Jose Iglesias's 2014 season may already be over. ESPN's Jim Bowden reported Saturday that the young Tigers shortstop will miss most of the year with shin splints . The 24-year-old had been dealing with the issue throughout spring training according to MLB.com's Bernie Pleskoff and Iglesias played in just one spring training game before being shut down.
It isn't often that trading for a highly-touted prospect is a win-now move. But that was clearly the case for the Tigers last year when they acquired Iglesias one day before the trade deadline. Jhonny Peralta was about to be suspended for his involvement with Biogenesis, and Iglesias was one of the few MLB-ready shortstops available on the market.
Iglesias provided a notable boost to what had been one of the most sluggish infield defenses in the league last year. Such is to be expected when the corners are manned by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Unfortunately, Iglesias didn't do much with the bat. After hitting .330 in 63 games with Boston, Iglesias mustered just a .259 average with a .654 OPS (77 OPS+) in 46 games with the Tigers. His poor hitting continued throughout the playoffs, as he went 6-for-26 (.231) without an extra-base hit in 11 postseason games.
This is the kind of hitter Iglesias's minor league performance suggested he would be in the major leagues. Iglesias struggled to hit for power or draw walks throughout his minor league career and owes his major league career strictly to his glovework. The ZiPS projection system at FanGraphs expected just a .265/.311/.336 line from the 24-year-old this year, while Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA was even more pessimistic at .255/.294/.327. Despite Iglesias's slick glove, shortstop was a position of weakness as the Tigers entered the offseason, or at least a position which could conceivably be upgraded.
The Tigers will almost certainly make a major move to replace Iglesias before Opening Day. Stephen Drew remains on the market as clubs have balked at coughing up a draft pick for the free agent shortstop. The Tigers become the obvious leader for his services, much like the Braves became tied to Ervin Santana following the injury to Kris Medlen. Other options may be available on the trade market. In particular, Seattle's Nick Franklin or Brad Miller could be moved thanks to the Mariners' acquisition of Robinson Cano, in particular. All three players seem superior to current Tigers backup Steve Lombardozzi, a .264/.297/.342 hitter in 257 games with the Nationals with just two major league games at shortstop and a brutal .464 OPS through spring training thus far.
Drew hit .253/.333/.443 with 13 home runs in 124 games for the Red Sox. Franklin hit 12 home runs in 412 plate appearances for the Mariners as a rookie last year, and Miller hit eight home runs and stole five bases despite playing in just 76 games. All three were projected (by both ZiPS and PECOTA) to post an OPS at least 60 points better than Iglesias. Although Iglesias features the best glove of the group, Drew in particular is a noted excellent fielder and is likely the better shortstop overall at this point; it's difficult to argue the club would be more than marginally worse with either of the Mariners youngsters as well.
The Iglesias injury is still a painful one for the organization as well as the player. The Tigers know they have an elite defensive talent in Iglesias. But if he was going to become a true shortstop of the future, part of the club's organizational plan beyond the next couple of years, he needed to show he was capable of more than the occasional slap single at the plate. Iglesias struck out 20 percent of the time with the Tigers in 2013, and he simply doesn't have enough pop or enough discipline to challenge major league pitchers if he can't make consistent contact.
He did make consistent contact in Boston -- he struck out just 12.8 percent of the time in 234 plate appearances with the Red Sox -- and as a result he hit .330/.376/.409. Such performance might be the peak of what Iglesias is capable of, but if he could even find a middle ground between the two performances, his splendid ability with the glove should be enough to earn him a consistent spot in the Tigers lineup for the foreseeable future. 2014 was going to be critical in determining if Iglesias was up to the challenge.
But for 2014, the Tigers have to move on. Thanks to the market quirks that have left shortstops available deep into March, the Tigers should be able to patch up well in the short term, and they may even get better as a result.