Mensching: Bringing back Jose Iglesias wouldn't be shortsighted for Tigers

By Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

Jose Iglesias’ season officially came to an end Friday when the Tigers transferred him to the 60-day disabled list with a lower abdominal strain. If this is the end of his career in Detroit, it will be remembered for incredible plays alongside untapped potential — but maybe it shouldn’t be the end quite yet.

The Red Sox sent Iglesias to Detroit in a three-way trade involving the White Sox at the non-waiver trade deadline in 2013. It didn’t take long for the young shortstop to make an impression.

Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias will be a free agent in the offseason.

On Aug. 12 he ran up on a slow bouncer off the broken bat of White Sox catcher Josh Phegley, then fielded it one-handed and threw to first as his momentum took him to the ground to get the out. In the fourth game of the ALCS that year, Iglesias reminded his former team what they’d be missing when he ran into left field to grab a popup no one expected him to catch and then nearly turned a double play at second base.

These kinds of highlight-reel plays became commonplace, and made innings the Tigers were in the field every bit as exciting to watch as when they were at bat.

But there was just one problem. For all the apparent wizardry Iglesias could show, he seemed to disappear at times. His advanced defensive stats seemed like they should lead the league for all of his ability.

In 517 innings at shortstop in 2013, he compiled a defensive runs saved figure of zero, compared to the average fielder. He was exactly average. After missing all of 2014 with shin splints, he posted a -3 DRS in 2015 — the year he made an appearance in the All-Star Game and made a seemingly routine (for him) play that wowed his teammates. Even in 2018, a season he seems to be putting things together well, he was just one run better than average by the stat.

Fangraphs’ use of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) shows him to be consistently above average, but not greatly so. He’s no Andrelton Simmons.

The problem for Iglesias is that his bat isn’t that great and he doesn’t have a lot of power. If he’s not getting hits, his glove is all he’s got. Posting batting averages in the 250s and a career wOBA of .297 keeps him from ever having great value when he’s not turning every play that arrives between second and third base.

This was his walk year. After five years in Detroit, Iglesias could declare free agency after 2018. Quite a few people (myself included) were all but begging Tigers GM Al Avila to trade him. To at least get something. It’s just not as easily said as done, and Iglesias remained a Tiger in the waning days of August up until the time of his injury.

Now what?

The Tigers should take a long look at bringing him back next year. Iglesias might just do it, too.

He’s peaking at the right time in his career arc. His Fangraphs WAR of 2.6 is a career high, and that’s without the final month of the season. Baseball Reference’s slightly lower WAR of 2.0 is still a career best.

And although Iglesias won’t be the best free agent shortstop available (that’s Manny Machado) he’s near the top of the list.

Still, that’s no guarantee Iglesias will be wowed by an offer like you may have expected a top shortstop to be in the past. Most teams willing to spend the big dollars already have their guy, leaving the have-nots to create the market.

Detroit’s one of the have-nots.

With no real candidate for the job in 2019 — say it with me: don’t rush the rebuild, don’t rush the rebuild, don’t rush the rebuild — the Tigers are almost certain to go with a filler for the shortstop role next year ahead of the expected arrival of whichever prospect decides to break out best. Probably Willi Castro, recent arrival from the Indians and No. 10 in the Tigers’ organization in MLB Pipeline’s rankings, though not a top-10 shortstop prospect among all 30 teams.

The Tigers might find Iglesias’ asking price, even diminished, to be a little high still, but at least they know what to expect if they can get him to come back for one season. They should try to get that deal done, but probably shouldn’t try too hard.

If this really is the end of the line for Iglesias in Detroit, at least fans had a few years to enjoy a fun shortstop with mobility and agility — that’s something they haven’t been able to say in a long, long time.

It was fun, even if a bit frustrating.

Kurt Mensching is a freelance writer.