Several years ago I thought I invented the word "gawkward." It's a portmanteau of gawky and awkward. I know, pretty great, right? But it turns out several thousand other people had the same idea, and instead of living a life of leisure in a large house with a staff like all the other people who invent words, I have to write about baseball on the internet and live in my grandma's shed with her three dogs.
Anyway, I had what I think is an original thought about the Jose Iglesias trade, and a cursory Google search confirms I'm first, so ... At the 2004 trade deadline, the Red Sox found themselves 8½ games behind the Yankees in the East, and a game behind Texas in the Wild Card race. Despite an absolutely stacked lineup and rotation, the Sox were treading water, winning fewer than half their games over June and July. As the deadline loomed, the front office looked for ways to improve the team. But where to improve? The offense, featuring Manny Ramirez, David Ortíz, Trot Nixon, and Johnny Damon, could hardly be better. The bullpen, much maligned the year before, had been strengthened by the signing of Keith Foulke in the offseason. And the rotation was Curt Schilling, Pedro Martínez, Bronson Arroyo, Tim Wakefield, and Derek Lowe. It was a great team on paper. They just weren't winning.
It was decided, and I think I'm remembering this correctly, that another arm or bat would only marginally help the Red Sox. Boston's real weakness was defense. An upgrade at a key position could drastically improve the team beyond the margin. And so, in a blockbuster four-team trade on July 31st, the Sox traded away Nomar Garciaparra, whose various leg injuries had severely hampered him in the field, and acquired shortstop Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, both known for their gloves.
It was little reported at the time that Cabrera, according to Bill James' recently released Win Shares, was coming off the best defensive season in the history of baseball. Before Defensive Runs Saved and FIELDf/x, Win Shares represented the state of the art in fielding evaluation, and although I'm not sure anyone in Boston's front office, including James, actually believed Orlando Cabrera was the greatest shortstop of all time, they certainly thought he would easily outperform a hobbled Garciaparra in the field.
Eighty-eight days later, the Red Sox won the World Series.
/wait for gasps to die down
This year's model out of Detroit is similarly well-apportioned in the lineup and rotation, but the team's defense, especially the infield, is prett-ay, prett-ay, prett-ay bad. Like Orlando Cabrera nine years ago, Iglesias might improve his new team more than another bat or superfluous rotation arm. Surely Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, groundball pitchers both, will appreciate Iglesias' glove.
They needn't worry about making the playoffs, but if history repeats itself, an all-field, no-hit shortstop acquired at the trade deadline could make a vast difference in the fortunes of the Tigers come October.
Or not, I don't know. Maybe they'll waste Iglesias at third and get bounced out of the first round. I'm not Nostradamus.