The Orioles’ acquisition of shortstop José Iglesias answered one of the questions going into the 2020 season. With a contract for this coming season of a reported $2.5 million and a $500,000 buyout or a $3.5 million option for 2021, according to The Athletic, the team is acknowledging that they have no middle infield prospects who are close to being major league ready.
Iglesias’ contract was made official Tuesday afternoon. Right-handed pitcher Eric Hanhold was designated for assignment to make room for Iglesias.
It’s obvious that they’ll start Richie Martin at Triple-A Norfolk. Last year’s Rule 5 shortstop can’t split time with Iglesias, who unlike Jonathan Villar, is not a hybrid second baseman/shortstop.
Villar, whom the Orioles traded to the Miami Marlins early last month, played in all 162 games, but Martin played some short, and Hanser Alberto played at second as well as third.
This year, the Orioles have a few alternatives to pair with Alberto at second and Rio Ruiz at third base There’s Pat Valaika, whom the Orioles claimed on waivers from Colorado, and minor league signee Dilson Herrera.
Alberto, Herrera and Valaika are all right-handed hitters. So is José Rondón, who played one game with the Orioles in 2019 before his outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk. He’s been re-signed to a minor league contract.
There’s always Stevie Wilkerson, a switch-hitter who was an infielder until last season when out of necessity, the team converted him to the outfield. Wilkerson started 80 games in the outfield, 58 of them in center.
But if Austin Hays is the Opening Day centerfielder and Cedric Mullins or Mason Williams is on hand as a spare outfielder, that can free up Wilkerson to return to the infield and serve as a utility player.
Wilkerson started just six games last season at second but would be better off there.
Iglesias is being paid perhaps a quarter of what Villar could earn in arbitration. MLBTradeRumors. com predicted that Villar’s arbitration number could be as high as $10.4 million.
They’re very different players. While both had career highs in home runs and RBIs last season, Villar’s numbers were far better. He had 24 homers, 73 RBIs, a .792 OPS and 40 steals.
Iglesias had 11 homers, 59 RBIs, a .721 OPS and just six steals. He did have a higher batting average, .288 to Villar’s .274, but his WAR was just 1.5 to Villar’s 4.0.
Iglesias has the edge defensively. He made just nine errors in 144 games while Villar committed 12 in 97 games at shortstop and eight more in 111 games at second.
If the Orioles are to have Iglesias at $6 million for two seasons, it gives their young infielders time to develop.
Cadyn Grenier, a shortstop and second baseman who was the 37th overall pick in the 2018 draft, the choice behind Grayson Rodriguez, hasn’t proven himself offensively.
A teammate of Adley Rutschman at Oregon State, Grenier hit just .208 with a .662 OPS in 24 games at High-A Frederick after his promotion from Low-A Delmarva.
Grenier’s teammate with the Shorebirds, Adam Hall, showed promise in 2019, hitting .298 with a .780 OPS. Both played shortstop and second but probably need two more seasons before they’re ready for the majors.
The Orioles drafted several middle infielders in 2019. Shortstop Gunnar Henderson, their second-round choice, played at Rookie League Gulf Coast, and he’ll probably begin 2020 at Delmarva. Grenier and Hall could begin this season with Frederick.