The Red Sox have had to spend the last few weeks adjusting on the fly and trying to counter every unexpected loss as COVID started to spread through their clubhouse. With one of the worst outbreaks the league saw all year, Boston’s management team was constantly on alert and it seemed every day there were long lists of roster moves being made, to the point where frankly we here at OTM could literally not keep up. And the outbreak affected all areas of the roster, with the rotation needing reinforcements like Kutter Crawford and Connor Seabold while the bullpen looked to players like Brad Peacock and Stephen Gonsalves, among many others.
But the every day lineup was also affected, which had the potential to be the most glaring consequences of the outbreak. With both Christian Arroyo and Xander Bogaerts hitting the COVID list — and Arroyo is still working his way back despite being one of the first to be taken off the roster — the middle infield was a mess. For a good chunk of time, Jonathan Araúz and Jack López were handling it, and they actually performed admirably. But in a bit of serendipity, former Sox prospect José Iglesias was released, and Boston had an opportunity to add an experienced big leaguer to their roster.
There wasn’t much in the way of expectations for Iglesias, who’s offense has developed to the point where he’s been able to stick in the league for the better part of a decade, but still below-average nearly every year. And this year with the Angels he put up an 84 wRC+ prior to being released, which means he’d been 16 percent worse than the league-average hitter. Boston wasn’t looking for an offensive savior, or really any savior at all. They were just trying another route to maybe get a little bit of smoothness before their roster came back.
But what they’ve gotten has actually been one of their most valuable players in this stretch. Now, given that we’re talking about a tiny 10-game sample, we’re certainly not reading into any of this production as indicative of long-term success, but rather just noting what he has provided in those 10 games. And that’s shockingly big-time performances with the bat. In 26 plate appearances, Iglesias has 10 hits, three of which went for extra bases with one home run, along with a pair of walks. It’s added up to a 213 wRC+ (again, nobody thinks this is sustainable) as he’s been showing better plate discipline since his arrival as well as an unexpected ability to keep the ball in the air.
And while Iglesias’ offense has been incredibly surprising, and quite valuable at the bottom of the order to set the table for the top of the lineup, what he’s done for the defense has been perhaps as important. Iglesias, as most who follow the league know, is one of the two or three best defensive infielders in the league, or at least he had been for most of his career. He’s taken a bit of a step back this year (not terribly surprising given he’s on the wrong side of 30 at this point), but the talent is still there. And we’ve seen it flashed at both shortstop and second base, where his incredibly quick hands are forming a really intriguing double play combo with Bogaerts.
Looking even beyond his own individual contributions with the glove, his presence alone has made the entire defense better, including in the outfield. Given the fact that Cora can trust that Iglesias will put up good at bats most of the time right now and provide strong defense up the middle, he doesn’t have to play around with the idea of putting Kiké Hernández at second base to shore up that spot, leaving Alex Verdugo to play center. We’ve seen too many times recently that that is a losing recipe. With Araúz and/or López in the middle infield, it can be easier to talk yourself into living with Verdugo in center. Iglesias’ arrival and production makes that untenable, as it should be.
Iglesias is not eligible for the postseason roster, something no one really expected to care too much about when he signed, but now is something of a big deal. Alex Cora will have an interesting decision to make when Arroyo returns — which could be as soon as today after his second rehab appearance in Worcester on Friday — about whether to stick with his hot hand in Iglesias as they try to lock down a playoff spot or to give Arroyo time to get him ready for the postseason. I’m not really sure what the right balance is, but I do know that Iglesias has done his job and is a surprisingly big reason the Red Sox have been able to stay above water amid this COVID outbreak.