October 17, 2013 at 9:44 am

Lynn Henning

Jose Iglesias is short answer for Tigers, despite Jhonny Peralta's surge

Detroit Breakfast-table topics that sprang from Wednesday night’s game at Comerica Park, which saw the Tigers win a game by something other than a knee-knocking margin, 7-3, in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

Jose Iglesias is still a decent bet to be the best player, relative to position, in July’s big three-team deal.

Fans want continuity from their everyday players. They want the sure thing. They particularly like their regulars to hit.

That’s why the Tigers faithful loved Jose Iglesias when he first showed up. Not only did he gobble up ground balls, and make wondrous throws, and pretty much tell the other Tigers infielders they could take the night off if they preferred, he beat out base hits, hit a couple of home runs, and augmented all that sparkling choreography at shortstop with just enough of a bat to win the customers’ hearts.

And then September arrived. After batting .294 in August, the first full month after Iglesias was shipped to Detroit in the deal that sent Jake Peavy to the Red Sox and Avisail Garcia to the White Sox, Iglesias hit .200.

Doubt set in. Fans petrified by any player who doesn’t hit for a big average began to shudder that Iglesias (gulp) … might … not … be … a … hitter.

But they should relax. Really. They should just chill.

He is 23. And if baseball fans have learned anything in these 100-plus years the big-league game has been evolving, it is that this inordinately difficult game doesn’t suffer kid players.

It makes them fail, and to learn from failure. And if their bat-speed is as high-rpm as Iglesias flashes during his blur-like swings, team followers should trust that a 23-year-old will become smarter and stronger as he grows in experience and physical stature.

And when all of that comes together, sooner rather than later, it’s possible the Tigers will have an All-Star shortstop on their roster. There is an equal chance the White Sox will end up with a two-way star —maybe also an All-Star — in Garcia, the 22-year-old outfielder the Tigers, with a grimace, sent to Chicago as part of July’s three-cornered deal.

Folks locally have wondered about all of this. Was it really wise to trade Garcia? Was this kid Iglesias a good acquisition, or is he the next version of Brandon Inge?

Now that Jhonny Peralta has returned from exile and has hit like a cyclone since being re-fitted with his Tigers uniform, is it not in the Tigers’ interest to re-sign Peralta, who is 31 and who will be a free agent in a few days, as a hedge against Iglesias not being ready for prime time in Detroit?

And the answer is: probably not.

It’s not that Peralta couldn’t be retained if the Tigers were to make a one-year qualifying offer ($14.1 million). Other teams might well decide not to offer him a multi-year deal and forfeit a draft choice the Tigers would win if they made that big qualifying offer and lost him to free agency.

Or, the Tigers could always allow him to pursue free agency and bid against other, competing teams, with thoughts of making Peralta a multi-year deal. And, perhaps, with an idea of alternating him in left field and at shortstop, as manager Jim Leyland has done during this month’s playoffs.

But that all seems unlikely. The Tigers will be paying heavy raises to a barrel full of arbitration-eligible players this off-season. Their free-agent dabbling figures to be modest, at best.

They would also be forgiven for wanting a better defender in left field, where Peralta, who has done an adequate job, is still a shortstop playing the outfield.

But, undoubtedly, they plan on moving forward with Iglesias as their shortstop. His glove wins games. His arm wins games. And soon enough, his bat will be a proportionate part of the Tigers’ offense.

The Tigers won’t necessarily be happier with Iglesias than the Red Sox have been with Peavy, or the White Sox figure to be as they delight in Garcia’s gifts.

But, acknowledging shortstop as the most important position on a baseball field, the Tigers are a percentage bet to get the greatest net gain, for the longest period of time, from their July surprise that landed Iglesias.


Jose Iglesias drives in Jhonny Peralta in the second inning with a fielder's choice. / Daniel Mears / The Detroit News
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