Boston Red Sox Free Agent Target: Shortstop José Iglesias

If the Boston Red Sox go the free agency route, signing shortstop José Iglesias could lay the groundwork for Xander Bogaerts eventually switching positions.

The list of unsigned free agents is long, obviously, but one familiar name that might beckon Boston Red Sox Chief of Baseball Operations Chaim Bloom is that of José Iglesias. He’s the slick-fielding shortstop who dazzled Boston fans soon after making his MLB debut in 2011 with the Red Sox, for whom he played from 2011-2013.

Iglesias is coming off a solid 2019 season in which he hit .288 for the Cincinnati Reds while achieving career highs with 11 home runs and 59 runs batted in. He signed a one-year deal last February with the Reds for $2.5 million but was granted free agency on Oct. 31.

That cracks open the door for the Red Sox and Bloom, should he choose to dip into the free agent pool for inexpensive yet potentially impactful acquisitions. It’s conceivable that an Iglesias reunion with the Red Sox could lay the groundwork for the long-rumored Xander Bogaerts position switch to the outfield, or even first base.

Even if moving Bogaerts is no longer on anyone’s table, bringing back Iglesias could at least plug a hole at second base, a position which he has filled numerous times in his career.

The Cuban native, who turns 30 in January, indicated in mid-August that he was interested in staying in Cincinnati, telling MLB News that he was “very, very happy” to be with the Reds. At the time, though, the Reds had just acquired shortstop/second baseman Freddy Galvis on waivers from Toronto. Galvis subsequently finished the season with a total of 23 home runs, perhaps leaving primarily singles-hitting Iglesias as odd middle infielder out.

Signing Iglesias would make for an intriguing Beantown homecoming. He played a total of 98 games for Boston between 2011-2013, eventually batting .330 (with a .785 OPS) over 63 games in 2013. That was before he was traded mid-season to the Detroit Tigers in a three-team deal that brought pitcher Jake Peavy to Boston.

Despite splitting the 2013 season between the Red Sox and Tigers, Iglesias finished as runner-up to Wil Myers in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

By then, Iglesias was already better known for his glove than his bat. His spectacular, acrobatic plays at shortstop – he was to the Red Sox infield what Jackie Bradley Jr. was about to become to the Sox outfield – had already become legendary in 2012. But his anemic .118 batting average in 78 MLB plate appearances that year temporarily planted him back in Pawtucket.

So, why would Bloom even consider bringing Iglesias back to Boston with Bogaerts now a rising star seemingly entrenched at shortstop, and with a new six-year, $120 million contract firmly in hand? It’s not as implausible as it sounds.

A two- or three-year deal at $3-5 million per year for Iglesias would give the Sox a versatile, elite defender who can also play third base and second base. In fact, second base is up for grabs headed into 2020.

If Bogaerts or third baseman Rafael Devers get hurt, need a break or get a spot start at DH (with J.D. Martinez getting a [very] occasional start in right field), Iglesias can fill in there as well. In a sense, he is a right-handed Brock Holt, with a similar hitting profile but a superior glove.

We’ll get back to how Bogaerts fits into all this, in just a bit.

Point No. 2 predicated off of Point No. 1: With Iglesias in the Red Sox lineup most of the time, and with the expected trade of Bradley, that potentially gives Sox Manager Alex Cora a more consistent hitter in the No. 8 or No. 9 slot.

Iglesias has come a long way since .118. He has a lifetime batting average of .273 compared to JBJ’s .236 (the gap in 2019 alone was .288-.225). Iglesias has some punch as well, averaging just under 30 doubles over the last four seasons, although, granted, Bradley has hit more home runs, as sporadic as they are.

OK, so Iglesias’s lifetime OBP of .315 is far from Cooperstown-worthy as he rarely draws walks (JBJ’s OBP is .317). But Iglesias doesn’t often strike out, either. He has just 354 K’s in 2,706 career at-bats (13.1%) compared to Bradley’s 780/2,708 (28.8%) numbers.

Iglesias definitely has the edge in putting the bat on the ball, and that’s what you want at No. 8 or 9 – a better chance at making something – anything – happen.

Which brings us to Point No. 3: It’s conceivable that Iglesias, as a member of the Sox, would become the starting shortstop if and when the long-whispered switch comes in which Bogaerts moves to the outfield (left field, presumably) or even to first base if things don’t pan out with either Michael Chavis or Bobby Dalbec at the cold corner.

No one really knows what Bloom is thinking at this point; anything seems possible. So let’s continue.

Ever since Bogaerts came up to the Red Sox as a rookie in 2013, sporting a tall, wiry frame that presumably would eventually fill out (with added muscle, not to be confused with Pablo Sandoval), there was talk that Bogaerts could eventually be moved to the outfield. Sox then-manager John Farrell reportedly, per MassLive.com, even said so himself. 

While we know that the Bogaerts-to-third-base experiment of 2014 was a laboratory failure, that was almost six years go. The more-mature Bogaerts might be amenable to a switch to the outfield. (For one thing, Bill James wouldn’t have Bogaerts to kick around anymore when compiling his annual shortstop defensive metrics rankings).

Having Iglesias on board to move in behind Bogaerts at shortstop – who knows when highly touted Red Sox prospect C.J. Chatham will be ready? – would make such a move plausible without the need for a hot iron and patch.

Next: Three deals Red Sox had to make

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As for adding on Iglesias’s salary as a signed free agent? Chances are that if the Sox and Bloom are serious about getting the payroll under $208 million, they will do so while leaving enough room for a few signings like an inexpensive Iglesias deal.

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