José Iglesias was driving to one of the happy places in his life. His ranch about an hour outside of Miami. Twice described by the shortstop as “beautiful” before his arrival yesterday afternoon.
Iglesias seems to be on a nice roll whether or not his vehicle is in motion.
He’s remaining with the Orioles, who picked up the $3.5 million option on his contract rather than paying the $500,000 buyout and tossing him into the free agent pool. He’s back with the organization that he never wanted to leave.
The Orioles waited until the morning of the Nov. 1 deadline to announce their decision, with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias explaining how “there are always advantages in this business to using the time that’s afforded to you by the rules and by contractual rights because circumstances change so much.”
Iglesias never wavered in his desire to stay.
“I didn’t know. That’s the business side,” he said yesterday.
“Mike and the ownership decided to bring me back and I’m extremely happy to be part of an organization that I’ve known for many years and an organization that I got to play for and enjoyed very, very much. I didn’t know if they were going to do it. That was totally up to them. But I’m extremely happy to be back with my teammates and those guys that I consider family because our chemistry was amazing. And we want to win.
“I told everybody that we want to win, and now. I know it’s a process, but we’ve got to start thinking that way.”
The Orioles weren’t expected to do it, but stayed in playoff contention until the final week of the truncated season. They won’t be chosen as favorites in 2021 while still rising from a dramatic teardown.
Iglesias didn’t want to hear the negativity in Sarasota, Fla., and he isn’t receptive to it as the winter months approach.
“Let me tell you, I don’t see the rebuild. I don’t. I understand it, but I don’t see it,” he said.
“I said it early in spring training, this team can win, you know? We can win. I believe in that. I tell everybody, I believe in this team. We need some pieces. The front office will do their part. But I believe in this young team. We have the talent, we have the staff and we have the drive. I believe in this team. We can win. It’s a very talented team.
“It was a big loss for us with Trey (Mancini). Thank God he’s cancer-free. I’m so happy for him and for the organization. We missed (Anthony) Santander. I played hurt. And we still competed, we still had a shot, and that’s something that didn’t catch me by surprise. I was expecting it.
“Having Trey back next year is a blessing, and a healthy Santander, a healthy Iglesias. We’re going to go out there and compete and that’s one thing that this team did so well. We never gave up. Yeah, we need to be more solid, our defense needs to improve, we need to be more consistent on the routine play, our pitching staff. We’ve just got to get things together. But I really do believe in this team.”
The veteran leadership that was a selling point to the Orioles as they considered signing Iglesias last winter also stays in motion. He doesn’t reach for the brakes.
“I’m telling you, we have a great, talented team and we have a great chemistry as well. That’s what I’m very happy and excited to be a part of,” he said.
“It’s not just the talent. Because talent can be irrelevant if you don’t have the chemistry, and we do have the chemistry. We communicate, we have a lot of young players that want to get better. They’re willing to learn and they’re very hungry to win. I’m more than blessed to lead by example for them and communicate the way I did. It makes me feel proud to be their teammates.”
The examples set by Iglesias on the field had to come in spurts, with multiple injuries removing him from the lineup and limiting him to 39 games. A strained quadriceps muscle was the most troublesome, but he also was hit on the left wrist on Sept. 19 game and underwent a series of tests to ensure that he didn’t suffer a break.
Manager Brandon Hyde tried to ease the strain on Iglesias’ leg by using him as the designated hitter or sitting him.
“It was very sad for me not being on the field with my teammates and do what I do best - lead the team on the field, play defense, make great plays, save runs. Little things. But Brandon did an amazing job managing my playing time. The whole staff was amazing. They managed me, my games played,” Iglesias said.
“On a personal level it was different. I’ve never been a DH before, so it was an adjustment I had to do right away. But it was a way to help the team and I’m very happy to do so, and most definitely looking forward to being healthy and being where I need to be at shortstop.”
The injuries and unusual circumstances didn’t have a negative impact at the plate. Iglesias has never been better, slashing .373/.400/.556 with 17 doubles that ranked second in the American League behind the Indians’ César Hernández (20).
Asked about his offense, which contradicted his glove-first reputation, Iglesias said, “I think it’s about caring.”
“I have a responsibility on this young team and that was my mentality: Be there for them,” he said. “I wasn’t feeling great physically, dealing with some injuries and played through it because I really do respect my teammates, I respect my coaching staff and I respect the Baltimore organization. They welcomed me in a way that feels right. They welcomed me in a way that, anything I do for them is natural, it’s organic, and I think all that plays out in order to have the year that I did. All those little things matter.
“It’s like a big family. We communicate. We’re not going to feel great every day, but we support each other. We have a great young team that I’m very, very happy to be part of.”
There also was joy in being able to bat in the upper third of the order. He slashed .391/.413/.529 in 21 games as the No. 3 hitter, his spot on opening day, and .340/.377/.600 with three home runs in 14 games in the second slot.
“I loved it,” he said. “I’m at the point in my career where I’m ready for the responsibility physically and mentally. I’ve been lucky enough to see and learn from a lot of great players that I’ve been playing with back in Boston, Detroit and Cincinnati. You name it. Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Torii Hunter, David Ortiz. I got to learn from those guys. I think it’s time for me to step up and lead by example.
“Either one, it doesn’t matter. If the manager thinks I can help the team second or third, that’s his decision. It’s my job to put on the uniform and do the best I can for my team and my teammates.”