The 2021 season for the Boston Red Sox was one that was full of fun quirks and pleasant surprises, going from a team that was hoping for something around a .500 record to one just a couple games from the World Series. It’s all subjective, of course, but I feel there is a good case to be made that the most entertaining quirk and surprise of the season was towards the end when José Iglesias was brought in and became a key cog in the lineup for the final month of the season. Due to when he was signed he could not participate in postseason play, but his impact on getting the team there was undeniable. Now, the former Boston prospect finds himself in free agency, and because of that September impact a lot of Red Sox fans would like to see him back. But should the team give into that impulse?
It’s certainly not hard to figure out why fans are so enthralled by the idea of Iglesias being back with the Red Sox, because as I said he was just phenomenal in his short time with the club in 2021. It was only 64 plate appearances, but he hit .356/.406/.508 for a 148 wRC+. Among players who appeared in more than five games, Iglesias was Boston’s best hitter over the final month of the season.
That was exciting, and again the impact it had on Boston making it to October cannot be denied, but it was also a tiny sample. In a larger sample, Iglesias had been playing for the Los Angeles Angels and was straight-up cut. The performance just wasn’t there, and in 447 plate appearances he hit just .259/.295/.375 for an 82 wRC+, meaning by that metric he was 18 percent worse than the league-average hitter.
Those stints are two totally different types of offensive players, and it certainly wouldn’t be smart to weigh the 64 plate appearances even close to the same amount as 447. But looking over his entire career, it’s pretty clear what kind of hitter Iglesias is. He’s not going to strike out very much, and also won’t walk very much. That’s another way of saying he puts nearly everything into play, and does so with below-average power. That kind of skillset is heavily reliant on batted ball luck, which kind of ties back to his performance with Boston. In that run, he had a .406 batting average on balls in play, which is just not sustainable.
His projection on FanGraphs pegs him for a perfectly cromulent .302 BABIP, and going along with the strikeouts, walks, and power tendencies we talked about above that gives him a 91 wRC+, putting him safely below average, but not unplayably so given the defense. And of course, the defense is really the reason Iglesias would be enticing to anyone. He is simply one of the best defensive infielders in the game, and while he’s getting older, no team is signing Iglesias to a five-year deal, or probably not even a two-year deal. There’s little reason to expect him to be anything besides very good with the glove in 2022, his age-32 season.
So with all of that in mind, the question regarding potential interest in Iglesias from Boston’s side comes down to two separate questions to me. Should they be interested in signing him? And should they be interested in making him their de facto starter at second base in 2021?
For the first one, the answer is a pretty easy yes from me. Granted, that doesn’t mean they have to sign him. He’s not the kind of player you base your entire offseason strategy around, but he would be a good fit. They definitely need another infielder on the roster, as right now their top bench infielder is probably Jonathan Araúz, or perhaps Rob Refsnyder, a minor-league signing from earlier in the winter. Iglesias would fill that need for an infielder while not commanding much of a commitment (my guess is he’ll sign a major-league deal, but not for much more than the minimum). He’d give the infield a much-needed defensive presence with a proven ability to ride hot streaks at the plate, and by all accounts he meshed very well with both the players and coaches in the clubhouse. That’s all very good.
That said, I have to say I’ve been surprised by how many fans seemingly want to make him the starter at second base and pencil him in for 140-plus games. That is less appealing to me. Even in comparison to Christian Arroyo, I see more upside at the plate from the latter as he’s shown more power and is younger. Last season in 181 plate appearances Arroyo finished with a 106 wRC+. If I had my druthers, neither of them would be starters, but if they did enter the season with those two as your second base options, I’d certainly lean heavily towards Arroyo.
But even with that said, he could still be a good bench signing depending on what else they do this winter. If they go cheap in the outfield and bullpen, then I would be disappointed with Iglesias as their top infield signing. I don’t expect that to be the case, though, and if they do make a splash in the outfield and perhaps in the bullpen as well, then Iglesias would be perfectly fine as a bench infielder who could play himself into more playing time if he gets hot with the bat. I’m probably less enthused by the idea than a lot of other Red Sox fans based on what I’ve seen, but that comes down more to degree of interest than anything.