Will Jose Iglesias be the new Rey Ordonez?

January, 23, 2012
1/23/12
5:45
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Sending shortstop Marco Scutaro away might seem like an invitation for disaster for the Red Sox. It might seem as if they are about to lurch back into the bad, old days of Jackie Gutierrez, just so that they can afford Roy Oswalt in an attempt to keep up with the Yankees in the AL East arms race.

But if anything, dumping Scutaro with one year left on his contract represents a neat calculated risk: Can Nick Punto and Mike Aviles keep them covered at least until they might call on defensive whiz Jose Iglesias?

[+] EnlargeMarco Scutaro
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen.
There's little doubt that Iglesias' glove is ready right now. The Cuban defector's range, arm and footwork already make him a decent choice for best shortstop glove in the minors today. The problem is whether his bat will be ready, now or ever.

After Iglesias' .235/.285/.269 line for Triple-A Pawtucket as a 21-year-old last season, you can understand the skepticism. Dan Szymborski of ESPN Insider projects Iglesias to hit .267/.307/.344, while Baseball Info Solutions is significantly more pessimistic about what he might do this year (.241/.277/.277).

The situation is a lot like that of a previous Cuban defector who was a highly regarded glove wizard: Rey Ordonez of the Mets. Ordonez was considered a ready-now glove from the moment he signed with the Mets at the end of 1993. Like Iglesias, he notched two years down on the farm before debuting in the majors. And at the plate he was worse than Iglesias despite being three years older at this same point of his career, hitting .214/.261/.294 for Triple-A Norfolk in 1995.

The Mets gave him the job at shortstop the next year anyway, heavily leaning on a strong interior defense. It didn't pay off immediately -- they won 71 games in '96. The Mets won 88 games in each of the next two seasons, though, although Ordonez didn't manage to get an OPS over .600 in any of his first three years.

The Mets then won 97 games and the wild card in '99, as Ordonez delivered his first borderline adequate season at the plate (.636 OPS). But the extent to which Ordonez was helping or hindering the effort to put the Mets over the top was open to question. When he got hurt in 2000, they traded for Mike Bordick at the deadline and won the NL pennant. The next year, they switched back to Ordonez -- and fell right back out of contention.

Iglesias isn't expected to be the second coming of Nomar Garciaparra, but he should eventually grow up to be better than Rey Ordonez at the plate. That's setting the bar as low as it can go, though. Would Iglesias' development as a hitter --if he has any in him -- suffer from an early promotion? Ozzie Smith is the ultimate example of a shortstop whose contributions on offense eventually caught up to his value on D. That was extraordinary, and the suspicion is that Iglesias won't be.

However, carrying a weak bat for the defensive payoff might be slightly easier on the Red Sox, especially now. They led the majors in scoring last season, and that was despite getting terrible production from their corner outfielders. Carl Crawford should be better, and there's no way they'll get worse production from their right fielders, even if they wind up relying on some combination of Ryan Sweeney, Darnell McDonald and Ryan Kalish.

Something approaching normalcy from those hitters would make Iglesias that much more palatable if Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine -- the man who managed Ordonez over the bulk of his “productive” career with the Mets -- takes a shine to Iglesias in camp.

In the meantime, Boston's fall-back options are fairly reasonable. Like Scutaro, Punto is neither the best or worst defender at short. The difference in their career OBPs (.338 vs. .325) is narrow enough to suggest there won't be any drop-off with a change to the identity of the ninth-slot hitter in Boston's lineup, and Punto actually has a higher walk rate for his career (10.2 percent to Scooter's 9.1). That's without getting into why Aviles might have been the best right-now option of the three. After getting jerked around by the Royals ever since coming back from the Tommy John surgery that put a dent in his future in 2009, he still profiles as a good bat and playable glove at short.

But it's Iglesias who represents the team's long-term future at short. And it's Rey Ordonez's old manager who will be helping to decide whether or not he can use the latest slick-fielding Cuban kid at short, sooner or later.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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