BOSTON -- In his first 40 games with the Red Sox this season, Jose Iglesias hit .415 and played third base -- which only weeks earlier had been as foreign to him as English was four years ago -- like he was born to play the position.
"We didn't go into July,'' said Sox general manager Ben Cherington in a post-midnight conference call Tuesday, "looking or expecting to trade Jose.''
But they did. And as hard as it may be to accept -- especially for those who recognized in Iglesias a gift for improvisation and virtuosity that only the rarest of jazz artists have -- they are probably better for it.
Jose Iglesias may be the best fielding shortstop the Red Sox have ever had. Count David Ortiz among those who say he's the best they've ever seen.
Jake Peavy may help pitch the Red Sox to a World Series. He is a former National League Cy Young Award winner and pitching Triple Crown winner (leading the NL in wins, strikeouts and ERA in 2007) who has never been on a team that has gotten out of the first round of the playoffs. He is hungry for that opportunity, and should get it with the Red Sox.
There are imperfections, most notably a medical file so thick that it is divided into chapters: shoulder, elbow, ribs, ankle, back, etc. And the Red Sox can't turn back the odometer on an arm that has logged almost 2,000 innings (1,880) in the big leagues and nearly 500 more in the minor leagues. There is also the matter of the $14.5 million still owed to Peavy in 2014, when he will be 33.
On the other side?
"He's an intense competitor who loves to pitch,'' Cherington said. "He's got a good assortment of stuff, a fastball with a ton of life, along with a good slider and changeup. He throws strikes. He attacks hitters and he loves to pitch. I think he'll fit in nicely with the group we have and he's obviously been very successful in his career. He gives us a chance to win every time he goes out."
The Sox needed another starting pitcher. Even if Clay Buchholz comes back healthy before the end of August, they needed another pitcher. You don't put together a team that has exceeded all expectations, restored the good name and winning pedigree of a franchise that had carelessly tossed both aside in the last 24 months, without giving that team the chance to finish the job.
Peavy, even if he has lost something from his glory years, gives the Red Sox that chance. And he does so without the Sox having to sacrifice the pieces they identified as the most important to their future -- 20-year-old shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who looms as Iglesias' replacement at short, and 23-year-old outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. -- plus a collection of young arms as promising as the Sox have had in years.
Those are among the pieces the Red Sox would have been required to give up for Cliff Lee, the Phillies left-hander who has tantalized the Sox for months, but not at such an exorbitant fee: nearly $80 million in owed salary, plus the young talent. The Red Sox made their inquiries, and moved on.
But it also took some serendipity to complete the deal for Peavy. For days, Cherington had talked with his White Sox counterpart, Rick Hahn, without being able to narrow the divide between what Hahn wanted for Peavy and what Cherington was willing to give. On Tuesday afternoon, according to a very well-placed source, the White Sox were engaged in serious discussions with the Arizona Diamondbacks, whose general manager, Kevin Towers, had been together with Peavy with the Padres.
Cherington had to become creative. And that's when he engaged Tigers president Dave Dombrowski, who faced a dilemma that in recent days had taken on added urgency. His All-Star shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, was linked to the Biogenesis PEDs investigation and was facing an imminent 50-game suspension, according to reports. Dombrowski had guided the Tigers to the World Series twice in the last seven seasons and lost both times. There was also a defeat in the ALCS.
Dombrowski had built another team designed to go deep into October. He was not going to risk the loss of a shortstop to jeopardize his plan. Detroit already had an eye on the Sox as a team that had depth at the position, in case they did not re-sign Peralta after the season. But now the need was immediate; Cherington saw his opportunity and proposed to Dombrowski that he throw in on a three-way deal with the White Sox.
Dombrowski had little appetite for shipping one of his top outfield prospects, "mini-Miggy" Avisail Garcia, to a division rival. But the chance to acquire Iglesias, especially for a team as defensively challenged as the Tigers, was too good to pass up.
In the top of the ninth inning Tuesday, Iglesias came out of the game for Brandon Snyder, and eyebrows shot up. After the game, manager John Farrell, fibbing to buy some time, said he made the substitution to get Snyder on the field, which made no sense. After the game, Iglesias was nowhere to be seen in the Sox clubhouse.
Minutes later, news broke of a deal. Just before midnight came the official announcement. There had been mild panic earlier in the evening among some Sox fans when Bradley Jr. was lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth inning at Pawtucket, the type of maneuver that usually presages a deal. In this case, it was a false alarm. As PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina told reporters afterward, Bradley had mentioned that his arm hurt after making a throw, and he took him out of the game as a precaution.
This, however, was real. A trade was made. Iglesias takes his magic to Detroit, where he may wind up winning 11 Gold Gloves, like Omar Vizquel, the shortstop to whom he has been compared. Or perhaps one of the kids sent to the White Sox as part of the deal will blossom, like Francelis Montas, the 20-year-old Dominican whose fastball has been clocked at 100 mph.
And Peavy could fall flat.
It is a calculated risk a team that has missed the playoffs the last three years had to take. Peavy joins the rotation, rookie Brandon Workman moves into the bullpen, and both Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. are likely to contribute to the September push. Peavy comes at a price, but one the Sox should be able to absorb.
But the beautiful riffs played by Iglesias -- they will be missed.