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Iglesias deal shifts organization's emphasis on defense

After acquiring offensive-minded infielders, newest Tigers shortstop plays shutdown 'D'

DETROIT -- The text message from an American League scout Wednesday morning sounded like every other scouting report on young shortstop Jose Iglesias, except for the part at the end.

"Strong defender," the message read. "The bat isn't as good as it's currently propped up to be, but will provide Gold Glove-caliber defense, which is all Detroit wants."

If those last few words don't represent a sea change for the Tigers' philosophy, the outlook for Detroit's middle infield for the next five years might.

Right or wrong, the Tigers have been dogged for its infield defense the past two years, ever since Miguel Cabrera moved to third base to fit Prince Fielder at first and boost the lineup. The offensive gain, the thought went, would counteract the impact defensively. Team officials still expected a reliable infield that can consistently make routine plays, and they've gotten far more than that from Cabrera at third, despite the defensive metrics.

It's not that the Tigers have eschewed defense at shortstop as an organization. They actually tried to sign Iglesias after he defected from Cuba as a teenager in 2009, losing out to the Red Sox. Nearly every effort to draft, sign and/or develop a young shortstop through the farm system centered on defense, from Tony Giarratano to Brent Dlugach to Cale Iorg to Danny Worth to Gustavo Nunez to now Eugenio Suarez. Worth leads the pack in games played for Detroit at 112.

The Tigers swung and missed on developing young shortstops for close to a decade after their homegrown double-play duo of Ramon Santiago and Omar Infante struggled in Detroit in 2003 and prompted a trade for Carlos Guillen that winter. The current formation was a practical move, and for the most part, it has worked. For all the criticism leveled at Peralta's defense, his ability to convert ground balls into outs has been quietly appreciated by his manager.

"His glove is as good as it gets," manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday morning. "His arm is as accurate, too, as it gets. Sparky [Anderson] said he'd head up the runway when they hit it to [Alan] Trammell with two outs in the ninth. Well, I head up the runway when they hit it to Peralta with two outs in the ninth."

But there's a difference between reliable, sure-handed defense and Gold Glove defense. The Tigers haven't had a Gold Glove winner at shortstop since Trammell in 1984. Their only other Gold Glove shortstop, Ed Brinkman, won it in '72.

Iglesias, by all accounts, has that kind of potential. His range, especially in the hole, and his arm are exemplary, though the throws might take some ranging to grab.

"He'll be one of the top defenders in the league," another AL talent evaluator said. "Maybe a bit flashy and reckless on occasion, but there will be some 'Wow' plays made."

Another scout went further.

"Top glove in AL," he said in a text message.

The Tigers already saw Iglesias' glovework when he played third base for the Red Sox during a four-game series at Comerica Park in June.

"This guy is special defensively," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "Our scouting reports have him as an All-Star shortstop. I don't know if he'll be that or not, but some of our scouting reports do. But somebody that has seen him play sent me a note that said in all [his] years in the game, the only two defensive shortstops that [he's] seen that are better are Ozzie [Smith] and [Omar] Vizquel.

"When I talked to [Red Sox general manager] Ben Cherington, [he] said, 'I know you have seen a lot of players play shortstop in your career, but you will see this guy make plays that you have never seen before.'"

And if Iglesias doesn't spend another day in the Minors, he'll be under team control until the end of the 2018 season.

"It's hard to find Major League shortstops," Leyland said. "I don't know how this is going to play out, but I would assume that the Tigers just enhanced their shortstop situation for quite a while. Let's put it that way.

"Peralta's a good shortstop, and we just picked up a guy that can play all around and appears to be the shortstop of the future for the Detroit Tigers for a long time."

Peralta is a free agent at season's end, as is Infante. Whether the Tigers keep Infante at second base or promote Hernan Perez to the job, the combination with Iglesias gives Detroit the chance for a double-play duo that blankets the middle of the field.

The potential impact across the team is tremendous. For Cabrera, the addition of a rangy shortstop that can make plays deep in the hole eases the pressure on him to cut off sharp ground balls to his left and lets him focus a little more toward the line as he heads into his 30s. Though the Tigers have the option of shifting him around in a couple years when designated hitter Victor Martinez hits free agency, Iglesias could conceivably extend Cabrera's tenure at third.

For Rick Porcello, whose Fielding Independent Pitching on an ERA scale ranks almost a full run under his actual 4.49 ERA, the potential defense gives him a chance to realize his potential in Detroit as he enters his mid-20s. That potential didn't seem reachable in a Tigers uniform the last couple years, especially on days like that April afternoon at Angel Stadium when ground balls and infield hits doomed Porcello in the opening inning.

Opinions on Iglesias' offensive potential vary greatly. Even the most optimistic evaluations wouldn't match what Peralta has done this year. But after using offensive impact to counteract defense, the equation might have just reversed for Detroit going forward.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

Detroit Tigers, Jose Iglesias