While there has been no announcement or official affirmation, it seems clear that Jose Iglesias is now the everyday shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds.
Prior to the season, Jose Peraza was expected to be the starting shortstop, but about a week before the regular season started, second baseman Scooter Gennett suffered a severely pulled groin muscle. Manager David Bell told Peraza he’d be moving to second base, with Iglesias filling in at shortstop.
Jose Iglesias hitting slightly above career norms
In the first 41 regular season games, Iglesias demonstrated that he has an outstanding glove at the shortstop position, and that he has an above-average bat for a shortstop. Prior to Tuesday’s game against the Cubs, Iglesias was hitting at .288/.326/.408/.734, with an OPS+ of 92. Those numbers are better than his career numbers of .271/.315/.366/.681 and OPS+ of 84.
Prior to Tuesday, he’d made one error in 177 total chances. His range factor (RF) per game ((putouts + assists) divided by games played) was listed as 3.14, about in the middle of the pack of shortstops, according to MLB.com statistics. That number is down considerably from an average of nearly 4.0 in his previous four seasons as Detroit’s everyday shortstop, though his errors committed during those four seasons were only 11, 4, 5 and 8.
Those defensive metrics were a bit of a surprise. One of the premises of this article was that Iglesias was hitting better than his career averages, but I did not expect to find that his defensive metrics were down compared to his career numbers. Perhaps part of the reason for the low RF is that for the first couple of weeks of the season, Iglesias appeared frequently as a late-game defensive replacement and pinch-hitter. Those games count the same in the RF per game computation as games in which he played all nine innings at shortstop. Baseball-reference.com says Iglesias ranks 130th all-time in RF per nine innings at shortstop with 4.177. (Number one all-time is former San Diego Padre Bill Almon at 5.270. Dave Concepcion ranks 14th all-time at 4.979.)
All of that being said, the eye test as administered by this observer indicates that Iglesias just may be the guy this team needs at shortstop for the next few years. At this point in time, I have the same feeling when a ball is hit in Iglesias’ direction as I did when a ball was hit toward Brandon Phillips – that’s going to be an out.
The question then becomes, should the Reds offer Iglesias a contract extension before he becomes one of the team’s many free agents at the end of this season?
Before the regular season started, there was much talk here at Redleg Nation about which of the many pending free agents should receive contract extension offers and which should not. With so many newcomers on that list, it seemed prudent to see at least a couple of months worth of performance before even thinking about extensions. (That’s my personal opinion. Neither Dick Williams nor Nick Krall has asked, however.)
Iglesias is money with the glove
It’s become clear over 41 games that Iglesias is the guy on this team that you want the ball hit to when you absolutely need to get an out. He is slick fielding and makes quick, accurate throws with almost no bobbles. (Note: This was written prior to the first two games of the Cubs series, in which Iglesias made two errors — but also had some big hits.) The two-month look, in his case, would be to see how much of a fluke, if at all, his offensive (and, after the last two games, the defensive) performance has been. At this point, the only change that would make this observer believe a contract extension is not a good idea is if Iglesias were to go into a Peraza-like batting slump. An OPS+ of 92 is below average, but the prowess at perhaps the most important defensive position on the field more than makes up for it. Iglesias was a .300-plus hitter in both 2013 and 2015, with OPS+ marks of 101 and 99, so he does have that history. His hitting has slumped somewhat since then, so let’s take a few more weeks to see how the bat productivity holds up.
Another factor in why a contract extension for Iglesias makes sense is the lack of better options. I had high hopes that Peraza would continue to establish himself as an everyday player after ranking fourth in the National League in hits in 2018. There is now considerable doubt as to whether that will happen. Plus, there are no shortstops in the farm system that appear to be ready to become major league starters. Through Monday’s action, Cuban signee Alfredo Rodriguez was off to a quick start offensively at Class AA Chattanooga, hitting .314/.363/.371/.734. But this is the first time in his professional minor league career that he has shown any ability to swing the bat consistently. Hopefully it continues, and if it does, he reportedly has a fantastic glove. But he’s not on the verge of making the majors until he proves he can hit for more than 31 games.
Fellow shortstop prospect Jose Israel Garcia, also a Cuban signee, is off to a slow start at Class A Daytona. Based on what we know now, both Rodriguez and Garcia are at least a couple of years away from consideration for a big-league role. Neither is a can’t-miss prospect, so there’s a decent chance that neither of them will develop into a major-league caliber starting shortstop. Not to be pessimistic, but that’s the truth.
I’ll leave the topic of what a new contract for Iglesias should look like to my Redleg Nation colleague Jordan Barhorst, who may wish to review this topic in his ongoing Contracts for the Reds New Core series. But the belief of this observer is that, barring an offensive collapse by Iglesias in the coming weeks, the Reds front office should seriously consider opening negotiations with his representatives in an attempt to keep him on the team beyond 2019.
What do you think?
Should Iglesias be signed for at least a couple more seasons? If not, why not? Let us know your thoughts below.