A few months ago, I argued how much better off the Detroit Tigers would be with a good defensive shortstop, even one that couldn’t hit a lick, instead of Jhonny Peralta, who has little range. Not many agreed at the time, since Peralta was having a career year.
Then Peralta got suspended for PEDs, and the prospect of his departure for the remainder of the season forced Dave Dombrowski to get serious about finding a replacement shortstop. Perhaps he would have engineered the three-way trade that brought Jose Iglesias to Detroit regardless, since Peralta’s contract was going to expire anyway at the end of this year. Who knows? The Boston Red Sox were looking to add a pitcher and thought Iglesias expendable since Xander Bogaerts is their shortstop of the very near future. In any event, the three-way deal that cost Detroit Avisail Garcia got done.
After just a few weeks with the Tigers, Iglesias has made every fan forget about Peralta, and rightly so. Peralta will get a job somewhere else next year, probably as a third baseman, which is where he belongs, and he’ll probably finish his career as a DH, which is the most he can hope for a few years down the road. But now the Tigers have a star at short for a long time to come.
It’s very difficult to convince anyone how important defensive range can be — unless you see the difference in as stark a way as Tiger fans have seen it since early August. Iglesias is a revelation, and he’s already prompting conversations about who the best defensive Tigers shortstop in recent memory is. No longer are so many ground balls getting through the left side of the infield, or up the middle, and double plays are getting turned faster than leaves in autumn. Iglesias is a sensation, a whirling dervish with tremendous range, acrobatic and sure-handed. No need to argue esoteric stats like range factor or defensive WAR: the difference between Peralta and Iglesias is as plain as day. Just watch.
Iglesias makes the Tigers a much better team. Not only does he transform the infield defense, he adds a few other things the Tigers desperately needed: the ability to steal a base, to bunt for a hit, and the energy of youth among the club’s phalanx of veterans. He’s a missing piece that fits in perfectly. With him, the club’s pitching has suddenly gotten a lot better; the plodding, bashing Tigers have become a much more balanced, versatile offense; and the kid is hitting surprisingly well. Like Ozzie Smith, whatever he brings with the stick is a bonus. His speed and defense more than compensate for the power downgrade from Peralta.
Iglesias will help the Tigers in the playoffs. And he gives the club a chance to be the first in MLB history to win the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Wil Myers is probably the favorite to win the ROY, mostly because he’s had more hype all along. The much-heralded Tampa Bay outfielder is putting together a solid second half since his call-up from the minors, hitting around .290 with some power. But if you look closely, Myers’ OPS is only slightly higher than the one Iglesias has put together with infield hits, walks, and occasional gap power. Iglesias has more at-bats than Myers, and his defensive contributions to two first-place teams this season is immeasurable. Pitchers Martin Perez and Chris Archer will also get a few ROY votes, but really it comes down to Myers vs. Iglesias, and if I had a vote, it’s Jose all the way.
Regardless of the outcome of the ROY vote, though, I’m fairly certain that the trade that brought Iglesias to town will be long remembered as one of the best in recent Tigers history. As the Tigers begin to peak as a contender, with many stars reaching the wrong side of 30, they need to start mixing in young players. With Iglesias, Nick Castellanos, and Bruce Rondon, they now seem capable of remaining contenders for years to come without having to tear the team apart and rebuild.
It may be that eventually Peralta’s PED mistake may be thought of in the same way that Wally Pipp’s headache is, as a big blessing in a thin disguise. Iglesias is no Lou Gehrig, that’s not my point, but the new shortstop is one hell of a find.