One of those really good baseball debates has been building: Xander Bogaerts vs. Jose Iglesias. Which shortstop would you rather have? The Red Sox once had both, and then they traded Iglesias.
There's really no right or wrong here. If you have redundancy, you can deal from that position. That's what the Red Sox did when they traded Iglesias to the Tigers in a three-team deal that returned Jake Peavy for the 2013 pennant race.
"You'll see him make plays you've never seen before" is what Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said about Iglesias to Tigers counterpart Dave Dombrowski at the time of the deal.
Cherington was right. The Tigers are thrilled to have a healthy Iglesias, who missed most of the 2014 season because of stress fractures in both legs. He's returned with a vengeance.
Yes, the Tigers are seeing plays they've never seen before. Lynn Henning of the Detroit News believes Iglesias is the greatest defensive shortstop he's ever seen in Detroit. And Alan Trammell, one of the best all-around shortstops of his era, played for the Tigers
Iglesias is hitting .329 and before you say it's a fluke, the Tigers don't think so. The same quick hands he shows in the infield he's now showing at the plate. Not to mention his ability to beat out ground balls to first base, bunt his way on, and hit line drives up the middle.
"Will he hit .320 the rest of the season? I don't know," said manager Brad Ausmus. "What I do know is he has a very simple swing. He doesn't swing and miss very often, so I think he has a great approach at the plate."
Iglesias has a .770 OPS to Bogaerts's .732. Bogaerts has three homers to Iglesias's one, and Bogaerts has 31 RBIs to Iglesias's 11.
Don't forget, there are a few hitters in the Tigers' lineup who eat up the RBIs, and Iglesias is hitting mostly ninth after being higher in the order when Victor Martinez was injured.
Bogaerts has a 2.0 WAR, 1.8 offensive and 0.7 defensive; Iglesias a 1.8 WAR, 1.4 offensive and 0.8 defensive. Iglesias leads major league shortstops with a 7.3 UZR, which means he's saved more seven runs this season.
"He's really an acrobat at shortstop," Ausmus said. "When he misses a ball you're actually shocked. Our pitchers love him out there because they have so much confidence when he's behind them making plays on balls that other shortstops can't get to."
Iglesias is the superior defender. Bogaerts is an improving defender who was pegged as a third baseman, and may still be in the long run.
Iglesias is only 25, while Bogaerts remains one of the youngest players in the majors at 22. Iglesias is so entrenched as the Tigers' long-term shortstop, they could easily include top shortstop prospect Dixon Machado or top hitting prospect Steven Moya in their quest for a pitcher.
Bogaerts has more potential as a hitter, especially in terms of power. Both the Red Sox and Tigers started the shortstops down in the order and gradually moved them up as they started to hit.
"With all due respect to Bogaerts, he'll never be Iglesias," said a National League GM. "I haven't seen anyone like that in years. I saw a lot of [Omar] Vizquel, and I think this guy [Iglesias] is better. To do something extraordinary like he does . . . I know that even though you have a good player like Bogaerts, when you trade away a guy like that you'd better have a great reason."
The reason was Peavy. Could the Red Sox have gone as far as they did without Peavy?
You never blame a team for going for it. Orioles GM Dan Duquette will have to hear about giving up Eduardo Rodriguez for Andrew Miller, which has turned out to be a great deal by Cherington.
Bogaerts remembers being behind Iglesias. He said he couldn't imagine someone playing shortstop that well. Yet he never felt as if his career would be doomed because Iglesias was in front of him.
"No, that's just a guy who's really gifted beyond anyone else," Bogaerts said. "I just paid attention to trying to get better. I never compared myself to him because you can't compare anyone to him. He's a great defensive player and flashy."
There was concern with the Tigers that Iglesias's stress fractures could threaten his career.
"There was no precedent for an injury like this," Ausmus said. "We watched it during spring training and Jose just got stronger. But we didn't know."
Bogaerts, meanwhile, has begun to live up to his promise, both offensively and defensively.
"I feel more comfortable out there right now," he said. "I feel I can make the plays. I wouldn't say I'm getting to more balls than I did last year, I think the big thing is my throws are a lot more accurate."
Ausmus certainly understood the trade and why the Red Sox did it. He's glad it worked out for the Tigers and he thinks Bogaerts "is very talented. I watched him when he played for the Red Sox in the World Series and the poise he showed as a very young kid."
Bogaerts vs. Iglesias. It'll be interesting to watch through the years.
Craig frustrated but determined
When Ben Cherington visited Pawtucket last weekend, he stopped to chat with Allen Craig. There were no timetables, guarantees, or anything of the sort discussed. Cherington later said that when the proper situation presents itself, which means a chance to play every day in the majors, Craig will return to the Red Sox.
"We talked a little bit," Craig said. "Just talked about how things are going down here."
Craig said he has made no demands. He has not asked to be traded or asked to return to the major league team. He's simply "focused on where I'm at right now. I just try to keep things as simple as I can. And that's just playing ball down here. I've had the opportunity to get a lot of at-bats and that's what I'm focusing on right now. Just trying to play well and hit the ball hard."
Craig appears calm, but it doesn't mean he's not frustrated.
"I want to get back real bad, but I just try to keep it simple and not to focus on that," he said. "Naturally, you want to play in the big leagues, but I'm just not going to let that interfere with what I'm trying to accomplish being down here. That's all I can do. The opportunity I have is down here now, so I'm trying to make the most of that.
"Nobody wants a guy to come down here in the minor leagues and have a bad attitude or take things for granted. Just play the game. I've had a chance to work on my at-bats and work on my approach in the box and see pitches on a daily basis. That's been important to me to try to get back to the player that I am. I feel that's going well. I feel good out there."
Would Craig, who is hitting .290 with 3 homers and 11 RBIs in 124 at-bats, ever look back on the demotion and think it was for the best?
"I'd like to think that," he said. "Certain things that are out of my control. I'm obviously accountable for my play. I've always been that way."
Craig, an eighth-round pick out of California-Berkeley in 2006, has been with Pawtucket since May 12. He's no longer on the Red Sox' 40-man roster, meaning he passed through waivers unclaimed. He was then outrighted. He is owed $5.5 million this year and is owed $9 million next season and $11 million in 2017. In 2018, there's a $13 million option that the team can buy out for $1 million.
Craig has no idea when he'll return to the majors. "I know what I'm capable of doing," he said. "This game is tough and sometimes, maybe, you have to go through these things."
Apropos of nothing
1. Scouts are putting the full-court press on the evaluation of trade candidates. And now it's a matter of how far each team wants to extend itself in terms of giving up prospects for the chance to go for it. One team to watch is Houston, which may be very aggressive in acquiring a starting pitcher. It won't be Cole Hamels, who likely won't go there, but the Astros are evaluating Reds pitchers Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake quite a bit. The fear is Cueto isn't healthy, which may make it tough for the Reds to move him for a haul of top prospects.
2. One scout wonders whether Eduardo Rodriguez needs a little more strength in his legs, which often controls the ability to repeat a delivery. Once Randy Johnson did it, his career turned.
3. What's frustrating for the Phillies is that there seems to be preparation and scouting for possible proposals for their players, but not much has been offered. The Phillies don't want to wait until the trade deadline for a big flurry. They'd rather do it little by little, but nobody is cooperating.
4. When you beat the bushes you're bound to find an interesting story or two. There's a righthanded reliever named Pedro Rodriguez toiling for the Giants' Double A team in Richmond. He played in the Red Sox system in the Dominican Summer League in 2005 and '06, and was out of baseball for a couple of years before resurfacing in the Mexican League in 2009. The Giants signed him and now he's throwing 94-96 with a good changeup and is likely to help the major league team at some point. He's from Venezuela and is listed at 27 years old.
5. How did we miss so badly on the Red Sox, Padres, Nationals, and White Sox, all considered offseason winners? And how did the Twins, Rays, and Astros surprise us the other way?
6. There are roughly 175 Rodriguezes on minor league rosters.
7. On Friday at McCoy Stadium, we watched lefthander Brian Johnson work on his bunting and on his pickoff move. He wants to be major league-ready when he gets the call to Boston.
Updates on nine
1. Jeff Samardzija, RHP, White Sox — Teams are tempted but don't know what to make of him because of his 4.53 ERA and struggles this season. His affordability as a rental and the fact that he's not a No. 1-caliber starter in the eyes of most scouts but a good second or third guy in a rotation make him worth looking at. But the White Sox likely wouldn't receive a great return. That's why the same teams looking at Clay Buchholz are looking at Samardzija — the Royals, Tigers, Twins, Blue Jays, Yankees, Cardinals, Orioles, Angels, and Dodgers.
2. Ben Revere, OF, Phillies — Still an attractive option for teams needing another outfield bat, such as the Orioles. Revere is having a good season — .294 and 18 stolen bases. He could add top-of-the-order speed and defense.
3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies — The Mets continue to be the best match for Tulowitzki, according to the baseball executives who have offered an opinion. The Mets have the young pitching (lefthander Steven Matz) to start with in a deal for Tulowitzki, who could improve a Mets offense that has the worst OPS in the majors on offspeed pitches, of which they're getting a steady diet, according to MLB Network researcher Elliott Kalb. Tulowitzki could man shortstop or third base and electrify the Mets' fan base, which is starving for its team to be relevant from April to October.
4. Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies — He is not often mentioned among the players the Phillies have on their trade list. And right now he's not making a compelling case for a team to go after him. Part of Ruiz's allure has always been his offense, but that's gone south. He has fallen into a deep slump (.122, 5 for 41) with no extra-base hits over his last 13 games entering the weekend. He's slowed down behind the plate but is still a better option than "more than 50 percent of the catchers in the league," according to a National League evaluator.
5. Cole Hamels, LHP, Phillies — He is a terrific pitcher, but he is now 8-15 with a 4.73 ERA in 31 career starts in interleague play after the Yankees hit him around on Wednesday. Yet that hasn't stopped the Yankees or Rangers from seriously considering dealing for him. Some teams view it as merely a fluky thing that Hamels has problems with American League teams, others see it as an issue.
6. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Diamondbacks — Tony La Russa may be biased, but the Diamondbacks' chief baseball officer said of Goldschmidt, "He's as good as any player out there. I don't throw that around loosely. I won't say better than anyone else out there out of respect to the great players out there. But I see so many comparisons to Albert [Pujols] in terms of the ability and the team concept they have. Goldy can do it all — run, throw, hit, hit for power. He's got all the tools." La Russa also said he doesn't want to make Goldschmidt stand out too much because "we're trying to build a team here. We think we're getting closer to a strong core and Goldy is a huge part of that."
7. Rubby De La Rosa, RHP, Diamondbacks — His last three starts have been gems (two earned runs in 22 innings) and now La Russa is convinced that De La Rosa is a starter and not the reliever that both the Dodgers and Red Sox felt he should become. "He's got all the tools to be special," La Russa said. "It's about experience. He's starting to figure things out." Such as pitching to lefties. De La Rosa has been tagged for a .299 average and .908 OPS vs. lefties as opposed to .211/.569 vs. righties. La Russa feels De La Rosa is making adjustments. He said about dealing Wade Miley to the Red Sox for De La Rosa and Allen Webster, "We were just looking for younger power arms and building pitching depth."
8. Matt Cain, RHP, Giants — His long-awaited return should come July 2, followed by Jake Peavy's return. It's expected that both Tim Lincecum and Tim Hudson will lose starting rotation spots. The disabled list is not out of the question for Hudson, who has recurring ankle problems. With Cain and Peavy returning, the Giants are out of the starting pitching market for now, according to GM Bobby Evans.
9. Andy MacPhail, future team president, Phillies — It'll be interesting to see whom MacPhail might name as his general manager. There are a lot out there to choose from, including Kevin Towers, Jim Bowden, Jim Duquette, and Wayne Krivsky, as well as a number of assistant GMs. An interesting name: Brady Anderson.
From the Bill Chuck files — "Felix Hernandez has made it to the seventh inning in 11 starts; from the seventh on batters are hitting a crazy-low .113 off the King." Also, "Here's a distinct difference between the seasons for St. Louis and Seattle: major league teams are hitting .240 off righty relievers, but the Cardinals are hitting .283 and the Mariners are hitting .188." . . . Happy birthday Ron Mahay (44), Joe Sambito (63), and Don Baylor (66).