With the departure of Alex Gonzalez to Toronto, it’s time to move on and explore what options are available to Boston to man the shortstop position in 2010 — and possibly beyond. I’ve gone through some potential free-agent and trade options and then tied it all in a neat little bow for consideration.
Jed Lowrie: No surprise here. Lowrie turned heads in 2008 but lost most of 2009 thanks to injury. Now, Theo Epstein has made it clear he is not interested in relying on Lowrie to produce. With his wrist giving him problems for two years in a row, Lowrie is at the point where he has to fight to have a career as a backup, nevermind a starter. The potential is still there, but the road of opportunity is gone. There is zero chance Lowrie enters spring training as the shortstop du jour, and he may even be left out of the utility position. We’ll give consideration to him sticking as a platoon shortstop in this outlook, though.
Jose Iglesias: 19, Iglesias is apparently a defensive wizard with the glove. He’s drawn comparisons to Omar Vizquel and has skyrocketed up the charts. I’m a bit leery of ascribing so much immediate success to a 19-year old who hasn’t played American professional ball for any period of time, although he did flash potential with the bat. If he can display Alcides Escobar-type contact skills at the plate, we have a real find on our hands. Some are saying Iglesias could be ready by 2010. I say slow down. We don’t know enough. I’m not expecting any type of impact — if there is one — until 2011, which is why I’m not opposed to two-year deals for shortstops on the free agent market. Again… he’s 19.
FREE AGENT OPTIONS
Marco Scutaro: Mike covered Scutaro the other day. There’s a lot to like about the to-be 34-year old. Scutaro is coming off a career season, having hit .282/.379/.409 and has shown an increased understanding of plate patience that won’t suddenly disappear. The knock against Scutaro is that he’s long been a utility player, and there’s a question on whether or not Scutaro really profiles as a starter.
For the last four years, his offense numbers could pass for a starter, but he’ll try to get paid off of his 2009. Expecting a repeat of 2009 is a tough thing to talk myself into. His career line is .265/.337/.384 is more doable, and coupled with above-average defense at short, is easily the best option on the free agent market. If he’s available at $5 million per year for two years (three would be a stretch, but I’d be okay with it) then I’d say sign Scutaro. Any more than that, and I blanch. The key for Boston here is accurately projecting what Scutaro can do the next two years. Bill James likes him at .264/.347/.381 for 2010.
Orlando Cabrera: Cabrera is seeking a two-year, $10 million contract in line with what Jack Wilson got from Seattle. Cabrera got off to a poor start in Oakland but turned it on as the weather got warmer and continued his good play in Minnesota. Offensively, there’s not much separating him from Marco Scutaro (what Cabrera gains in batting average, he loses in plate discipline) and UZR/150 says that Cabrera became a liability in the field this season. On a one-year deal, a flyer wouldn’t be a bad idea. On a two-year deal, I prefer Scutaro because of the volatility of batting average.
Craig Counsell: Counsell is a utility player this late in the game, but he just keeps on ticking despite entering age 39. If none of the other free agent options are available or palatable, would it be a bad thing to install Counsell as shortstop and give Jed Lowrie liberal playing time? I actually really like this idea.
Adam Everett: There’s a school of thought that Everett is just as good as Gonzalez. I don’t buy it. I’m not questioning Everett’s proficiency in the field, but I think Gonzalez is the better hitter. He has some more pop, and Everett hasn’t sniffed a batting average higher than .240 for four seasons now. That said, the offensive separation between the two is not significant. While Counsell represents more offensive upside, platooning Everett and Lowrie would also be a nice idea. In addition, Everett is more likely to hold up over a full season as a starter than Counsell is. Perhaps the former Boston farmhand will want to return to town.
Felipe Lopez: Lopez has been around — despite being 29, he will likely join his seventh team this offseason. Lopez reportedly had attitude problems early in his career, although they have been addressed. His career took a major derailing in his tenure with the Washington Nationals, but past that has been an above-average offensive player. Lopez is by and large a second baseman now, but came up playing shortstop and has played there recently enough to make one think that it wouldn’t be terrible to stick Lopez in there for a season. Lopez has the best offensive potential of any shortstop free agent. The question is: can he field? All public indications say no.
Miguel Tejada: Tejada has wanted to play for Boston in a long time, and is definitely someone obsessed with winning. A lot of people — myself included — feel that he needs to move to third base. In addition, while his .313 average and 46 doubles this past season suggest he has a lot of juice left in the tank, the fact is that he had an .879 OPS at home with a .709 on the road. Not pretty, and while Fenway is a doubles/hitter’s park, I wouldn’t want to commit a ton to expecting Tejada to produce in the American League. He is extremely durable, however, and we could rely on him being in the lineup every day which has tremendous value in itself. UZR/150 can’t seem to decide if Tejada is either a very good or very bad shortstop, so let’s just go with average in the field — which is how he’s always struck me as.
Stephen Drew: Drew has been linked to Boston before. Since then, we have continued to hear whispers about Drew being available and Boston being interested, but nowhere to the level that suggested Arizona was actively planning on moving him. He still makes the list here. Arizona is looking to compete in 2010 and I’m not sure how they can do that by trading Drew, unless the value they got at another position was clearly worth it. Off the top of my head, I can’t find any fits.
Cristian Guzman: There’s no chance the Red Sox will trade for Guzman, but I’m putting him here anyways. There was a report earlier this year that Boston put in a waiver claim for Cristian Guzman. The Nationals weren’t interested in letting him go, so Boston got Alex Gonzalez instead. Guzman has a $8 million pact and is being forced to move to second base as the Nationals feel he’s done as a shortstop. I liked him as a waiver claim to play out the year, but what I was leery about was his 2010. There’s no way the Nationals aren’t calling — if they haven’t already — Boston about Guzman. He can hit .300 with decent pop, but his stock has fallen way down from when he was claimed. The Nationals must regret their decision not to let him go.
Hanley Ramirez: The New York Daily News has a note that the Marlins are talking to the Red Sox about a Hanley Ramirez trade. I just don’t see this even being true. Sure, maybe Boston called about Hanley, but if talks progressed past that, I’d be shocked. Off the top of my head, a Hanley trade would have to include Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Jed Lowrie, Casey Kelly, Ryan Kalish/Josh Reddick. He’s in this list simply because of that article linked, but it’s truly a trade that won’t happen.
Ryan Theriot: Nothing to base this on except Chicago’s intent to move Theriot to second base to make way for uber-prospect Starlin Castro. Castro is just 19, so I think Chicago would be making a mistake moving Theriot to the keystone position to start 2010. If they do so, they might be better off trading Theriot and being able to market him as a shortstop. I’m not going to make any trade predictions here. In addition, Theriot seems like a spitting image of Scutaro or Counsell. Why give up players when you can just sign one of those players?
Barring a player available via trade that comes out of nowhere, it looks as if Boston is stuck playing the free agent market. Scutaro is a risk on a multi-year contract, while the other options are nowhere as palatable as Alex Gonzalez was. People outside (and some inside) of Boston can’t believe why Red Sox fans are upset, but … come on. You kind of had to watch him play every day. He seemed to have a knack for getting hits at the right time, Fenway seemed to fit him and he was a great defender. Heck, Boston wanted to bring him back, they just wanted to put it off a couple weeks while they explored other options.
I’m looking at all these options, and I just keep thinking to myself, “Boy, we really whiffed on not signing Gonzalez immediately.”
All told, I like Miguel Tejada the most, with Marco Scutaro and Adam Everett both tied for second. I like Scutaro’s potential better, but Everett would come on short money and (likely) a one-year deal.
If we can sign Tejada to a guaranteed one-year deal with a club vesting option based on offensive production rather than at-bats/plate appearances, then I say go for it.