The 2013 major league regular season is barely a week old, but the Boston Red Sox are already facing their first major question. Should Jose Iglesias or Stephen Drew be the team’s starting shortstop?

The two players have compelling claims to the job, but it is Drew who should be the starter, while Iglesias should continue honing his craft in the minor leagues.

The 30-year-old Drew, a veteran of seven major league seasons, was signed this past offseason to a one-year, $9.5 million deal to be Boston’s starting shortstop in 2013.

He is a career .265 hitter with 77 home runs and 349 RBI in 812 major league games. His combined dWAR of 4.2 suggests that he has been a slightly above average defender.

The left-handed hitter was 3-for-16 in spring training this year before suffering a concussion and missing the end of camp.

He just finished a four-game rehab stint with Double-A Portland and is expected to be activated from the seven-day disabled list on Wednesday.

Iglesias, a 23-year-old prospect from Cuba, took over for Drew in his absence.

Considered a slick fielder, Iglesias has filled in admirably during the first week of the season, collecting nine hits in 20 at-bats and playing excellent defense.

Once among Boston’s top prospects, Iglesias has seen his stock slip because of his below average ability at the plate. He has just a .261 combined batting average with two home runs and 64 walks in 261 minor league games, and a .202 batting average with one home run and four walks in 41 major league games.

Despite his hot start to this season, the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson writes that the Red Sox shouldn’t be fooled by Iglesias’ early stats:

Of Iglesias‘s nine hits so far this season, two have been push bunts to first base, four have been infield singles and the other three all have been either grounded or chopped past the third baseman. Few—if any—could be said to have been hit with authority…

If Iglesias were working counts and drawing walks or scalding line drives up the gap, he’d be making the decision tougher on the Boston front office.

But Iglesias can’t draw walks until he can hit the ball hard enough to dissuade pitchers from staying in the strike zone. He’s not doing that. He instead is benefiting from good fortune—a hole here, an infielder caught napping there.

Boston manager John Farrell has said all along that Drew wouldn’t lose his job because of injury. He recently discussed the matter with the Boston Herald’s Ron Borges, explaining, “We’re certainly not going to take away from what Jose’s done, but we signed a premium guy in the offseason to be our starting shortstop. We’re not going to look at an injury to cause him to lose his job.”

Even though Drew is higher paid than Iglesias, it’s not like the youngster is making minimum wage. Because of the contract he originally signed with the Red Sox in 2009, he will make $2.06 million this season.

Sending Iglesias to the minors isn’t about money as much as it is about giving the more experienced player the starting spot. It also allows Iglesias to gain valuable experience at Triple-A Pawtucket and be able to play every day.

According to WEEI’s Alex Speier, Iglesias claims he will gracefully accept whatever decision is made about his fate:

I just go out and play the game and try to win. I don’t know what’s going to happen… I just prepare myself to play every day and help this team win and be ready to go every day… I’m going to enjoy the game no matter where. Obviously you want to play here. The atmosphere it’s fun being around these guys. But if I have to go I don’t mind.

That positive attitude is an encouraging sign. If he accepts a demotion without fanfare and plays well in the minors, he is sure to be back in Boston before long.

With Drew only on a one-year deal, the Red Sox could be looking for a new starting shortstop as soon as next year. If Iglesias can continue becoming a more complete player, he could be in the conversation for that spot.

Although there are arguments to be made for both players, Drew is the best choice as the starting shortstop this season. But he shouldn’t get too comfortable—if Iglesias continues to play well, he will make future decisions more difficult for the Red Sox.

Statistics via Baseball-Reference

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