Does Jose Iglesias Fill Red Sox Black Hole at Short? If Not, Here Are 11 Options
Quickly, now: Who played short for the Cardinals when they won the World Series last year? Unless I miss my guess, most of you will have to look it up.
The point is, with the rest of the Red Sox lineup, they may not need a shortstop with star power or a big bat.
In fact, in the last ten years the only team to win the World Series with an All-Star shortstop was the 2009 Yankees, with Derek Jeter.
Most of Red Sox Nation was surprised to hear that the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for an unknown pitcher, in effect leaving the infield position to the underwhelming platoon of Mike Aviles and Nick Punto. Punto is supposedly pretty good with the glove, and Mike Aviles is pretty good with a bat, but neither is the long-term answer to the black hole the Red Sox call shortstop.
Red of Survivinggrady.com posted a humorous piece called, Red Sox Shortstop: World’s Coolest Temp Job. I quote:
Ever since Nomar was sent packin’, the short stop position has been something of a revolving door, bringing us Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio “Blame Me, It’s Just Easier That Way” Lugo, Jed Lowrie, William “Uptight” Bangs, Tito Puente III, Little Alvie Singer, Portugal Esposito and, most recently, Marco Scutaro.
Oldtimefamilybaseball.com chipped in with, Red Sox Decide To Get Creative, Eliminate Shortstop Position in 2012.
Seriously, they have a point.
Edgar Renteria had one awful year—then was World Series MVP for the Giants. Alex Gonzales was in Boston twice and went elsewhere each time. Julio Lugo was an expensive disaster. And now Mario Scutaro, in what many consider to be a head-scratcher, is gone after a couple of pretty decent years.
Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe credits Bill Chuck of Billy-Ball.com for this great stat: Since 2004, the Red Sox have had 24 different shortstops.
Aviles, Pedroia, Vazquez 6
Assorted others: 14
Despite that turnover, the Red Sox have won two World Series and have made the playoffs numerous times. Alex Speier of WEEI reminds us that the 2007 Red Sox featured Julio Lugo at short, one of the worst everyday players in the majors that year. "Red Sox shortstops produced a dismal .633 OPS, ranked 29th among the 30 major league teams that year," reports Speier.
And what about the 2004 team? Orlando Cabrera started 58 games, only two more than Pokey Reese. Nomar started 37 games, and they had seven starts from Cesar Crespo, three from Ricky Gutierrez and one from Mark Bellhorn. "From its Frankenshortstop, the Sox ended up achieving decent production, with a .716 OPS that ranked 16th in the majors. That said, the defense was pitiful, pushing the team to make the deal for Cabrera," wrote Speier.
To put this all in historical context, however, it is important to remember that the Red Sox were grooming a shortstop to be Nomar's replacement. That was Hanley Ramirez, who went to Florida in the deal that brought Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to Boston, and one could make a good argument that if the Sox had not parted with Ramirez thay would not have won the 2007 World Series.
So, where do the Bosox go from here? Assuming it's Punto and Aviles for 2012, what happens in 2013? Will it be Iglesias time, or will they seek another stopgap for a year or two until Iglesias is deemed "ready"?
This slideshow will take a look at the options within the Red Sox system, along with the key shortstops who will be free agents after this coming season. I have not attempted to develop potential trade scenarios in this piece, although it's interesting to note how many of these players have been traded for each other in the last several years.
The Argument for Iglesias
No one will confuse Jose Iglesias with Cal Ripken, Jr. at the plate. Iglesias isn’t much of a hitter.
However, the 21-year-old native of Havana, Cuba was a prized prospect who received a $6M signing bonus when he inked his Red Sox contract in 2009.
His scouting report describe him as possessing “elite defensive skills”. Iglesias has excellent instincts and anticipation, allowing him to get to many balls that other shortstops can’t reach. He has great hands and a soft glove to go along with a strong, accurate arm.
He projects as a future Gold Glove shortstop (something the Red Sox haven't had since Rick Burleson in 1979), but unfortunately his offense is sadly lacking. In 2011 he hit only .235 in Triple-A, with an OPS of only .554 in 387 plate appearances.
To put that in perspective, the lowest qualifying OPS in the majors this year was Adam Dunn’s .569, and Dunn had an absolutely atrocious year
For a minor leaguer he is making a lot of money–more than $2 million a year through 2013–so his struggles are magnified. Despite his All-Star defensive potential, many people think he can't hit well enough to be the regular Boston shortstop.
Brendan McGair of the Pawtucket Times strongly diagrees.
"It is Iglesias, not Punto or Aviles, who should be entrenched as the Red Sox’ primary shortstop," he writes. "Jose’s defense is major-league caliber and having that type of defense at SS can absolutely help a pitching staff.”
Former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago agrees with McGair. "Remember Mark Belanger?" he asked me. "The guy sucked up everything on the left side, and he couldn't hit a lick. But the Orioles kept him in there year after year, because he saved runs with his glove."
So I looked it up. Sure enough, Belanger played 18 consecutive seasons with Baltimore, from 1965 to 1982. In five of those seasons he hit less than .200. His lifetime batting average was .228. His slugging percentage was a woeful .280, and his lifetime OPS was .580. In 18 years, he hit exactly 20 home runs.
The point is, the Orioles didn't care. They kept him in there for 18 years, and he made the team better.
"From a pitcher's standpoint, a great defensive player saves runs," argues Drago. "If he makes the plays, snuffs out rallies and saves us 20 runs, so what if he knocks in 20 fewer than the next guy?"
As McGair points out, Iglesias was the key guy responsible for 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.
Drago also points out that a great shortstop who gobbles up everything in sight and turns the double play will also keep starters in the game longer by reducing the number of pitches they have to throw.
Remember, this is a Red Sox team that has plenty of offense to start with, and Iglesias would not be a net liability in that lineup. I think McGair makes a good point when he says that the problem is the perception (especially in the AL) that a good shortstop has to provide offensive punch.
McGair concludes, "The guy with 'pitcher’s best friend' written all over him should be the one teaming up with Pedroia…at the start of the 2012 season, not two guys who could end up inducing more John Lackey-esque stare downs… from those toeing the rubber rather than double plays."
Bogaerts is the other up-and-comer in the Red Sox farm system, and while there is no reason to think that he will leapfrog Iglesias in the pecking order, he is worthy of evaluating for the future.
For those members of Red Sox Nation who are concerned about the long-standing lack of pop from the shortstop slot, Bogaerts may provide hope for the future. The scouting report on his offense reads, "Strong and explosive hands with good separation during stride. Shows the ability to drive ball to all fields. Above-average-to-better power potential and home run projection. High offensive ceiling. Potential run producing bat."
The 6'-3" native of Aruba is still only 19, but he is viewed as an average to better fielder who is "an exciting high ceiling prospect".
But let's not get too excited here. His is a raw talent that needs development, and is still probably a couple of seasons away from the upper minors, never mind the big league club. For example, he hit .314 in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, but when facing older pitchers at Class A Greenville in 2011 he dropped off to .260 (albeit with 16 HR).
But he does provide a discernible option for the future if the Red Sox decide Iglesias' offense is not enough for the long term.
Michael Passanisi of FenwayWest makes an interesting point. Of the five different Opening Day shortstops since 2004, only Jed Lowrie was developed by the Red Sox system. (That discounts Hanley Ramirez, who might have filled that role had he not been traded to the Marlins.)
The point is that with Iglesias and Bogaerts in the pipeline, that problem appears to be resolving itself.
2013 Free Agents
In 2012, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins were the top free agent shortstops available. Many others accepted arbitration or signed one-year deals. As of this writing, 35-year-old Edgar Renteria and 38-year-old Miguel Tejada (who can't really play short any more) are still available—neither of whom should interest the Red Sox.
After 15 major league seasons, former Red Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera announced his retirement on January 19, so he's no longer an option either.
The 2013 class if free agent shortstops includes 12 names, nine of whom will be reviewed in this slideshow.
Of the 12 available, only Aybar, Cedeño and Drew are on the sunny side of thirty. I've eliminated Geoff Blum (39) and Omar Vizquel (46). Marco Scutaro (37) is also on the list, but since the Red Sox traded him this year I don't see them bringing him back next year.
Again, this slide show does not address trade possibilities—just pending free agents.
Dominican Erick Aybar, 28, has spent his entire six-year MLB career with the Angels, who signed him as a free agent in 2002. He avoided arbitration this off-season by signing a one-year deal that will pay him a little over $5 million in 2012.
Although he has a reputation as a slick fielder— (he won his first Gold Glove in 2011)— his fielding percentage is pretty close to the league average for shortstops. To be fair, he ranked seventh in range factor for 2011 with a very good 4.61.
He produces pretty well at the plate, however. His career numbers are .276 BA, .379 SLG and .699 OPS, He certainly did not hurt his arbitration case with his 2011 numbers, a season in which he added some power to his game. He hit ten home runs last year, after only hitting fourteen in his career before then.
This helped bump his OPS to .743, to go along with a .279 batting average and .421 slugging percentage. He also added 30 stolen bases to his very respectable stat line.
Of all the free agents available, Aybar seems to be the one who could most help the Red Sox. He also has a local connection: his cousin, Wil Aybar, coaches Central Mass Diving and the Holy Cross diving team in nearby Worcester, MA.
However, it is unlikely that the Angels will let Aybar get away in free agency unless the Red Sox blow them away with a blockbuster offer, which is unlikely.
LA GM Jerry Dipoto texted Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times , "We are continuing to work toward an extended contract and definitely desire to keep Erick in an Angels uniform for the long term."
There are rumors floating around, apparently launched by Jayson Stark of ESPN, that the Red Sox could target Padres shortstop Jason Bartlett before the season starts if the Punto/Aviles tandem does not produce as hoped in spring training.
The 32-year-old Bartlett’s contract seems to be an impediment to such a deal. He is scheduled to earn $5.5 million in 2012. If the real reason the Red Sox traded away Mark Scutaro and his $6 million deal was to create salary space for a free agent pitcher, then why turn around and get Bartlett?
Scutaro also had much better numbers in 2011 than Bartlett did. Jason's .245/ .307 / .615 line pales in comparison to Scoot's .299/ .423/ .781. so it would make zero sense for the Red Sox to pull the trigger on a deal for Bartlett…unless Lackey or Daisuke and their contracts were part of the trade. (Bartlett's .307 slugging percentage was the lowest of all players with 512 or more plate appearances.)
Stark did acknowledge that the Red Sox have said that if they did get another infielder, it will probably be someone who makes less than Bartlett.
For the record, his career defensive numbers are slightly below league average, both in range and fielding percentage. in 2007 he made 26 errors, leading all major league shortstops in that department.
However, Bartlett was selected to represent Tampa Bay in the 2009 All Star Game, and he hit .320 for the year.
One scary thought: he is the younger brother of former Boston Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew, and he's hurt.
Another scary thought: he will make $7.75 million in 2012, and his 2013 contract features a $10MM mutual option with a $1.35MM buyout.
Third scary thought: for his career he has demonstrated below average range and fielding percentage.
Arizona's first round draft pick in 2004, Drew has a career .270/ .442/ .773 stat line. He can be counted on for about 15HR and 71 RBI per season. He's also a pretty good base runner in a Kirk Gibson sort of way.
On July 20, 2011, Drew broke his ankle on a nasty-looking slide into home plate and he missed the rest of the season. He recorded a .252 batting average, 5 home runs, and 45 RBI in limited appearances..
Everyone hoped he would be ready for 2012 spring training. However, his recovery has been delayed by off-season sports hernia surgery.
Tim Heaney of KFFL.com points out that his contact-rate has dropped off the last two years, and "his high BABIPs haven't yielded anything special in their BA translation. Drew's pull tendency and issues versus southpaws further cap his upside."
The Brewers and Alex Gonzalez agreed on a one-year contract for 2012.
Although his 2011 hitting stats were not bad (.241 BA, 15 HR, 56 RBI, 27 doubles), "Sea Bass" as he is called was not signed for his bat. He is one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball according to UZR/150, and it's been a puzzle to former Red Sox pitcher Dick Drago that he has played for the Red Sox twice in recent years, and each time they made no real effort to keep him around.
"Gonzales is one of those shortstops pitchers love to have in a lineup," says Drago. "He gobbles up everything in the neighborhood, and always makes a good throw. He does it effortlessly as well, without any grandstanding when he makes a great play."
After the Marlins let him go in 2005, he signed a one-year free agent deal with the Red Sox. He hit .255 with a .695 OPS in 111 games for Boston in 2006, producing a sparkling .985 fielding percentage, but they made no serious attempt to re-sign him and Cincinnati picked him up.
The Red Sox got him back from the Reds in an August, 2009 trade. He promptly hit .284 with an OPS of .769, and fielded an incredible .994, making only one error in 159 chances in 44 games.
Before the 2010 season, the Red Sox were prepared to offer Gonzalez a one-year deal worth $3MM, according to Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe, but the shortstop went to Toronto instead.
This one makes no sense, but there must be a reason the Red Sox don't want to keep him around.
Peralta is another in the seemingly endless line of Dominican shortstops. He was signed by Cleveland as an amateur free agent in 2002.
John Verburg of MotorCity Bengals wonders if fans are as shocked as he was at the season Peralta had in 2011. He made his first All-Star appearance, and had to be in the running for a Gold Glove.
"Offensively, he put together 3 months between May and July that could’ve been considered the best in the game for the position," wrote Verburg. "I’m not exaggerating either. We are talking .330 BA and .900 OPS type stuff from a guy that is a career .268 hitter with an OPS of .758."
Yes, Peralta faded some down the stretch, but he still finished the season with a .299 average and a superb OPS of .824. Only 34 American League hitters had an OPS of over .800
While the stats show that Peralta's range is a bit below average, give him credit for his hands. Basically, if he gets to a ball, he makes the out. He has a sure glove and an accurate arm. He made only seven errors all year, in 608 chances, leading to a gaudy fielding percentage of .988.
The problem is consistency, both at the plate and in the filed. While he has had three seasons in eleven years in which he has produced an OPS of.800 or better, he has also had four seasons in the .600s. He rarely puts together back to back good seasons offensively.
The 31-year-old Peralta will be making $5.5 million in 2012. There's also a $6 million club option with a $500K buyout in 2013.
He's another one of those shortstops in the $6 million Marco Scutaro range, which suggests the red Sox will leave him alone.
OK, here's the answer to the question posed in the intro: Who was the World-Series-winning Cardinals shortstop in 2011?
Answer: The Cards started with Ryan Theriot at short, but traded for Rafael Furcal at the deadline. Even though Furcal was underperforming, he was the starter for the rest of the season. According to WEEI. com, Cardinals shortstops combined for a .688 OPS, exactly in line with the NL average and just under the MLB average of .697.
According to Jane Lee of mlb.com, 32-year-old Ryan Theriot signed a non-guaranteed one -year deal with the Giants last week. He makes $1.25 million if he makes the team and could potentially earn another $750,000 in incentives.
Theriot, who was non-tendered by the Cardinals in December, earned a World Series ring playing at shortstop and second base, batting .271 with one home run and 47 RBIs in 132 games.
Drafted by the Cubs in 2001, this his eighth Major League season. He has compiled a .282 career batting average and a .344 on-base percentage in a combined 795 games. His best year was 2008, when he hit .307 with an OPS of .745 for the Cubs. He doesn't have much power, having hit only 17 home runs in seven seasons.
He does, however, boast a .301 career mark against lefties, which could be helpful in a park such as Fenway.
Interestingly enough, the reaction in San Francisco to Theriot's signing has not been all that positive.
Christina Kahrl wrote an article on espn.com entitled "Giants stay Shortstop-less with Theriot"
Referring to his lack of power and the fact that he's a step or two slower circling the bases these days, she argues that consecutive years with a .321 on base percentage have made "his value as an offensive patch at the position seems dubious." The Cardinals traded for Furcal for a reason, and it's probably the same reason the Cubs moved him from short to second: Ryan Theriot is a shortstop in a second baseman's uniform. (Actually, he posted pretty good defensive numbers at second—better than he did at short.)
"Adding him to the shortstop mix in San Francisco just makes plain that they still don’t really have one," concludes Kahrl.
Scratch Theriot as a Red Sox option.
Quick, what unusual experience do Mike Aviles and Cesar Izturis share?
Both underwent Tommy John surgery, unusual for position players.
Izturis is known for great defense and for being a switch hitter who gets his bat on the ball. He has decent speed, but very little power. (He has 15 home runs in his 11-year career, and only one in the last two seasons.)
Signed by the Toronto Blue Jays as an amateur free agent in 1996, Izturis was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the end of the 2001 season.
Although known for his stellar defense, he struggled with a bat in his hand. (Sound familiar?)
To make things worse he showed no patience at the plate, drawing very few walks and lowering both his batting average and his on-base percentage.
For some reason he improved significantly in 2004, hitting .288 with 62 RBI and 25 stolen bases in 159 games. He also earned his first Gold Glove, becoming the first Dodger shortstop to win that award since Maury Wills in 1962. Izturis continued his hot hitting at the start of 2005, leading MLB in base hits and batting .348 through the end of May. He made the All-Star team, but his performance (both offensively and defensively) fell off the table. After two trips to the DL with elbow problems, he underwent surgery.
At the 2006 trade deadline, Izturis went to the Chicago Cubs in the Greg Maddux deal. A year later he was traded to Pittsburgh, who declined his option after the 2007 season.
Deals with the Cardinals and Orioles followed, as he bounced around the majors.
He is a career .255 hitter with an abysmal .295 OBP. The low on-base rate is partly due to the fact that he only walks 4.8% of the time. To his credit, he also strikes out only 9.2% of the time, well below average.
His defense was still stellar; in 2009 he led all starting shortstops in range factor, at 4.89, according to ESPN. That number dropped off greatly however, to 4.28 in 2010.
At the end of 2010 Izturis re-signed with the Baltimore Orioles for another year.
A few days ago, the Milwaukee Brewers signed him to a minor league deal. He is a non-roster invitee, but has a pretty good chance to make the team as a backup for starting shortstop Alex Gonzalez, according to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com.
In a fairly complex and incentive-laden deal, Izturis would earn $875,000 in the Majors, with the chance to earn $375,000 more in incentives. The deal also includes an out clause that allows him to request his release if he is not added to the 40-man roster by March 30.
Again, not much reason for the Red Sox to even consider him for THIS year, never mind 2013.
What is it about these banjo-hitting, low OBP shortstops with great gloves?
In 2011 Cedeño ranked second in the majors in range factor with a stellar 5.04, according to ESPN.
The 30-year-old Venezuelan was signed by the Cubs in 1999 and was called up in April 2005 to replace Nomar Garciaparra. He became the team's starting shortstop in 2006.That season, he received only 17 bases on balls, representing 3.1% of his plate appearances— the lowest percentage in the National League. That number would have been even lower had he not received 4 intentional walks.
Cedeño's walk to strikeout ratio of 0.16 was also the worst in MLB that year.
For his career, he has batted .246 with a very poor .286 on base percentage (701 games over seven seasons). His slugging percentage of .353 and OPS of .639 reflect the fact that he has only 33 homers in his career (only two last year).
In January of 2009 he went to the Mariners in the Aaron Heilman deal, replacing Yuniesky Betancourt after Betancourt was put on the DL and later traded to the Kansas City Royals. Six months later Cedeño was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Jack Wilson deal.
The contract will pay him about $1.2 million plus incentives next season as insurance for Jose Reyes’ replacement, Ruben Tejada.
In 2011 hit .249 with a .297 on-base percentage and .339 slugging percentage in 128 games for Pittsburgh, earning $1.85 million. However, he also made 13 errors in 603 chances.
Again, there is little reason to want a Cedeño over an Iglesias.
Betancourt, 31, is one of the more puzzling players on this list.
After being the Brewers leading hitter in last season's playoffs, (.310 with a home run and six RBIs), he was not re-signed by Milwaukee. Milwaukee writer Lou Olsen called Betancourt "the worst shortstop in all of major league baseball".
In 2011, in keeping with a career pattern, he saw the fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.16 in all of MLB (512 or more plate appearances). He also walked just 16 times in 152 games—an absurdly low rate of 2.7%.
Despite having the lowest on-base-percentage of any qualifying shortstop in baseball, he started a majority of the games for the Brewers.
After being a hot hitter and speedy prospect in Cuba, he escaped to Mexico by speedboat in 2003, where he earned the attention of Seattle scouts. A few years ago he was considered one of the best fielding shortstops in the game with a great throwing arm. Starting in 2007, however, that arm began to betray him; he went through streaks of wildness and his error count began to climb.
At the plate, he rarely strikes out or walks. That's because he seldom sees as many as four pitches.
He just gets up there and hacks, and is always is among the league leaders in fewest pitches per plate appearance. In his seven-season career he has walked only 120 times. That's a rate of barely more than 3% of his PA—one of the worst base-on-balls rates in all of MLB.
To be fair, however, he has also only struck out 9.3% of the time in his career, which is also near the top of the leader board.
The Kansas City Royals picked him up from Seattle in 2009, along with a portion of his salary, for a pair of minor league pitchers. That year, according to ESPN, he had the lowest on base percentage of any starter in the major leagues, at .274, and the lowest slugging percentage in the American League with .351.
After the 2010 season the Royals dealt him to the Brewers in the Zack Greinke deal. He ranked 19th among MLB shortstops in range factor last season.
On December 20, 2011, Betancourt signed a one-year deal to return to Kansas City. He will make $2 million with up to $.5 million in incentives.
There is absolutely no reason for the Red Sox (who love to try to wear out pitchers by being patient) to consider this guy.
At 35, Wilson is a bit long in the tooth, but his track record is one of the best of the 2013 shortstop free agent class.
This year he is returning to the Atlanta Braves, agreeing to a $1 million, one-year contract. The Braves announced the deal last week. Wilson, who also can earn $500,000 in performance bonuses, gives the Braves a veteran replacement for Alex Gonzalez, who signed with Milwaukee.
The Braves acquired Wilson last season from Seattle. He only hit .220 in 17 games in Atlanta, after having gone ,249 in 62 games in the first half.
While playing short, however, there was no dropoff in his fielding in general and his range in particular. His lifetime range factor has been a superb 4.89 (against a league average of 4.46) but in 2011 he raised the bar to a very high 5.03 (in Seattle it was 5.75 before he was traded.)
He did earn $5 million in 2011, however, and the fact that he is on the downside of his career is evident form the $1 million deal he just signed.
Seven years ago in Pittsburgh, Wilson posted one of the finest season by a shortstop in recent memory. In 2004 he hit .308 and collected 201 hits (3rd in the league) in 157 games, including 56 multi-hit games. He was just the ninth shortstop in league history 200 hits, and the first Pirates shortstop since Hall of Famer Honus Wagner did it in 1908.
Defensively, Wilson led all NL shortstops in assists (492),chances (743). and double plays (129). The latter number broke the franchise record. His exploits won him an All-Star berth and the Silver Slugger award for shortstops.
In December 2004, however, Wilson underwent an appendectomy, and for some reason this relatively simple procedure affected him at the plate. He has never hit as well since, although he did have a pretty good year in 2007 (.296 with a career high 12 home runs in only 135 games)
His defense continued to be stellar, however. As a full-time player he was always at or near the league lead in assists, total chances, and double plays.
If the reason the Red Sox don't want to play Iglesias is because of his lack of offense, then Wilson is not the answer this late in his career. However, there may be some value in considering a year of Wilson to mentor the young man in a way that Aviles and Punto cannot.