Internal Options at Shortstop

Let’s go back in time, to July 31st, 2004. At this time, of course, the Red Sox still hadn’t won a World Series since 1918, and were trying to avenge their loss to Aaron Boone and the Yankees in the 2003 ALCS. On this day, Theo Epstein made one of the riskiest trades in franchise history, trading away their starting shortstop, and longtime fan favorite, Nomar Garciaparra. The rest, as they say, is history, as Boston went on to become world champions after that year, with Orlando Cabrera as their shortstop.

However, since that trade eight years ago, there has been a revolving door at the shortstop position at Fenway. They’ve gone through Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Julio Lugo, among others. This past season, they started Mike Aviles, with a little bit of the great Nick Punto sprinkled in. After the season was long-gone, Aviles mysteriously disappeared from the everyday lineup, and glove-first man Jose Iglesias got the bulk of the playing time.

Ideally, the Red Sox would be able to bring in an outsider to man this premium position in 2013. However, the shortstop position is thin across the league, and the Red Sox aren’t the only team looking for an improvement there. The free agent market is pretty much barren, with the most intriguing player probably being Stephen Drew, brother of everyone’s favorite JD Drew. The best-case scenario, in my opinion, would be trading for Elvis Andrus. However, that doesn’t seem too likely, so it’s probable that we’ll be looking at some combo of Iglesias and Aviles. The question is: how much does each play?

Iglesias has been a highly talked about prospect for three years now, and it may finally be time to see exactly what he can produce. All of the talk surrounding him has been about how great he is with the leather, but how bad he is with the lumber. He did nothing to change that opinion in 2012, as he finished the year with a pitiful 5 wRC+ (a stat you can learn more about here) in 77 plate appearances. However, despite being 95-percent worse than the average major-league hitter, he was still worth slightly more than a replacement-level player, finishing the year producing 0.3 fWAR. Of course, that was due to his good glove work.

Mike Aviles, on the other hand, finished the year with a 73 wRC+ in 546 plate appearances. While being 27-percent below the league average doesn’t seem great, it’s a bit better considering the league-average shortstop had an 87 wRC+. I think a lot of fans thought Aviles was better than he actually was, though, because he produced like a mad man in April. That month, he put up a .291/.330/.535 slash line, good for a 131 wRC+. First impressions typically stick in the minds of fans, and this is one of those cases. He only put up one other above-average month in 2012, in August. While Fangraphs was a fan of his defense this year, most people would agree his glove is average at best.

So, these are the two internal options for this team. If they don’t make any significant moves to bring in a new shortstop this winter, some combination of these two will be manning the position. If it were my decision, I would start Iglesias in AAA Pawtucket. He clearly needs some serious work on the offensive side of things, even though he’s not quite as bad as he was this season. That being said, by the end of the season, I expect him to have played the bulk of the playing time.

Unless the team does something big this offseason, they likely have a ceiling of the second wildcard in 2013. The way this roster is currently constructed, this is a team that should be shooting for 2014. By that time, if all goes well, Xander Bogaerts will be ready to be the everyday shortstop. There has been a lot of talk about him not being able to stick at that position, but as long as there is a chance they should be preparing for that option. In 2013, there will be no point of sending Aviles out everyday.

The only way Aviles should receive the bulk of the playing time is if he goes bananas at the start of the year, or if Iglesias somehow becomes more worrisome offensively. If neither of these things happen, Ben Cherington should look to move Aviles to a contender in need of a utility man, where he is much better served. At that time, they can give Iglesias a legitimate sample size of plate appearances to judge him by. If he succeeds, and Bogaerts is ready to play shortstop in 2014, the team has a valuable trade chip on its roster. If he fails, just add him to the revolving door of shortstops. Either way, it’s finally time to see what he can do every day at the major-league level.

  • Gerry

    Four things:
    1. Iglesias, as any who has watched him will agree, plays elite defense with real potential to rank among the best SS in the game. That is worth keeping.
    2. His glove is so good that the Sox rushed him through the minors as a Spanish speaking new immigrant teenager, playing at every level against much older and more experienced pitchers, and his hitting reflected that.
    3. But at each level, before being promoted, he started adjusting to the pitching (which is why they could rush him), including at AAA where he hit well before being injured, and hit well again before his September callup. At Fenway, in his last two weeks, he was starting to hit again, barreling up the ball as Arnie Beyeler said he did in AAA and should do in the future. He needs to start at Fenway in April (assuming a strong ST) or he will lose his place in line to Bogaerts.
    4. Xander Bogaerts is potentially a great hitter, but Iglesias is a much better defender. If Iggy can hit near average for the position with extraordinary defense, 2013 will be the time to try out Bogaerts at a corner OF position or 1B, where his defense could be above average and his bat awesome.

    By this logic it is in the best interest of both players and the team to give Iglesias a year to adjust to MLB pitching. This is the essence of building from within.

  • Matt Collins

    While I agree with your basic point of giving Iglesias the chance to prove himself at the major-league level, I think you overrate his offensive abilities. The only times he was above average (by wRC+) as a hitter in the minors was in 2 plate appearances in low-A ball this season, and in 13 plate appearances at the same level in 2011.

    Also, if Bogaerts is able to play short, why diminish his value by moving him to a less-premium position when you could trade Iglesias for other pieces.