Over the past two seasons, the Detroit Tigers and their fans have gotten a crash course in saying goodbye to players. Yet somehow, the potential end of Jose Iglesias’ time at shortstop still feels like it snuck up on us. He was transferred to the 60-day disabled list on Friday, making room for Pete Kozma. The decision effectively ends what was shaping up to be the best season of his career as he heads into free agency. The lingering question now, is whether the 28-year-old defensive wizard has played his last game in a Tigers uniform.
Other than Miguel Cabrera himself, Iglesias is the longest tenured player with the organization. While his reign at shortstop over 558 games ranks just 14th in Tigers history, he’d probably be top ten all-time if not for the stress fractures that cost him the 2014 season. While the early promise of his bat went unfulfilled, Iglesias diligently refined his defensive fundamentals and became every bit the elite shortstop that early evaluators in the Boston Red Sox system predicted. He’s been jaw dropping and jaw clenching in roughly equal measure.
The Tigers today announced the following roster moves:— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) September 14, 2018
*Selected the contract of INF Pete Kozma from Triple A Toledo.
*To make room on the 40-man roster for Kozma, SS José Iglesias has been transferred to the 60-day DL.
Still, in 2018 he finally put it together at the plate a little more regularly. The usual brilliant defense and solid baserunning were in evidence, but he also posted the best stolen base mark of his career with 15 steals, and added a little more extra base power to the mix. Iglesias remains a below average performer in terms of his on base percentage, but modest improvements to his quality of contact legitimize the bump in his overall production.
While it’s natural to assume that he will sign elsewhere in free agency, it’s not a foregone conclusion. If recent events have told us anything, the price may be eminently reasonable, and Iglesias won’t be in high demand. There are still quite a few good reasons why the Tigers and Iglesias could be a fit for a little longer.
The Tigers options
The most obvious argument for resigning Iglesias, is simply that the Tigers don’t have any appealing in-house options at the moment. The shortstop prospect in closest proximity to the major leagues is Willi Castro, acquired from the Cleveland Indians for Leonys Martin. While Castro is far from a can’t miss prospect, he does have the raw ingredients of a potential replacement for Iglesias. However, he only reached the Triple-A level in late August, and at 21 years old and with much left to learn, it’s unlikely he’s ready for an audition in the major leagues until late next season.
At the Double-A level, the Tigers have Isaac Paredes and Sergio Alcantara, but neither is under consideration for a starting gig with the big club in 2018. Paredes is the best hitting prospect in the Tigers’ system, but will probably have to move to second or third base at the major league level. Alcantara has the defensive chops, but hasn’t given many confidence that he’ll ever be successful against major league pitching. Rushing either of them to the major leagues would be pointless.
In terms of the next pure shortstop candidate, Wenceel Perez is probably your man. Perez shows promise as a 18-year-old who was already holding his own in all facets of the game in A-ball by late summer. He is, obviously, still a few years away from the major leagues, at minimum. The future holds some hope of brighter days at the shortstop position, but the immediate present is rather grim with Iglesias out of the equation.
The Tigers are running Ronny Rodriguez, Pete Kozma, and occasionally, Niko Goodrum at the six in September. While Goodrum has impressed this season as a utilityman with some offensive ability, he doesn’t really profile as a shortstop at the major league level. Rodriguez was something of a wild card to begin with, isn’t qualified on either side of the ball to play shortstop regularly, and generally speaking hasn’t done much to impress this season. Kozma isn’t in consideration, and it would appear the Tigers’ relationship with former shortstop of the future, Dixon Machado, is coming to a quiet end. The Tigers need a shortstop in 2019, and they just don’t have anyone in the organization who fits the bill.
The landscape of the shortstop position in free agency is destined to be a bleak place this offseason. Most of the top teams are built around elite talent at the position, while numerous others have high end prospects slated to take over at the position in the very near future. So demand isn’t going to be very fevered. There may be a handful of teams at best even interested in a free agent shortstop.
The depth of talent available isn’t going to change many front offices’ minds, either. Other than Manny Machado—your move, Chris Ilitch—Iglesias is the best option on the market, though the difference between he and other soft hitting defenders like Freddy Galvis or Adeiny Hechevarria isn’t particularly great. Iglesias and Galvis will be entering their age 29 seasons in 2019, and, other than Machado, that makes them the two youngest free agent shortstops available as well. The pickings are slim.
Run prevention rebuild
In the final analysis, it’s pretty clear that if the Tigers want to have any success at the shortstop position next season, then re-signing Iglesias on a short-term deal is really their only move. They could potentially opt for Hechevarria for a year, or Galvis in a similar timeframe. They could try to ride with Rodriguez, Goodrum, or another player simply not cut out to play shortstop in major leagues. Expectations will be low again, and poor defensive play at the shortstop position is highly unlikely to cost the Tigers a playoff berth next season.
However, there are plenty of good reasons to simply make a serious effort to resign Iglesias, assuming you can get him to agree to a deal for no more than two seasons. By the end of the 2020 season, all the Tigers long-term contracts, save Cabrera’s, will have expired. Until that point, the organization probably isn’t going to be hunting big game in free agency anyway. Paying Iglesias in the meantime isn’t going to hurt their bottom line.
It’s possible that Iglesias and his representatives will overvalue him, making the idea too unpalatable for the Tigers to consider. After the waiting game played by teams last offseason, the odds that anyone will rush into offering him a multi-year deal are low. He may prefer to leverage his status as the second best option available to play for a team with a real chance of contention. But assuming he’s amenable to a return, the cost isn’t as much of an issue as the term, and his age won’t encourage anyone to offer him a deal longer than two seasons.
More importantly, Iglesias could still provide a lot of stability and value. Having his defensive ability present on the field saves runs. Saved runs improve pitchers’ numbers, making them potentially more valuable in trade. They help managers keep a pitching staff in order during a long, grueling season. Bringing up young pitchers isn’t easy. Having an elite defender at the shortstop position helps them to pitch more aggressively and escape jams. Saved runs are as good as scored runs in the end, and with the lineup in ragged shape, the young Tigers could use all the help they can get.
Yes, we may have seen the last of Jose Iglesias in Detroit, but it’s not yet a foregone conclusion. The Tigers have plenty of reason to make re-signing him one of their priorities this offseason. Using Iglesias as a bridge to the next generation of Tigers infielders could make that transition substantially smoother.