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That is the number of shortstops that have seen regular playing time since the Red Sox traded away everyone’s favorite player and hometown hero Nomar Garciaparra in 2004. Of those eight, only one has been a success: Orlando Cabrera.
As badly as the Red Sox front office has struck out with the shortstop position, it’s not all that bad. Did you know that both 2004 and 2007 World Series championships are directly linked to the shortstop position? It’s true. Orlando Cabrera’s great defense and ability to get on base sparked the Red Sox offense in the second half of ’04 that eventually led to their first title in 86 years. He even hit .379 in the historic 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. Then, in 2007, the Red Sox traded away top shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez for 2007’s ALCS MVP Josh Beckett and World Series MVP Mike Lowell. So it’s not all that bad.
However, that’s enough focus on the past and now we must focus on the problem at hand- the present. The Red Sox acquired Cincinnati Reds shortstop Alex Gonzalez to replace a faltering Nick Green, who was manning the position until Jed Lowrie returned from the 15-day DL. Raise your hand if that last sentence made you feel comfortable. What, no one? That’s what I thought.
Here’s a quick stat line for you: .235 BA, 8 HR, 34 BB, 101 K. That is the production the Red Sox have received from the shortstop position this season…yikes!
Those offensive numbers will not get much better with Alex Gonzalez in the lineup, but the fielding will definitely benefit. Nick Green has a good glove, but Gonzalez is more of a sure thing and I bet you won’t see him commit two errors in the ninth inning to lose a game. After the Red Sox lost out on Christian Guzman and J.J. Hardy through waivers, the pickings were pretty slim.
Alex Gonzalez comes to the Red Sox for the second time in three seasons. The last time he was on the team was the last time the Red Sox missed the playoffs: 2006. I don’t see the Red Sox bringing Gonzalez back next year as he has a team option for $6 million with a $500,000 buyout. His option brings a pretty hefty price tag for a one-dimensional player. The bottom line is that this trio is not the solution for the future even though the Red Sox are stuck with them for this season.
The Red Sox can’t fix this problem with their own players, as they don’t have any infield prospects knocking at the door in the minors. Their top 3 shortstop prospects are barely able to drink legally. Maybe one day the Casey Kelley experiment will work out, but let’s not put all our marbles in that bag just yet.
It’s looking like management will have to turn to the 2010 free agent class to solve this problem for next season, and possibly future seasons. I took a look at the list of potential free agents and and picked who I think would be the best fit for the Red Sox in 2010. The selection isn’t great, but I picked four who I think could really help the Red Sox in 2010.
He will be 35 years old next season, but Cabrera is a very good defender, as shown by his two gold gloves, and has the ability to hit and get on base. He has a career .275 batting average and can steal the occasional base. The Red Sox don’t necessarily need a lot of offensive production from the shortstop position, but they can’t afford to stick a dead bat in their lineup.
You want to talk about great defenders look no further than Jack Wilson. It seems like every night I tune into Baseball Tonight he has a top defensive play. His bat is not overly impressive but he is not the type of player who will kill a team’s lineup. The Mariners have a team option on Jack Wilson and will either pay the 32-year-old $8.4 million to stay or $600,000 to go. I am going to say they choose the latter.
Sticking with the theme of shortstops in their mid-30’s, Scutaro is next up. He is enjoying his best offensive season yet and, like the first two, his defense is very good. I cannot see him reproducing an offensive season like this, but even before this year, he was always a guy who could get on base with his great plate discipline. The Blue Jays have expressed interest in keeping Scutaro around for 2010 so the Red Sox will have to outbid them in order to acquire this player.
Tejada is getting up there in age and while his fielding ability is definitely diminishing, he has shown he can still hit the ball well. I believe the Red Sox value defense in a shortstop more than offense so a Tejada signing is pretty unlikely, but the free agent crop isn’t that strong so they may be forced to go with something against their philosophy.
So what will the Red Sox do? The options aren’t great, but there are some good one or two-year options on the market and I think that the Red Sox will fill the void with veteran players until they find a potential long term replacement either through trade (Hanley Ramirez anyone?) or the minor leagues. Until then, strap yourselves in because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.