Iglesias deserves credit for providing Sox value

Iglesias deserves credit for providing Sox value
July 31, 2013, 12:45 pm
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As far as last impressions go, this was uhhh . . . I don’t know.

This was something.

This was Jose Iglesias leading off the second inning of last night’s game with a line drive off the Green Monster. This was probably the most solid piece of contact we’d seen from the shortstop/third baseman/threat to Ted’s .406 since the All-Star break, a ball hit so hard that even a runner with his relative speed had no business trying to stretch it into a double. Naturally, Iglesias tried to stretch it into a double and the throw easily beat him to the bag, allowing Mariners second baseman Nick Franklin to simply lay down his glove and wait for Iglesias to slide right into it.

But naturally, Iglesias didn’t slide right into it. Instead, he slid to the far right, lifted his arm to avoid Franklin’s glove, hopped up and found himself a few steps into centerfield. Franklin, now face down, basically humping the bag, lunged to apply the tag, but Iglesias juked him like Arian Foster in the backfield, and naturally, kicked into a full sprint back to first base.

In the words of the great Hamilton “Ham” Porter: 

“PICKLE!!!”

Franklin pursued Iglesias, before tossing it to first baseman Justin Smoak, who chased Jose back to second before tossing it to shortstop Brad Miller. At this point, Iglesias was like one of those crazy, drunk (and I think usually on mushrooms) fans that jump onto the field, hilariously elude more security than you could ever imagine, but are ultimately faced with a pathetic and inevitable demise. However, and most naturally, this dog wasn’t going down without fight. As he approached Miller, Iglesias attempted one last acrobatic spin move, this one out of the book of a young LaDainian Tomlinson . . . but with the effectiveness of an old Marion Butts.

Finally, Miller applied the tag, thus closing the book on the most ridiculous and eventful single of Jose Iglesias’ Red Sox career.

Little did we know at the time, it was also his last.

Seven innings later (that’s the ninth if there’s not a calculator handy), Iglesias was replaced in the field by Brandon Snyder. In a perfect world, John Farrell may have been able to disguise this as defensive strategy, if not for three very obvious issues: 

1. The Sox were up 8-1.

2. Iglesias is perhaps the best infielder in baseball.

3. It wasn’t so long ago that Snyder cost Boston a game in Anaheim by overthrowing a routine force out at second into the right field bleachers. 

Nope. That wasn’t it. Instead, as soon Snyder trotted out to third base, with the MLB’s trade deadline less than 24 hours away, it was clear what had happened. And shortly after the final out, the implication became official:

Jose Iglesias had been traded. In this case, albeit indirectly, for White Sox starter Jake Peavy.

What Peavy will ultimately bring to Boston remains a mystery. Of course, at the height of his career, the now 32-year-old righty was one the best pitchers in baseball. Most notably, while with the Padres in 2007, he pulled off the rare pitcher’s triple crown, leading the NL in wins (19), ERA (2.94) and strikeouts (240) — and for good measure, WHIP (1.061) — on his way to unanimously winning the Cy Young. That winter, San Diego rewarded him with a four-year/$52 million extension, which at the time (somewhat remarkably) was the largest contract in Padres history. But since then, injuries have told the story of Peavy’s career. 

In 2008, he spent time on the DL with a sore throwing elbow. In 2009, it was a strained tendon in the back of his ankle. In 2010, now in Chicago, where he’d been traded at the previous deadline, his season ended before the All-Star Break after surgery to repair a detached latissimus dorsi muscle in his back (ouch?). In 2011, he struggled through 18 injury-riddled starts and boasted a career worst 4.96 ERA.

Just to tie a little bow on the Peavy disaster: In the four years after signing his four-year extension, he posted only one season with more than 20 starts, only one season with more than 111 innings. Outside of 2011, he was still effective when on the mound; he was just never on the mound. 

But that changed last season. While the 11-12 record was nothing special, Peavy made 32 starts and threw 219 innings, while finishing in the Top 10 in ERA (3.37) and the Top 3 in WHIP (1.096). He also made his first All-Star Game since that 2007 Cy Young season and won the first Gold Glove of his career. It was enough to earn him another extension this past winter, for two years and $29M with a vesting option for the third year. (Translation: The Sox are on the hook for the rest of this year’s $14.5 million salary, next year’s $14.5 million salary, and a potential but unlikely $15 million payday in 2015.)

He began this season on a similar roll. Through nine starts, he was 6-2 with 2.97 ERA. In six of those nine, he pitched at least seven innings while never allowing more than two earned runs. But as usual, injuries bit him in the ass. Or in this case, the rib.

Peavy’s hot start was followed by two subpar performances and the revelation that he was pitching with a broken rib. That led to a seven-week DL stint, but since returning to action, he’s once again been impressive, making two very solid starts against two very solid first-place teams.

July 20: Six innings, seven hits, two earned runs, three strike outs and zero walks in a win 7-4 win over Atlanta.

July 25. Seven innings, four hits, four earned runs, seven strikeouts and two walks in a win over Detroit. 

He arrives in Boston at 8-4 with a 4.28 ERA. Not to be ignored, he also arrives having not pitched in the playoffs in seven years, and all told has only made two career postseason starts, while amassing a record of 0-2, with a 12.10 ERA. 

But at this point, you might as well throw out the numbers. 

When it comes down to it, Peavy’s future with the Sox (as it has everywhere) will boil down to this:

1. If he’s healthy, he’ll be effective. He could be very effective. The kind of effective that puts Boston over the top in a season that’s void of a prohibitive World Series favorite.

2. It’s extremely hard to have faith in him being healthy.

So, why make the deal?

Because a GM doesn’t win the World Series by spending the summer spinning around on his thumb, and despite the initial expectations, the World Series is now firmly on Ben Cherington’s radar. That means being bold, taking chances. It means doing what you think, in the best case scenario, gives you the best chance to win; all while knowing that if things go right, you’ll be a hero and if they go wrong you’ll be a moron. That regardless of your intentions, or how little control you have over a guy’s performance once he dons the uniform, that it’s your ass on the line.

Make no mistake: If Jake Peavy fails in Boston, no one will blame Jake Peavy; they’ll blame Ben Cherington. If Peavy succeeds, and the Sox win another ring? Sure, Peavy will get the royal treatment, but it will be nothing compared to the blubbery Cherington lovefest. He’ll be a hero.

But in the event that this trade does work out, and Peavy does put the Sox over the top — whether it’s in the division, the American League or beyond — here’s the one guy who deserves credit above everyone else: Jose Iglesias.

Looking back now, it’s actually fitting that the lasting memory from Iglesias’ final game in Boston was such a comical one. Because let’s be honest, not since Izzy Alcantara have we seen a Red Sox prospect who was the butt of as many jokes as Iglesias.

Despite his borderline alien ability with the glove (which, not for nothing, qualified him as just about my favorite player on the team. What can I say? I’m a sucker for aesthetics), his borderline geriatric work with the bat left him targeted for more punch lines than Anthony Weiner. 

Of course, that was the case with both fans and the media. But also within his own organization, beginning with beating he took from Bobby Valentine down the stretch last season, followed Cherington’s decision write a $9.5 million check to Stephen Drew to serve as a one-year SS stop-gap. Only, at this point, the assumption was that Drew wasn’t keeping that spot warm for Iglesias; the “shortstop of the future” tag that he’d held for the last few years now belonged to Xander Bogaerts. It appeared unlikely that Iglesias was in the plans at all.

Anyway, when Drew predictably started the season on the DL, the Sox were forced to turn to Iglesias and he responded by hitting .450 over the first seven games (helping lead the Sox to a strong and much-need 5-2 start), but was mocked for not hitting .450 the right way.

When Drew returned, Iglesias, despite proving himself as worthy contributor to the major league club, was sent to Pawtucket, admittedly didn’t handle it with grace, and became a media whipping boy for his bad attitude.

Six weeks later, with prize prospect Will Middlebrooks injured and struggling, Iglesias got the call, but this time the Sox said: “Hey, why don’t you take over at a position you’ve never played before?” He did, and his defense didn’t skip a beat, while his batting average hovered above .400 up until a week before the All-Star break. During that span, Drew got hurt and they moved Iglesias to short, Drew came back and they sent Iglesias back to third. He never said word. He excelled every step of the way. But he was still a joke. He’d never keep it up!

Over the last few weeks, the anti-Iglesias camp was rewarded for their unconditional disbelief, as the infielder’s bat began to disappear. As of the trade, Iglesias was 12 for his last 71 (.169), and his overall average plummeted ALL THE WAY down to .330.

And in the aftermath of the deal, Ben Cherington’s being lauded as a genius; as a great negotiator. “He sold high!” is the popular phrase. But the real achievement in all this is that Cherington was even in a position to sell high in the first place. And the fact that he was had nothing to do with the GM. He and the rest of the organization didn’t even want Iglesias out there in the first place. The truth is that in the face of all the jokes, and all the clear indications that the Sox were ready to go in another direction at shortstop, Iglesias is responsible for turning himself into that player, for transforming himself into an asset that Sox had essentially given up on, and leaving Boston as a once-again promising prospect with enough clout to serve as the centerpiece in a deal that landed Boston one of the best arms on the market.

As PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina said this morning: “If you said at the beginning of the season, Jose Iglesias for Jake Peavy, everybody'd take it.” 

That’s true. And the only reason anyone did take it is because Iglesias made them take it.

Now it’s up to Jake Peavy to make that take worth it, while Ben Cherington’s legacy waits patiently in the wings.

Twitter: @rich_levine