Is Jose Iglesias -- once touted as the team's shortstop of the future -- ready to hold down that spot in 2013?
In a perfect world, Iglesias would have thrived during his trial run late last season, leaving the Red Sox with full confidence that he can take over at that critical spot.
While his defense was often spectacular, Iglesias never did find a rhythm at the plate. In fact, he struggled mightily. Iglesias took 68 at-bats for the Red Sox, hitting .118 with one homer and two RBIs.
The one way the Red Sox might be able to go with Iglesias and feel pretty good about it is if they can upgrade their offense in enough other places.
"I think we're going to see where we are," said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. "We think Jose is ready to help the Major League team, depending on what the rest of the team looks like. If we feel like we need to build some protection in that area, as the offseason goes on, we'll consider that.
"Nobody is going to be given anything. If he's given an opportunity to win the job in Spring Training, then he'll have to win the job."
For comfort, the Red Sox can look back at Dustin Pedroia's ascension as an everyday player in 2007. Late in the '06 season, the Red Sox fell out of contention and Pedroia got a chance to start as a September callup. Over 89 at-bats, he hit .191 with two homers and seven RBIs.
While Pedroia was always a more offensive-minded player than Iglesias, it still is an interesting data point to look back on. In '07, Pedroia won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. In '08, he won the AL Most Valuable Player Award.
"We definitely believe in this guy's defensive potential and think that he has offensive potential as well," Red Sox assistant general manager Mike Hazen said of Iglesias. "It just might be on a little longer time frame. But he definitely has a chance still to impact the game right now. It comes back to trusting those in your system -- the scouting guys, the player development guys -- that are with these guys every day, and [you have to] really, really try to separate the performance we saw in September.
"I'm not saying he's going to be the Rookie of the Year or the MVP, but if you'd taken the snapshot, had this conversation at the end of 2006, what would the conversation have been like on Dustin Pedroia? We try to remind ourselves of that a little bit, keep things in the proper perspective. That's not to say that we don't use what we saw in September in some way, shape or form, but we have to keep it in some perspective."
By thrusting Iglesias into the role of starting shortstop, the Red Sox could guarantee themselves plus defense at that position virtually every game. But in the AL East, defense can't carry a player.
"He's a good defender," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "He showed good range, particularly to his glove side. A couple of times, you saw him get the bat head out and take some aggressive swings. There were other times he got tied up a little bit offensively. Whether it's a matter of strength, whether it's a matter of timing in his swing, we'll find more out about that as we get deeper here."
What the Red Sox are hoping for is this: When Iglesias arrives at Spring Training in February, he won't be the same offensive player that had such a hard time at the plate during the final month of 2012.
Instead of playing winter ball, Iglesias is on a mission this offseason to improve his strength.
"We've talked to him a lot about his offseason, and the importance of his offseason from a strength standpoint," Cherington said. "He's got a plan in place and people he's working with. There will be different people involved."
The free-agent market is hardly packed with enticing alternatives at shortstop. Cherington could always work out a trade for a more known commodity, though Jose Reyes is now off the market, thanks to a trade from the Marlins to the Blue Jays.
While Iglesias was once the most talked-about shortstop in Boston's organization, that is no longer true. Xander Bogaerts is now the one everyone is buzzing about, though his calling card is his bat.
For Iglesias, who will be 23 at the start of the 2013 season, this is the time when he will try to prove he's a player instead of just a prospect.
"We believe Jose is ready to be a Major League shortstop, but we're not ready to commit to that," Cherington said last month. "We'll look for ways to improve the team and shortstop could be one of those areas. We'll see what opportunities exist. If there are ways to improve the team in other ways, we'll do that, too. He can help a Major League team, particularly if the rest of the roster is set up right."