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Demoting Iglesias is best for short term

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  March 27, 2012 11:13 AM

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Maybe it was Ben Cherington's call. Maybe Bobby Valentine resisted. Or maybe, perceived rift be damned, the Red Sox manager and general manager worked in unison and came to the conclusion after talking through the possibilities.

But really, the process doesn't much matter at the moment. It's about the result, and in this case, it's the correct one.

Sending Jose Iglesias to Pawtucket to start the season is the right thing to do.

Tuesday morning's news that slick-fielding, offensively raw 22-year-old shortstop was among six players sent down by the Red Sox brought the proper conclusion to one of the most intriguing ongoing stories in Fort Myers.

Should nondescript but underrated veteran Mike Aviles break camp as the Red Sox starting shortstop? Or should Iglesias, who is so smooth and flashy in the field that he's made watching infield drills trendy, be awarded the job even though he had a downright miserable go of it at the plate his first time through Triple A?

It's a compelling competition, and thus no surprise that it seemed every Red Sox fan had an opinion. I dug in and took my stance a couple of weeks ago: Iglesias needs to master the International League first before throwing him in the fires of the American League East.

There is nothing in his recofinnozzie327.jpgrd to suggest he is ready. Nothing. The notion that he will hit better in the major leagues is based in neither fact nor logic. You say Ozzie Smith struggled with the bat when he came up with the Padres in '78, and I counter with this: He was 23, older than Iglesias is now, and he batted .303 in his only season in the minor leagues. Besides, no one, not even a prospect as skilled with the glove as Iglesias, should be compared to the Wizard this soon. That does a disservice to Ozzie's legacy, and puts an unfair burden on Iglesias.

The primary comparison for Iglesias is Rey Ordonez, and it is a frighteningly accurate one; in his final season in Triple A, in 1994, he had the exact same OPS Iglesias had last year. As sensational as Ordonez could be defensively, he was an atrocious hitter, which is one reason he spent just six full seasons as a starter in the big leagues. Red Sox fans should hope that Iglesias amounts to more than Rey Ordonez.

We always fall for the flashy fielders, right up until the point we get sick of watching them make outs 80 percent of the time. I get that -- it's a blast to have a shortstop who shows up on Web Gems every other night. Pokey Reese is the most dazzling defensive player to play for the Red Sox during my lifetime, and I loved having him here in 2004. But he also hit .221 -- .133 in an injury-plagued second half -- and no one was pining for him to play every day by that season's conclusion.

And please don't compare him to that other spectacular shortstop the Red Sox have had in recent seasons, Alex Gonzalez. He hit 19 homers in Double A at age 20, and 40 extra-base hits in 108 games at Triple A the following year . Iglesias, who had a .554 OPS in Pawtucket last season with 10 extra-base hits, is a long way from being the offensive threat Gonzalez was in his youth, and Gonzo has been a mediocre hitter in the big leagues.

As for the other guy ... well, some may not have noticed, but Mike Aviles is a pretty good ballplayer, though it's sometimes difficult to recognize because his best times came for lousy Royals teams and he's been plagued by injuries. But this is a guy who has an .814 career OPS against lefthanded pitching, who has a .288 lifetime batting average, whose career .419 slugging percentage is higher than that of recent past Boston shortstops Gonzalez, Marco Scutaro, Orlando Cabrera, and Edgar Renteria.

This is not some roster fodder we're talking about; Aviles can be an important part in deepening a Red Sox lineup that is loaded with three MVP candidates at the top but has more questions than usual (Ryan Sweeney, Jarrod Saltalamacchia) in the bottom third.

Despite Bobby V.'s odd phrasing in saying Aviles has taken to shortstop like "a duck to water," we're talking about a player who has appeared in more games at the position (152) than at any other during his four-year career. This duck has long known his way around the pond. Aviles has a strong arm, and while the eye-test suggests his range isn't spectacular, defensive metrics indicate he's more than competent at the position. He won't be worse than the calm-eyed guy with all the Gold Gloves in New York.

Aviles deserves to play now, to be the shortstop for at least the short term. I've said it before this spring, and I'll say it again: He may well be an upgrade on Scutaro offensively, provided he stays healthy. That, of course, is the big caveat. Aviles has never played more than 110 games in a season, and chances are he will find himself on the disabled list at some point in the summer.

Which is why Iglesias must be ready for his chance. Because it will come, if not early this season, if not even this summer, then certainly soon enough. His glove is golden. But he's far from ready as a hitter, and he must learn to hit minor league pitching before the big leagues beckon.

Here's hoping he goes down to Pawtucket and hits enough that the decision to bring him to the major leagues sometime this season is even easier than the decision to send him down Tuesday.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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