The Boston Red Sox -- ever mindful of redundancy, budget, and redundancy -- traded Marco Scutaro because they felt comfortable finding a comparable replacement for him. They had Mike Aviles on the roster, Jose Iglesias in the minors, and Nick Punto arriving as a free agent on a two-year deal. The only question was which player the Red Sox would make the starter.
Aviles. They chose Aviles, prompting this tweet from Nick Cafardo:
Sox sacrifice defense at SS. Send iglesias down. Aviles wins job.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) March 27, 2012
Cafardo exposes the violent schism between pro-defense and pro-offense factions with that tweet, obviously siding with the glove-minded. And that's what the decision seemed to come down to; Iglesias is the slick glove man, and Aviles is the better bet to strike the spherical object thrown at him with his cylindrical bat and "get a hit" every so often. Nick Punto can sit in the corner and think about the choices he's made.
According to Cafardo, defense is a must for the Red Sox this year:
Iglesias saves runs, will likely hit better than people think, and is almost necessary for what could be a challenged starting rotation. In other words, the pitchers are going to need help.
You can’t have balls trickle through the shortstop hole or go up the middle uncontested. You can’t have pop-ups falling in for base hits. You can’t extend innings for this pitching staff, especially when you reach the back of the rotation.
Makes sense. But when you get to the "will likely hit better than people think," there isn't a lot of supporting evidence. It reads like a wish that Cafardo hopes will come true if put in print.
That's what Iglesias did in AAA. There were four players who hit worse than that in the majors last year. Two of them were Mariners, so they don't count. Again, Iglesias was in AAA. Those were the numbers he put up in AAA, and if you magically transmogrified those numbers straight to the major leagues, Iglesias would still be one of the very worst hitters in the majors. But that's not how it works. There's a great chance that the numbers would take a hit in the adjustment. That's why Over the Monster described the situation as "The Shortstop Battle That Shouldn't Be":
And how much can his glove make up? Consider that Alex Rios' .613 OPS was worth a whopping -24.8 runs offensively over the course of a full season last year. Consider that Iglesias couldn't even approach that level of offense in Triple-A last year. With Mike Aviles grading out as an average infielder and above-average shortstop over the course of his career by UZR and DRS, even if you assume Iglesias is worth twice as much defensively as last year's best shortstops, it still doesn't manage to cover that gap.
There's a difference between a glove man you can carry despite his bat -- Clint Barmes comes to mind -- and a glove man that can't make up the difference. Iglesias is probably the latter, but the good news is that he's young. He isn't doomed to haunt the hallways of baseball, ratting chains made out of Web Gems like Rey Ordonez. He might someday hit enough to start in the majors every day.
But right now, Aviles is the starter. And he almost certainly should be.