The Orioles have found their starting shortstop for the 2020 season. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand and others reported on Monday afternoon that the team has agreed on a contract with free agent shortstop Jose Iglesias. According to Feinsand, the deal will pay Iglesias $3 million in 2020, and the Orioles will hold a club option for another $3 million for 2021.
Iglesias, who just turned 30 yesterday, originally signed with the Red Sox late in 2009 after defecting from Cuba. A three-team trade involving the Red Sox, White Sox, and Tigers spun Iglesias to Detroit, where he stayed until becoming a free agent, eventually signing with the Reds for last season.
Over an MLB career that’s spanned parts of eight seasons, Iglesias has fit squarely into the archetype of a capable shortstop whose bat is not bad enough to cost him a job. Of course, since becoming a free agent he’s signed with two non-contenders in the Reds and now the Orioles. It says something that the O’s are the team he’s able to sign with.
Still, Iglesias is coming off a 2019 campaign with the Reds where he batted .288/.318/.407 - the best OPS of his career, in part thanks to a career-high 11 home runs. The juiced baseballs probably explain the jump, but even if he performs in line with his career OPS of .687, that’s not bad.
As for his defense, Iglesias scored +8 runs on Defensive Runs Saved and a +5.9 on Ultimate Zone Rating. He’s been worth at least 1.5 fWAR and 1.4 bWAR for each of the last five seasons.
Compare it all to the 2019 performance of Richie Martin and this looks like the first time in the Mike Elias era that the Orioles have added a player from outside the organization who stands a good chance of immediately making the team less crappy in the short term. It can’t hurt to have a shortstop who is able to make more plays to help out a pitching staff that, by year’s end, will probably have seen at least a few rookie pitchers trying to break in to MLB.
Martin, who played in 120 games in 2019 while under the Rule 5 roster restrictions, posted a paltry .581 OPS. His publicly available defensive numbers were not great either, with a -8 in Defensive Runs Saved and a -4.2 UZR. You can live with the glove being bad if the bat is good, and the other way around, but if neither one is good, well, there should be other options.
Now there is someone better penciled into the lineup and Martin can try to prove he belongs back in Baltimore by playing well at Triple-A Norfolk. If he never does that, then the Orioles have a two-year stopgap at the shortstop position thanks to Iglesias’s 2021 option.
If the “We’ll do it like the Astros” timeline that Orioles fans have been dreaming of since the Elias hire comes to fruition, Iglesias is the bridge to whoever will be the shortstop on the next good Orioles team in 2022. The signing won’t stop the Orioles from losing 100 games this year, but maybe it’ll make some of the losing just a little bit less awful.
The O’s 40-man roster is currently full. They will have to remove someone when the Iglesias signing becomes official. There are still a number of guys on the roster who will not cause either one of us to lose any sleep if they are designated for assignment.