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Pittsburgh Pirates Off-Season Target Profile: SS Jose Iglesias

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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Pittsburgh Pirates prioritize shoring up their defense as an off-season priority, there is one free agent squarely in their wheelhouse who can do just that.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were no-good, very bad on defense last season. The entire club accounted for a minus-36 Defensive Runs Saved rating, minus-18 of which came from the shortstop position.

Jordy Mercer’s time with the club has come to an end, giving the Pirates a chance to re-think a position they have more or less held as status quo over the past six years.

Why then, would they be interested in glove-first SS Jose Iglesias?

Profile and Performance

Iglesias will hit his first taste of free agency having built up a solid reputation as a steller defender with good plate discipline.

For his career, Iglesias has posted a cumulative 84 wRC+, a .297 wOBA and a .678 OPS.

He has also saved 12 runs, which is actually deceivingly low given his stellar range:

Though he carries good discipline at the plate, striking out just 11.9 percent of the time for his career, he draws no walks to speak of with a 4.7 percent rate. He’s very Josh Harrison-esque in that regard, just without the occasional flashes of above-average offense Harrison provided. His 2018 soft contact rate of 21.0 percent is about three percent lower than the MLB-wide figure, making his put-the-ball-in-play approach all for naught, aside from the 64 doubles he’s slugged over the past two seasons.

Are the Pittsburgh Pirates desperate enough to shore up their substandard defense at the expense of potentially creating a black hole in their already-anemic at times lineup?

Career-to-Date

The case for

  • The best argument for adding Iglesias to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ mix is an indirect one. The 2019 Pirates are primed to thrive on pitching talent both in the rotation and bullpen. One could easily picture both units finding a new level of effectiveness simply by seeing better defense behind him. And, make no mistake about it, Iglesias is an excellent fielding shortstop.
  • There is absolutely no pop in his bat, but one wonders what Ievel Iglesias might be able to reach with a different approach at the plate. Iglesias arrives at his low strikeout rate by virtue of avoiding bad swings. His 5.4 percent career swinging-strike rate would be a full five percentage points below the 2018 MLB-wide number. Having touched a .300 average prior in his career, is it possible he could do so again with a bit more aggression?

The case against

  • Though many are predicting a modest contract somewhere in the range of 2-years/$12-15 Million, Iglesias may look for more, as this is his first time in free agency. If so, that absolutely does not jive with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ long-term plans for the position.
  • If the club were to sign Iglesias, what does that mean for Kevin Newman? Though many are down on him, taking innings and plate appearances away would certainly hinder the club’s ability to quickly get to a decision point on Newman. This may be short-term solution as Gregory Polanco works his way back (Presumably putting Adam Frazier in right field, allowing Newman to slide in at second base).
  • At the end of the day, are there options out there that may improve the team’s defense while getting a bit more on the offensive side as well? Names such as Nick Ahmed come to mind.

What it might take

We mentioned it above, and a 2-year deal at a max value of $15 million seems more than fair for a player of Iglesias’ ability. He can probably be had for a less, especially if teams get creative with mutual or vesting options for a third year.

Conclusion

Look, the Pittsburgh Pirates absolutely need to be better in the field. There is no question about that. But for a team that was also lacking in certain offensive areas, bringing in Iglesias may be a case of two steps forward, one step back.