With just over a month before the beginning of spring training, Orioles general manager Mike Elias has found the shortstop he wanted in José Iglesias. The 30-year-old replaces Jonathan Villar, who was traded to Miami early last month.
Iglesias has a one-year contract with an option for 2021 that’s worth $6 million. Unlike other veteran acquisitions, Elias was clear that this isn’t a one-season cameo.
“I think he’s going to have some of his best years with us,” Elias said during a Tuesday conference call. “… For us to have the ability to have a guy like Jose in our system for more than one year is a tremendous plus in our favor.”
This is Elias’ second major league free-agent signing this offseason. The Orioles signed right-handed pitcher Kohl Stewart on December 29.
“We’re thrilled with the acquisition,” Elias said. “Bringing in a veteran shortstop, let alone one with the resume of accomplishments that Jose Iglesias brings to us, was a major priority for us this offseason.”
Iglesias has a .273 lifetime batting average with a .687 OPS in eight seasons with Boston, Detroit and Cincinnati. He was second in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2013 and was an All-Star in 2015.
Last season, his only one with the Reds, Iglesias hit .288 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs and a .724 OPS.
Iglesias said he’s looking forward to mentoring younger players.
“It’s my time now,” he said. “I’m really very excited by the challenge of making my teammates better … I’m very excited by the opportunity to lead by example.”
While his offense isn’t bad, Elias emphasized Iglesias’ glove work.
“We feel, in particular, his defensive capabilities will bring a tremendous amount of stability to our club,“ Elias said. “We expect a lot of young pitchers from our minor league system to be graduating to our club, and having his glove behind them is going to be a huge part of their development.”
Igesias was Elias’ primary target.
“The combination of his offensive capabilities and, of course, the glove that he’s famous for, and the track record that he has had,” Elias said. “A long track record put him in a tier above anyone else that was available on the free-agent record.”
Without Villar, the Orioles had an opening, and Elias felt the lure of regular playing time helped convince Iglesias to come to Baltimore.
“I think we were in a good spot this year in having one of the more attractive open shortstop jobs because we have a clear path to being a starter,” Elias said. “If you’re a guy like Jose, that’s what you are. That’s what you’re looking for.”
Last season, Villar and Richie Martin split time at shortstop. Villar also played second. Iglesias is exclusively a shortstop.
Martin, who was picked in the Rule 5 draft in December 2018, is expected to begin the season with Triple-A Norfolk, although Elias did say he could begin the season with the Orioles because there’s no obvious utility player on the roster.
“We’ve got a veteran primary shortstop that can spell Richie and help teach Richie how to play shortstop at the major league level,” Elias said.
“It will allow him to be where he needs to be, to play when he needs to play, to get the at-bats where and when he needs to get them.”
In 2019, Martin hit .208 in 120 games. He jumped directly from Double-A to the majors, and the Orioles think Martin needs the experience of Triple-A.
“This will allow him to get back on a more natural development track,” Elias said. “Take some of the pressure off of us relying on him to play shortstop and then give him somebody to look up to and, in many cases this year, play next to.”
Elias acknowledged that the Orioles lack major league ready infielders in the upper levels of their minor leagues.
“José as a stabilizing force there is going to be big for everybody,” Elias said.