Gonzalez Signs With Toronto – Scutaro or Bust!!!

Red Sox vs. Royals

Though the Red Sox will be seeing plenty of Alex Gonzalez next season, it won’t be in a Red Sox uniform, as their ultimate fail-safe signed on with the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday. It’s never a good sign to see Plan B go off the market – or Plan C/D/F for that matter – as the Sox’ shortstop options are dwindling, meaning that they are all the more likely to go hard after Scutaro for a contract much more favorable to player than to team.

At the off-season’s beginning, the team could select from any of Hardy, Stephen Drew, Scutaro, or a Gonzalez-Lowrie timeshare. Now, with both J.J. Hardy and Gonzalez off the table and Arizona clinging hard to Drew, the Sox’ options have become alarmingly limited to a shot at a trade with Diamondbacks or duking it out with Scutaro’s many admirers.

The leverage on the side of Scutaro and Arizona is now significantly higher than last week and Lowrie incapable of being trusted with a full-time job, perhaps the biggest effect of this trade is how it affects the outlook of the remaining free agents and trade candidates.

Any time a secondary option like Gonzalez is taken off the market, the teams left standing feel an uncomfortable squeeze. Even if that said player is not the top dog, the dynamics of the market change significantly when teams have fewer safety nets.

Perhaps the easiest way to visualize this effect is to think of the show “Deal or No Deal”. The Red Sox, to dismay of viewers everywhere, have just lost their $50,000 case with only the $500,000 seed standing between them and financial ruin. And, true to life and TV, the drama gets all the more entertaining when crazy personalities are combined with poor judgment and rapid-fire decision making.

Such is the state of off-season MLB negotiations.

It’s too bad we can’t see into the war room when J.P. Ricciardi stutters, capitulates, and… ZONK! agrees to a seventh year with Vernon Wells amidst the horrified stares of onlookers and high-fiving of player and agent. Like the formula to a hit-TV show, pressure, money, and the threat of bankruptcy will always force people into irrational, regrettable decisions.

And we, the media, will eat it up and spit it out faster than The Soup.

Good thing Theo seems like a calm guy. And, even better, that this team is able to buy its way out of almost any hardship that may face it.

Will the team bring home a donkey? Doubtful. But Scutaro is moving from the category of “rental” to “overpriced purchase” very quickly.

With that said, I can’t hide my excitement to see Scutaro in a Red Sox uniform. However, a guaranteed third year for a free agent of his age makes the deal much more precarious. A third year with a club option would be the best case scenario at this point, though that may be a bit much to ask.

The top – and maybe only – option at this juncture is the signing of Scutaro to whatever contract is demanded by this weak market. With added negotiating power on the player side of the table, Scutaro should be able to secure a third year in his contract, serving to the detriment of the Red Sox 0- his age and short history of success make him a less-than-attractive roll of the dice over three years.

Nearly as interesting as the Scutaro free agency is the building lamentation over “blocking” shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias from reaching Boston. Sure, a three-year deal may delay Iglesias’ arrival by one season – at most – it may actually be a good move for his development. Whereas the team could sign a free agent at the end of the second season, Iglesias would be blocked by a longer contract. If anything, the signing of Scutaro to a third year would increase the likelihood that Iglesias will stick with the team. A two year development period for a 19 year old whose only professional experience is an ongoing stint in the AFL is a very optimistic projection. Even if he were to be ready at the end of two seasons, one additional year in the minors won’t hurt anyone and could even improve his career outlook.

And, lest we forget the lessons of the past, prospects offer no guarantees. Therefore, any move made – based on the future of a player at least three years away from the majors – is a fool’s errand.

Either way, the Red Sox’ 2010 starting shortstop is looking more and more like Marco Scutaro by the day, with the off-chance of a Miguel Tejada or Orlando Cabrera. Sure, that $500,000 case is still on the board. But, after that one, there isn’t a whole lot left. Too bad there’s no Banker to balance the equation.

At the Hardball Times, Evan takes a look at Toronto’s master stroke in signing Gonzalez.