July 31, 2013 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

In Jose Iglesias, the Tigers could have gem of a shortstop

Jim Leyland was lounging on a sofa in his Comerica Park office early Wednesday morning, sorting through thoughts, thinking about his team and its playoff march. And about how much had changed in two days.

“Might be a whole new team tomorrow,” he joked, repeating a line he had thrown at his derring-do general manager, Dave Dombrowski.

Dombrowski had, in fact, been busy. Even by his frenzied July trade-deadline standards.

Monday saw a badly needed reliever, Jose Veras, become Tigers property in a trade for hotshot prospect Danry Vasquez. Tuesday night, Dombrowski hammered out a three-corner pact that brought shortstop Jose Iglesias to Detroit as the probable replacement for shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who is expected to be hit with a suspension.

“Probably a pretty smart deal,” Leyland said of the swap for Iglesias, which sent a super-slick, 23-year-old defender from the Red Sox to the Tigers in a three-corner deal for Avisail Garcia (White Sox) and Brayan Villarreal.

“We got glowing reports. He’s got a tremendous reputation as a terrific shortstop.”

The Iglesias trade was a stunning, crown jewel of a feat for Dombrowski, who somehow cut through this summer’s denser, tougher trade thicket and bought long-term insurance at the most important spot on a field. Ask any pitcher about his No. 1 wingman. Invariably, it’s the guy at shortstop. Ground balls need to be snatched. Double plays must be turned. Iglesias is a wizard at both crafts.

The Tigers parted with Garcia and Villarreal in lassoing Iglesias, a Cuban refugee Dombrowski’s allies had tried to sign when he was 15, after he defected while in Canada with the Cuban junior national team. The Tigers had their billfolds open but were blown away by the Red Sox and their $14 million paycheck.

All-Star potential

What the Tigers believe they got in snaring Iglesias is not the hitter they have had in Peralta, who is hitting .307 with an .800-plus OPS.

What they got, in their scouts’ view, is a potential All-Star whose bat will be versatile and whose defensive skills will quash innings and partner with a pitching-first roster to win games.

Iglesias was hitting .330 in 63 games for the Red Sox, which is probably 65 or more points above where the Tigers would expect him to hit in 2014 when he is all of 24. In any appraisal of a shortstop Detroit expects to be a fixture for the next five or six years, begin with physical facts.

Iglesias is 5-foot-11, 185 pounds. He bats right-handed. He has enough gap and outfield-seats power to hit the occasional home run, with a ceiling of 10-12 home runs expected by the Tigers prognosticators once he hits his prime.

Peralta hits more homers. He slugs more doubles. But the Tigers like the tradeoff they expect to net from Iglesias, beginning with his defense.

He has superior range to his left and right and reduces ground-ball singles that often have been missed during the Peralta era. He has a plus arm from the hole between third and first. He also is extremely quick at turning double plays, a talent that should be clear as the Tigers allow fewer runners to reach first base on the back end of those double-play bids.

Different mind-set

Another reason the Tigers chased Iglesias hard is his intellect. It’s considered a match for his athleticism. He learned English in a hurry. He adapts to cultures and challenges, which he was displaying as he settled in with the Red Sox.

He moves from one pennant race to another in leaving Boston for Detroit. And, for all of his magic on defense, the Tigers would not have made Tuesday’s deal if they had doubts about his offense.

What they see in Iglesias is more of a small-ball shortstop. They think his knack for laying down a bunt, for hitting behind a runner, will offer Leyland more chances to create runs and keep innings alive on a team that has been begging for speed and for gun-loaders who can put men in scoring position for the middle lineup’s heavy artillery.

That won’t be Iglesias’ role immediately. Leyland was keeping his plans private Wednesday in deference to Peralta’s situation, which, until commissioner Bud Selig’s office acts, leaves him as a full-fledged Tigers starter.

But initially it appears Iglesias will bat ninth. A couple seasons from now, when Torii Hunter is gone and Leyland will be thinking about situational hitters for the No. 2 spot, that’s when Tigers scouts see Iglesias as a possible fit.

He will become part of a redesigned middle infield in Detroit. Omar Infante will be a free agent at the end of this season, and while it’s possible the Tigers will want to sign him to the two-year deal Infante will be chasing, Dombrowski, Leyland, and their colleagues have seen enough of Hernan Perez to believe he can move smoothly into a fulltime job at second base. They like what they see in a Iglesias-Perez up-the-middle combo.

It’s a new game in Detroit, by necessity. Peralta is all but gone. Iglesias is here. And a new shortstop will be sticking around for what could be a long stint in Detroit.


The Tigers want to sign Jose Iglesias when he was 15, after he defected while in Canada with the Cuban junior national team. / Claus Andersen/Getty Images
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