O's find their SS, finalize 1-yr deal with Iglesias

January 7th, 2020

The Orioles have found their solution in the middle infield. The club on Tuesday filled its most glaring position-player need by agreeing to terms with veteran shortstop on a one-year contract that includes a 2021 club option. To make room on the 40-man roster for Iglesias, right-handed reliever Eric Hanhold was designated for assignment.

The deal will pay Iglesias $3 million this year and reach a total value of $6 million if next season's option is picked up, a source told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, who was the first to report the agreement.

Best known for his defensive acumen at short, Iglesias immediately jumps to the top of the depth chart there on an Orioles team hungry for stability at the position since trading Jonathan Villar to the Marlins last month. Previously, the O's primary shortstop options were , who hit .208 with a 54 OPS+ as a Rule 5 Draft rookie last season, and , a utility man with just 38 career games there.

“He is among the most steady and accomplished shortstops in Major League Baseball the last few years,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said on a conference call Tuesday. “Bringing in a veteran shortstop, let alone one with the résumé of accomplishments that Iglesias brings to us, was a major priority for us this offseason. We feel, in particular, his defensive capabilities will bring a tremendous amount of stability to our club.”

Enter Iglesias, who has long been known as one of MLB’s better glovemen. He gives Baltimore a full-time replacement for Villar, who started 73 games at short in 2019, as well as the flexibility to begin Martin in the Minors if the Orioles see fit. Elias said Tuesday that Martin remains a candidate to make the team in a utility role, while acknowledging how the signing affords Martin the ability “to get back on a more natural development track.” Martin has never played in Triple-A, skipping the level entirely last season while fulfilling his Rule 5 requirements.

“Last year, when you take a guy straight from Double-A in the Rule 5 Draft and stick him in the AL East, it's not the smoothest development curve,” Elias said. “This will allow us to take some of the pressure off relying on him to play shortstop and give him someone to look up to and play next to. I think it’ll be a good thing for him overall.”

An All-Star in 2015, Iglesias is a career .273 hitter with a .687 OPS over eight seasons with the Red Sox, Tigers and Reds. He hit a career-high 11 home runs with the Reds last season, his lone in Cincinnati. Iglesias originally signed a Minor League deal to back up José Peraza, but he ended up starting 136 games at short and hit .288 with a .724 OPS.

But as is characteristic, Iglesias’ largest contributions came in the field, where he put together one of his best statistical seasons. Accomplishments included career highs in Defensive Runs Saved (8) and dWAR (1.4); those helped solidify his status as the clear top defensive option in what was a shallow free-agent market for shortstops this offseason. Since 2015, Iglesias ranks among MLB’s leaders at shortstop in Ultimate Zone Rating (third), DRS (seventh) and dWAR (seventh).

According to FanGraphs’ Defensive Runs Above Average metric, he’s been the fourth-best defensive shortstop in the big leagues over that stretch. That figures to bolster an Orioles team that rated 12th among American League clubs in overall shortstop defense and had baseball’s lowest strikeout rate in 2019. Elias also said he believes Iglesias, 30, would be an asset mentoring younger players.

“Being a leader on the field, it’s a big responsibility that I’m willing and excited to do it,” Iglesias said. “It’s my time now, and I’m very exited about the challenge of making my teammates better.”

The Orioles had been in contact with Peraza, who was also a free agent, before he signed with the Red Sox in December. Baltimore had also been linked in rumors to free-agent shortstop Adeiny Hechavarría and was in the mix for versatile infielder Jurickson Profar before the A’s eventually dealt him to the Padres. Iglesias is the second free agent to join the club on a Major League deal this offseason, after righty Kohl Stewart inked a one-year split contract with the Orioles in late December.

“The combination of his offensive capabilities, of course the glove that he’s famous for, and the track record that he’s had, put him in a tier above anybody else who was available on the free-agent market,” Elias said of Iglesias. “We were in a good spot in terms of having a clear path to being a starter. If you are a guy like José, that’s what you are and that’s what you are looking for.”