who'll be the cornerstone of their infield defense at a low cost. That allows flexibility as it pertains to extending players already under contract or finding help to keep the Tigers as World Series contenders again next season.

But how favorably we look back at this deal will likely hinge on how Iglesias hits. Some fans expect sluggers at every position, and batting in the low .200s just wouldn't sit right with people -- just think of the comments about Adam Everett or Brandon Inge. Forget their gloves, forget the runs they keep off the board for their opponents, people got mad because their names were in the lineup and they were hitting into outs at all the worst times.

The lack of bat has always held Iglesias back from true superstar potential. He's already a player with little power potential. He batted .235 and .266 in Triple A during the past two seasons (though not playing for Pawtucket the entire year either time.) Without a large amount of walks to go with it, Iglesias' on-base percentage suffered. So he's a player that didn't hit for average or power, nor did he find other ways to get on base. Until this year, when he batted .409 with .985 OPS through his first 39 games. But he's slumped hard since, hitting just .205 with .464 OPS in the month of July.

Red Sox blog Over the Monster pointed earlier in the month that the .400 average probably wouldn't continue but there were a number of things to like about Iglesias. "Behind those ridiculous numbers, there are several signs that point to a real improvement in his hitting abilities," Matt Sullivan wrote. Among them: a strikeout rate that has decreased and a line drive rate that has increased. He's also showing better decisions at the plate as he gets used to major league pitching. Again, you can't help but feel like, at least in some way, there's an Austin Jackson pattern going on.

I haven't touched on what they gave up. It was a hard pill to swallow that the Tigers traded outfield prospects Danry Vasquez and Avisail Garcia in back-to-back days. Both were thought to be outfielders of the future, and fans were having a good time with "junior-Miggy" Garcia. Neither or both could turn into the player people envision. There may be a time we look back wistfully and think of what might have been.

Starting at the point the Tigers have found a great glove for a key infield position for years to come at an inexpensive price, and add to it any improvements Iglesias may make with his bat, and you have the potential to go from finding this a pragmatic deal for the Tigers to one that really helps push them to another level. Nobody know how we'll truly feel about the move a few years from now.

But sitting here on Day 1, it looks like a pretty good one to me.

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