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On Sunday, the Red Sox declined the $6 million option they held on Alex Gonzalez for the 2010 season. By declining his option the Red Sox find themselves without an everyday shortstop on the roster. Is this the end of Gonzalez’s second stint with the Red Sox or is free agency a more favorable route to bring about his return?
Known more for his gold glove caliber defense than for his offensive prowess, Gonzalez put up a .284/.316/.453 line in 44 games with the Red Sox, good for the second highest OPS of his career (.769), though in a very small sample.
By comparison, in his 2006 season with the Red Sox Gonzalez hit .255/.299/.397. As a career .247 hitter with a .689 OPS, Gonzalez provided more than the Red Sox could have imagined this season at a position where they needed offensive and defensive help. This is an offensive performance Gonzalez would be hard pressed to repeat. With question marks remaining at catcher and left field as well and Julio Lugo’s salary still on the books for next year, declining the option was the right move at that price.
Jed Lowrie’s career path has been significantly altered by his wrist injury. A simple offseason recovery turned into surgery costing him almost the entire 2009 season. With concerns about Lowrie’s health, it makes perfect sense to bring Gonzalez back on a short deal.
The Red Sox signed Gonzalez to a one-year $3 million contract before the 2006 season, a season he parleyed into his three-year contract with the Reds. Only 32, Gonzalez could sign another discounted contract with the Red Sox and rebuild his value again after injuries derailed his 2008 season and limited him at the start of 2009. He would be the starter unless Lowrie outplays him. Even then, Gonzalez would likely become a utility player in the mold of Crisp and Lugo, only playing his natural position while his platoon partner (Lowrie) moves around the diamond to fill in for someone else.
Marco Scutaro is the premier free agent shortstop this year, but a 34 year-old coming off a career year is unlikely to be a good investment. Miguel Tejada could provide some pop with the bat, but not the defense the Red Sox like at shortstop. Orlando Cabrera is also available, but the front office let that ship sail after 2004 and hasn’t shown any interest in him the last two years.