O's pick up 2021 option on Iglesias

November 2nd, 2020

At least for the time being, isn’t going anywhere. The Orioles on Sunday exercised their $3.5 million club option on the veteran shortstop, increasing the likelihood of their middle infield remaining in place for 2021.

The decision came amid speculation that Baltimore, facing financial uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, could part ways with its best all-around player from 2020 by buying him out for $500,000, which would’ve rendered Iglesias a free agent. Instead, he returns as the lynchpin of the O’s lineup after a year leading that unit in several major offensive categories.

“It was not a difficult decision," general manager Mike Elias said. "Jose was tremendous for us in a very limited period of time, but he has a track record dating back beyond that. I think he is a perfect fit for what we need right now."

Signing him to a one-year, $3 million deal with the club option on Jan. 7, the O's targeted Iglesias for his leadership abilities and longstanding reputation as one of baseball’s best defenders. The deal turned out to be a bargain, after Iglesias, despite playing through nagging injuries all season, enjoyed the best offensive campaign of his career by several measures.

Slotting in mostly as manager Brandon Hyde’s regular No. 3 hitter, Iglesias batted .373 with three homers, 17 doubles and a .956 OPS in 39 games, leading the O’s in hitting, on-base percentage (.400), OPS (.956) and doubles. Iglesias, who turns 31 on Jan. 5, set career highs in OBP, slugging (.556), isolated slugging (.183), wOBA (.407) and wRC+ (160). He ranked second among American League hitters in doubles and rated as a plus defender when on the field at short, though limited to 22 starts defensively due to back, quad, ankle and wrist issues.

The rebuilding Orioles went 11-11 when Iglesias started at shortstop and 14-24 in games he did not. Elias added that he thought Iglesias could have been in the AL Most Valuable Player conversation had he not injured his quad.

“His impact on the team has been plain to see this year,” general manager Mike Elias said in late September. "He’s really helped us, and we love having him.”

Further boosting the case for Iglesias’ return was the lack of clear successor, given the O’s don’t have a top shortstop prospect yet to play past Double-A. The case against was largely financial, with teams facing COVID-19-related financial uncertainty across the Major Leagues. The Orioles were already deep in a long-term rebuilding cycle and played with baseball’s lowest adjusted payroll in 2020 at $24 million. They now have $39.5 million in guaranteed money earmarked heading into arbitration season for Chris Davis, Alex Cobb and Iglesias.

Of those veterans, only Iglesias profiles as a legitimate trade candidate due to his recent success and relatively low cost. The O’s are surely planning to explore his market both this winter and next summer, when Iglesias could become attractive to contending teams seeking veteran, defensively reliable help. That would be true even if Iglesias regresses back closer to his career norms offensively; he’s a lifetime .278/.319/.381 hitter and was buoyed in 2020 by an AL-high .407 average on balls in play.

For now at least, Baltimore's focus shifts to protecting prospects from the Rule 5 Draft and the non-tender deadline on Dec. 2, after which a fuller picture of the 2021 infield should come into focus. Baltimore’s eight-player arb-eligible class features Hanser Alberto, Pat Valaika and the recently claimed Yolmer Sánchez, a group that represents the bulk of its options at second base going forward. Alberto and Valaika in particular are starting to get expensive; neither is guaranteed to be tendered a contract despite playing key roles for the O’s from '19-20.