Tadahito Iguchi, the first Asian to ever don the Phillies’ red pinstripes (Bruce Chen was Panamanian, mind you), has hit safely in 10 of his first 11 games while temping for the injured Chase Utley.
He has 19 hits in 49 at-bats. In 58 plate appearances, he’s been on base at a .481 clip, which would be second in the National League if he had enough at-bats to qualify. No one expected any power from him, but he has even surprised in that regard with a .530 slugging percentage.His defense has been flawless as well, as evidenced by his 1.000 fielding percentage. His .842 RZR would rank fourth among National League second basemen if he had logged enough defensive innings to qualify.
They say that even a broken clock is right twice a day, and Pat Gillick — wrong on so many occaisions, from Alex Gonzalez (not the one in Cincinnati), to Ryan Franklin (whose doppelganger is producing a Rolaids-worthy season in St. Louis), to Wes Helms — finally made a great trade in acquiring Iguchi from the Chicago White Sox for next to nothing: Michael Dubee (ironically, the son of Phillies’ pitching coach Rich Dubee). Why the White Sox were willing to give up on Iguchi boggles the mind, but it all works out for the Phillies.
When Utley recovers from his broken hand some time in September, Iguchi’s presence creates a logjam in the infield. Utley, obviously, will reclaim his spot at second base. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard aren’t going anywhere. The only viable option, then, is third base for Iguchi. But Pat Gillick quickly put the kibosh on that, saying, “I would say it’s a very remote, remote possibility. It’s a different position third base in that you have longer to read the ball at shortstop and second base as opposed to third base which is a reaction position. A lot of times people that can play the middle of the diamond have a tough time moving to the corners.”
Third base is currently being manned by the trifecta of Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms, and Abraham Nunez. Helms has been underwhelming in his four months in Philadelphia; Nunez has a roster spot only for his defense; and Dobbs can play positions other than third base. Why not give Iguchi a shot at the hot corner?
Offensively (as of Aug. 9 prior to the Marlins game):
Dobbs: 109 OPS+
Helms: 76 OPS+
Nunez: 66 OPS+
Iguchi: 148 OPS+ as a Phillie (96 overall).
Dobbs: .706 RZR
Helms: .700 RZR
Nunez: .748 RZR
Iguchi: .842 RZR as a Phillie.
The Phillies had a similar situation with Placido Polanco. Chase Utley had earned the starting job at second base as a rookie (I believe he still qualified as one) in 2004. They had Rollins at shortstop and Jim Thome at first base, who obviously were not going anywhere, so the only logical place to put Polanco was at third base. But they liked the “veteranosity” of David Bell, who had produced only two seasons with an OPS+ over 100 in his 9-year career at that point. Polanco, prior to 2004, also hadn’t put up many high OPS+ seasons, but his were closer to league-average than Bell’s, and put up a 112 OPS+ in the season prior. Also factor in his superior defense and his less-expensive salary, and it’s a no-brainer what then-GM Ed Wade should have done.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it is noteworthy that, since leaving Philadelphia, Polanco has put up an OPS of .850 in 86 games in Detroit in 2005; .693 in an injury-shortened 2006; and .859 in 2007, earning his first All-Star nomination — as a starter, no less.
Gillick, apparently, is no fan of history, as he appears doomed to repeat it. Iguchi is a free agent at the end of the 2007 season, and with a weak free agent market, Iguchi will be heavily sought and will probably land a decent contract. The Phillies would be wise to jump the gun and offer him a multi-year deal to play third base for the next three years.
The infield would be set, and with Aaron Rowand likely moving on to greener pastures, Gillick can focus on getting another outfielder (Mike Cameron, perhaps) and shoring up the bullpen.