The Shortstop Battle That Shouldn't Be

March 26, 2012; Clearwater, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias (76) warms up prior to the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

The weekend had no shortage of talk about Mike Aviles, Jose Iglesias, and the starting shortstop role.

Perhaps inspired by Chris Gaspar's piece on the "growing rift" between Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington (more on that from Marc later) which cited Iglesias' role as a point of contention, everyone seemed to have an opinion on the subject. Surprisingly, at least for me, a significant number of them seemed to be of the opinion that Iglesias should be starting the year in the majors.

Why? I can't say for sure, but I'll give it a try.

It seems like ever since he was first purchased, Iglesias has been tagged the "shortstop of the future." In some ways that was fair, since there was no question that he would be good enough to play on some level in the majors--just his glove alone is worth a supporting role on some teams. And, with two years having passed since now and then, a certain contingent have found their internal clocks ringing, assuming that the future is, in fact, now.

Unfortunately, that contingent seems primarily to have missed out on the last two years of his career (many may also call him "Inglesias"), none of which suggests he's at all ready for the big time just yet. After an aggressive placement at Double-A for 2010, Iglesias struggled with a wrist injury and plate discipline, finishing the season with a line of .285/.315/.357. An even more aggressive promotion to Triple-A immediately afterwards left him floundering against advanced competition, managing only a .235/.285/.269 line.

Of course, that's not a condemnation of Iglesias. At 22-years-old, it's frankly puzzling that he's even up at Triple-A so soon in the first place, but not hugely troubling that he's not hitting yet. What it is, though, is pretty clear evidence that he's not ready to hit in the MLB, and I really can't understand why anyone would assume that he could.

The thing is that it's not enough for Jose Iglesias to be able to stick at the majors. That's not a good justification for promoting him this early. The question is: can Iglesias provide a significant enough improvement over Mike Aviles that it's worth sacrificing both his current development and a year or more of team control to have him here now.

And frankly, that he's even a better option than Aviles right now isn't clear at all. Aside from a .223 BABIP in a short 2009, Aviles' bat has always been at least around replacement level, occasionally noticeably above. He even looked well-tailored to Fenway in his short time here last year and down in Ft. Myers, playing some regular wall ball.

Iglesias, on the other hand, doesn't really come anywhere close to that level offensively. And how much can his glove make up? Consider that Alex Rios' .613 OPS was worth a whopping -24.8 runs offensively over the course of a full season last year. Consider that Iglesias couldn't even approach that level of offense in Triple-A last year. With Mike Aviles grading out as an average infielder and above-average shorstop over the course of his career by UZR and DRS, even if you assume Iglesias is worth twice as much defensively as last year's best shortstops, it still doesn't manage to cover that gap. Obviously, given the nature of defensive statistics and valuations, these numbers aren't perfect. But even with a large margin of error it's hard to imagine Iglesias would actually be able to significantly make up the deficit his bat would put him at.

So what's the point of rushing Jose Iglesias? Either way, the team has six years of cost control with him, with the first three years being the most important. Barring disaster, the way to get the most for their money is to just wait until he's actually completely ready to make the jump as a player who's not simply acceptable, but actually useful to the team. Right now, with Aviles and Punto on the roster, there's just no real point to having him on board right now.

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