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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: José Iglesias

Could Iglesias be the worst shortstop option available?

Boston Red Sox v Washington Nationals Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

In the days before the lockout, the biggest burning question surrounding the New York Yankees was who would be their starting shortstop in 2022. Not surprisingly, we kicked off our offseason target series with the top two shortstops on the market, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, and six of our first fifteen play the position. In all, we have looked at more shortstops than we have any non-pitching position.

That list expands even more today, as we look at yet another defense-first stopgap option that the Yankees would be able to bring in on a one-year deal, former Red Sox top prospect José Iglesias.

For the majority of his career, Iglesias has been a decidedly below-average hitter, slashing just .273/.315/.371 (84 OPS+) over his first eight seasons between the Red Sox, Tigers, and Reds. Entering into his age-30 season, he signed a one-year contract with a team option with the Baltimore Orioles. In the COVID-shortened season 2020 season, he had the best two months of his career, slashing .373/.400/.556 with three home runs and 17 doubles in 39 games, a 160 wRC+. After exercising that club option, Baltimore flipped him to the Los Angeles Angels, who were looking for a shortstop to replace Andrelton Simmons.

In Los Angeles, Iglesias’s bat returned to his career norms, as he slashed just .259/.295/.375 (82 OPS+). Since they did not intend to re-sign him, the Angels released him on September 3rd to make room for former Yankee prospect Janson Junk on the roster, preferring to give playing time to 24-year-old Luis Rengifo. Three days later, he was picked up by the Red Sox, who were struggling with a COVID outbreak and needing to fill out their roster. Back with the team he originally signed with as an international amateur, Iglesias’s bat came to life, as he slashed .356/.406/.508 with six extra-base hits in just 23 games as the team’s primary second baseman. Although he was a big reason the Red Sox ultimately held together and made the playoffs, he was ineligible for the postseason because he was not on the roster prior to August 31st.

Iglesias’s strong 2020 and final month of 2021 give him three months over the last two seasons in which he was one of the best bats in baseball. As this in itself is not exactly a common occurrence, it’s fair to wonder whether anything in the Statcast data suggests that he might break out offensively in his age-32 season. I’m here to tell you that, while anything can happen in baseball, you shouldn’t be looking to draft Iglesias high when picking your fantasy baseball team next season.

Iglesias puts the bat on the ball a lot and doesn’t strike out much, but other than that, there’s not exactly a ton that he does well. He walks less than anyone in the league except for Tim Anderson. Only 15 batters have a lower hard hit percentage. Even during his hot stretch with the Red Sox, he struggled to generate hard contact.

As with almost every shortstop that we’ve profiled, Iglesias’s main draw over the course of his career has been his glove. However, there’s reason to wonder whether his best days with the glove are behind him.

Note: Iglesias missed the 2014 season with stress fractures in his shins.

All three defensive metrics found that Iglesias’s performance at shortstop declined dramatically in 2021. While defensive metrics are often noisy and take a long time to stabilize, when all three show the same trend, it’s clear that we should no longer consider him to be a top defender at short as he enters his age-32 season.

If Iglesias can no longer be counted on to be a plus defender, then there’s absolutely no reason that the Yankees should count on him to be their starting shortstop. Even in his best defensive years, he was not quite in the Andrelton Simmons tier, capable of being worth three to five wins simply from his defensive prowess. Without a top glove...well, Baseball-Reference had him worth -0.7 WAR in 2021, while FanGraphs put him at exactly 1.0.

For a team looking to contend, that’s simply not an acceptable starting option.