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Last week, the Red Sox made the inevitable decision that most fans disapproved of. The team sent 23-year-old Jose Iglesias back down to the minor leagues in order to activate shortstop Stephen Drew from the 7-day disabled list as the veteran returns from a concussion.
In six games with the Red Sox, Iglesias had shown off his abilities to the extreme, hitting .450 (9-20) while playing extraordinary defense. Despite his hot start, which was essentially perfect, the team knew that Drew was the 2013 starting shortstop to begin the year.
Boston signed Drew this offseason to a one-year deal worth $9.5 million, a large investment for a man to lose a starting job to a 23-year-old. And whether it be by simple association with older brother J.D., or the great start Iglesias gave the team, fans largely may have preferred to leave Drew on the bench. However, a closer look at the situation shows why Drew belongs at shortstop, as well as why Iglesias hasn’t proven anything offensively quite yet.
Drew was a success with the Arizona Diamondbacks in his early years, finishing 26th in MVP voting in 2008 after compiling a .291/.333/.502 slash line and a career-high 21 home runs. With the lack of offense across the big leagues at the shortstop position, Drew’s potential with the bat and skills at short make him an everyday big league player.
And while those strong numbers in Arizona haven’t kept up, his health was also a concern in the last few years. Unlike brother J.D., who was often criticized for not playing through the pains of a 162-game season, Stephen suffered an actual injury when he broke his ankle on in 2011. Before the injury, he was largely regarded as one of the best all-around shortstops in the National League.
Yes, Iglesias began the season 9-20 in the big leagues to supply unexpected offense at the bottom of the Sox lineup. Yet a closer look at his season tells a story of luck that will inevitably run out. Five of Iglesias’s hits were infield singles, either on pushed bunts or weak ground balls he managed to beat out with his speed. Most of the others were chopped past infielders, with almost nothing hit solid.
We don’t know anything different about Iglesias than we did at the start of Spring Training except that he can handle laying down a bunt in the big leagues. If the team kept him in the big leagues and sat Drew on the bench, the longterm effects would be bad for both players.
Eventually, Iglesias would begin slumping and see his on-base percentage and average drop significantly, shaking his confidence in his ability to play with the Red Sox. At the same time, Drew would be cold on the bench or in a part-time role, and his trade value would only decrease if the Sox didn’t choose to play him.
Instead, Drew gets his starting gig as expected, and his large contract will be put to some use for at least the 2013 season. And at the same time, Iglesias had a wholesomely positive experience in the big leagues and returns to work on his offense at Triple-A, knowing deep down that he deserves another crack at shortstop in MLB.
Even if Stephen Drew struggles with the Red Sox this season (he’s 2/16 through Monday night), he’s likely not going anywhere until he becomes a free agent at the end of the year. In retrospect, a team with two promising young shortstops (Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts) probably should have explored a less expensive option at the position instead of signing Drew. The $9.5 million commitment is the ultimate reason why he can’t be moved, but if they had signed a more versatile option for less money, there could be room for Iglesias to keep playing.
So there’s really no decision here, because Stephen Drew is an everyday big league shortstop. But if the team had gone elsewhere this offseason, we’d be exploring the possibility of seeing Iglesias much more frequently this year. Then again, Drew’s played only five games, and Boston fans are pretty quick to judge. For all we know, Stephen could end up being one of the best players the team acquired this offseason.