The Cincinnati Reds are reportedly talking to free agent shortstop Jose Iglesias about a minor league deal for 2019. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic was the first to report this.
#Reds have been in discussions with free-agent SS Jose Iglesias on a minor-league contract, sources tell me and @ctrent. Would be reserve IFer, giving team a true backup SS and bench of Schebler/Kemp/Dietrich/Iglesias/Casali (assuming Senzel is in center and Winker in left).
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 22, 2019
This is interesting in a few different ways. First, let’s talk about Jose Iglesias. Playing for the Detroit Tigers in 2018 he hit .269/.310/.389 in 125 games played. The shortstop isn’t exactly known for his bat. Over the last four seasons he’s topped a .700 OPS once. What he is known for, though, is quality defense at a premium position. Despite not being much of a hitter, last season he was worth 2.2 bWAR or 2.5 fWAR depending on which version of WAR you prefer. That’s a slightly above-average starting caliber shortstop WAR. To land a player like that on a minor league deal would be an absolute steal for the Cincinnati Reds.
The projection systems don’t see his offense improving. They all believe he’s a sub .700 OPS hitter. But it’s never been the bat that was the selling point with Jose Iglesias – though for those of you who like batting average, he has hit .300 or better in two seasons (2013 and 2015). It’s the defense that the systems like, and while it’s likely to take a small step back in 2019 he should still be expected to provide above-average defense.
A back up shortstop for Cincinnati is an interesting spot on the roster and in the organization. Jose Peraza has the starting gig locked down. On the 40-man roster there are two guys who could ideally be the backup. First would be Alex Blandino. But he’s recovering from ACL surgery after tearing up his knee last July. He may or may not be ready to begin the season. And then there’s Blake Trahan. He’s known to be a quality defender at shortstop. But over the last two seasons in Double-A and Triple-A he’s also slugged under .300.
Alex Blandino can cover you as a backup shortstop. But defensively he’s a bit stretched at the position. His arm works there quite well. But his range isn’t great. With positioning, it could help. But still, he’s going to stand out as a below-average defender on an every day basis if he needs to step in there. For Blake Trahan, the defense would be fine, but his bat projects to be rather similar to a good hitting pitcher (ZiPS projects him as a .207/.277/.274 hitter for 2019). That’s not what you want to step in on a daily basis if needed, either.
In Triple-A there’s another option. The Reds signed Christian Colon to a minor league deal in the offseason. He’s a shortstop. He’s also 30-years-old. ZiPS projects him to be a .249/.322/.331 hitter on the season. But he’s also known for his glove. He very well could be the best option of the three backup options, at least when it comes to the need for someone to step in for an every day need at the position.
Jose Iglesias would be an upgrade to all three of those options. He’s the better defender. And between Trahan and Colon, he’s also the better hitter. Given his past experience in the Major Leagues he likely would have an opt-out date in his minor league contract where the team would have to let him know before spring training is over if he’s going to make the team or not. That way if he had other offers out there he could choose to become a free agent and take them.
The final question here would be about how the bench would be set up. The Reds have talked about potentially having a 13-man pitching staff. That would make it incredibly tough for Cincinnati. There simply wouldn’t be room on the roster for a handful of guys. That would leave four men on the bench. One of them would be the backup catcher. That would leave three spots for Matt Kemp, Scott Schebler, Derek Dietrich, Jose Iglesias, Alex Blandino, Connor Joe, Phillip Ervin, Kyle Farmer, and potentially Nick Senzel (depending on how the center field situation plays out). More and more this seems like a situation where a 12-man pitching staff almost has to be done.