How did Jose Iglesias just drop into the Tigers’ laps? Shortstop has proven to be one of the least replaceable positions — probably the single least replaceable position — over recent baseball history. This year, about 75 percent of the way through the season, eight teams have failed to get replacement level production at shortstop according to FanGraphs.
As Movie Character Ron Washington would say, it’s incredibly hard.
The Tigers almost certainly would have joined those ranks over Jhonny Peralta‘s 50-game suspension if they hadn’t found Iglesias. And Iglesias, if you haven’t noticed, can do this:
This isn’t to say the Tigers ripped the White Sox or Red Sox off in their July trade — far from it. Stephen Drew is hitting well this season — .245/.327/.421 — and the prospect of adding Jake Peavy for a player who probably will never hit is nigh impossible to pass up. And for the White Sox, adding a prospect like Avisail Garcia with universally acknowledged 20-homer (or more) potential for a free agent to be on a sub-.400 team was a similarly easy decision.
Detroit made for the ultimate facilitator thanks to its desperation. Who was available at shortstop heading into the deadline? Brendan Ryan, maybe? Most non-contenders with talent at shortstop have it locked up for the long-term — think Colorado with Troy Tulowitzki, Milwaukee with Jean Segura, Washington with Ian Desmond, San Francisco with Brandon Crawford, and San Diego with Everth Cabrera.
Iglesias was a hot hitter for Boston — in 234 plate appearances he hit .330/.376/.409 but with a .376 BABIP. He’s down to .268/.305/.339 with a .326 BABIP in Detroit, and ZiPS and Steamer each project him to drop further. He hit .257/.307/.314 in four minor league seasons, including .244/.296/.292 in nearly a season and a half at Triple-A. He’s not going to hit like this for long, most likely. If he hits a ball as hard as possible, unless he takes it down the line, there’s a good chance it lands in an outfielder’s mitt.
And it doesn’t matter. Because of the play above. And because of this one.
Note not just the dive but also the speed with which he gets rid of the ball. Same for this otherwise-routine double play. Iglesias does more than just make the ultra-difficult plays, he makes other tough plays look simple, and that is a typical mark of greatness in the field.
For the Tigers as a whole, Iglesias is a symbol of how they’ve been operating for the last few years. Yes, almost all of their signings over the last two or three seasons have been geared towards the present. Shoot first and ask questions later and all that. But in so many cases — from Prince Fielder to Anibal Sanchez to Omar Infante to Torii Hunter — the moves have worked out in the short-term and have given the Tigers opportunity to keep the window of competition open for a couple more years.
The Tigers know what happens when you play a sub-replacement infielder for half a season. They did it with Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn at second place last year, and that’s why it took until August for the Tigers to break free of Cleveland in the AL Central race. Omar Infante was the low-key pickup in the deal that brought Anibal Sanchez to Detroit, but he was arguably just as important. The Tigers still don’t have anybody else in the organization who can play second base in the major leagues. He’s hitting .314/.343/.443 this season and has been a rock.
This year, it’s Iglesias who will be the all-important fill-in up the middle. He won’t hit like Jhonny Peralta, but he’ll give Tigers pitchers a defensive presence they’ve sorely missed in the infield. The Tigers couldn’t afford to leave the hole vacated by Jhonny Peralta open. With Iglesias, they’re primed to ride high into the playoffs as the favorite in the American League at this juncture.