On Saturday, Peter Gammons reported Alex Gonzalez had signed with the Reds for 3 years and 14 million. The defensive wizard has earned a raise after posting an outstanding year with the glove, but Wayne Krivsky might have found himself another Royce Clayton. After a horrendous start, Gonzalez managed to get his average up to a respectable .255, but the OBP of .299 and lack of power worried many teams looking for a shortstop, like Boston. I??m sure they had a one or two year offer on the table, which I supported, but 3/14 is a bit much for a guy with his bat. Now the Red Sox find themselves with, well, not many alternatives.
One is obvious- Mr. Julio Lugo. Evan outlined his strengths on Friday. It shows he??s not the below average defensive player many of us labeled him as, but rather middle of the pack. It did fail to point out that Lugo is still erratic at short, especially with his throwing arm, and he may have to adjust to the position after playing everywhere in LA. His second half in LA was horrific for the most part and led to his benching. I still don??t trust him. Investing four years and 32+ million into a 31-year old question mark who posted a .545 OPS in the second half last season is not my ideal scenario. Does Theo even have a choice?
I found five options, some more realistic than others, that the Red Sox can pursue rather than sign Lugo. Before you jump all over these ideas, they are just that- ideas, possibilities, made-up scenarios that likely will not occur but are posted for discussion. Mind you, it wasn??t easy. The free agent market is barren for middle infielders, which drives Lugo??s price up even more. It??s awfully difficult to find a top-rate shortstop without trading Manny. Here are some three ideas:
1. Orlando Cabrera and Juan Rivera for Manny Ramirez
In Orlando, the Sox get a shortstop who has succeeded in the pressure-filled situation of playing shortstop in Boston, while avoiding Renteria II in Lugo. His defense is absolutely superb, we all remember how much of a savior he played to a terrible defensive team in 2004. And his offense isn??t lacking like Gonzalez. His .282/.335/.404 line with 72 RBI in 2006 was the best year of his career. His contract can be dealt with: two years and 17.5M remaining, but the two years is vital. We wouldn??t be locked up in a long-term situation like we would signing Lugo. Plus everyone in Boston loves him, and with our team chemistry sort of lacking last season, he could teach Coco Crisp some new handshakes.
Juan Rivera is the real reason why this deal could work out. The day the Yankees gave up on Rivera, I knew they??d be making a huge mistake. He??s finally blossomed in LA to the tune of .310/.362/.525 with 23 HR and 85 RBI. His contract expiring after 2007 shouldn??t worry anybody because we could slide the 28-year old Rivera into LF for next year, then let him go if Drew is signed and Pena blossoms in his at-bats at 1B, LF and RF this season. Leverage, folks. Or we could work out a contract extension with Rivera before/during the year. This would give us a lineup of: Kevin Youkilis, Mark Loretta (hoping), David Ortiz, Juan Rivera, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek. Orlando Cabrera and Coco Crisp with Pena on the bench.
The free agent market is barren for middle infielders, which drives Lugo??s price up even more. It??s awfully difficult to find a top-rate shortstop without trading Manny.
2. Michael Young and Akinori Otsuka for Manny Ramirez
This is a deal I can support. Not only would this address a glaring need at SS, but help clog a huge hole in the bullpen. The deal has reportedly been discussed at the GM meetings last week, as the Rangers are looking to aid a lineup that could be without Mark DeRosa, Gary Matthews, Rod Barajas and Carlos Lee next season.
For a position normally weak on offense, Michael Young is one of the few exceptions. An All-Star in 2006, he finished the year .314/.356/.459 with 103 RBI in a hitters park. Don??t think last year was a fluke, though. The last four years Young has hit over .300 and posted OPS??s of .785, .836, .898 and .815. Not bad for a supposed contact hitter. He??ll make 3.5 million in 2007 and has a 5 million dollar club option in 2008, so he??ll realistically be cheaper than Cabrera and we??ll get more production. Otsuka spent last season as the Rangers closer and sparkled. Not only can he serve as a companion to the Diceman and fully stretch the Japanese investment, but he??ll be a key arm in a bullpen that has Mike Timlin as our closer. Last year Otsuka was 2-4 with a 2.11 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and a .241 BAA. He??s not a full-fledged free agent until 2010 either, when he??ll be near retirement, so that??s not a worrisome factor. Right now, we desperately need a closer, and he could serve that purpose.
3. Miguel Tejada for Manny Ramirez, Matt Clement and cash
The Tejada-Manny tango has been discussed before, with the Orioles turning down a Manny-Clement for Tejada offer last winter. I have a strong feeling the discussion will heat up once again. Tejada has to be getting extremely frustrated in Baltimore and would absolutely love playing in Boston with Ortiz, but on the other side of the spectrum, Manny may not accept a trade to the Orioles. Still, if this offer is on the table, there??s a chance.
Tejada??s slugging numbers fell last year to .498 with only 24 HR, but he hit a career high .330 while playing his usual 162 games for the O??s. At 30 years old, Tejada is owed 38 million over the next three years. Basically we??d be receiving Tejada for about the price of Lugo for one less year and much more production. His defense is solid, so the chance of a replacement slipping in that category would be tarnished. The only road block to a deal like this would be the money. Investing this much in Tejada, while also helping Baltimore with Manny and Clement, would prove costly. Likely, if this deal would go down, we??d take J.D. Drew off the table and go with Pena in LF and ??? In RF.
4. Simply go with Dustin Pedroia or Alex Cora
Either of these could be serve as the SS for the first half of next season before pursuing a free agent via trade like Carlos Guillen or some free agent. This would be a major step back in terms of offense, but we??d probably sign Drew and avoid any long-term commitments while keeping Manny. Pedroia struggled mightily in 31 games with the Sox late last year, hitting .191/.258/.303. Still, his minor league stats are hard to ignore at .305/.384/.426 in AAA Pawtucket, which is why many of my cohorts here at Fire Brand want him over Loretta so much. In a David Eckstein mold, Pedroia can fit in at SS as a big risk.
5. Sign Rich Aurilia to play SS for 2 years
This idea may be too unreal, as I have not watched many Reds games, but can Aurilia still play short? If so, maybe he could be the short term answer. He??s played short for his entire career and can serve as a handy utility man around the infield. His bat found a spark last year, hitting .300/.349/.518 in Great American Ballpark, which is friendly to batters. At age 35, Aurilia had a career year, showing no signs of decline. Maybe he could come cheap.
So there are five other options. I have been a strong proponent of keeping Manny through the entirety of his contract, mostly due to the fact he helps David Ortiz get great pitches so often. Those two are inseparable and feed off each other??s ability. But now with gaping holes at short, second, closer and right field, a Manny trade, while he??s still going strong, could be a good option. Rumor has it Theo has been shopping Manny around to different teams. Are there any other trade scenarios? Stay tuned for Evan’s article tomorrow that will examine the cost of trading Ramirez more in-depth. But the pressing question I need answers for is: can Julio Lugo really be the only answer at short?