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After former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein pulled the trigger on the trade deadline deal that sent five-time All Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs for two former Gold Glovers, shortstop Orlando Cabrera from the Montreal Expos and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz from the Minnesota Twins, he had this to say: “We lost a great player in Nomar Garciaparra, but we’ve made our club more functional. We weren’t going to win a World Series with our defense.”
Epstein’s words proved prophetic and the Red Sox, who were leading the league in unearned runs at the time of the trade, went on to win the World Series, defeating the hated Yankees and exorcising the demons of an 86-year championship drought along the way.
Nomahh was in Chicago, the Red Sox were champions and the Curse of the Bambino was broken once and for all. Unfortunately for Sox fans, there was a new curse to take its place – Garciaparra’s Revenge.
Since Garciaparra headed to the Windy City, the offensive output from Red Sox shortstops has been about at putrid as the Patriots’ pass defense has been since Asante Samuel left town.
According to MLB.com, a total of 23 players (including Garciaparra) have played at least one at game at shortstop for the Red Sox since 2004. The list of names is a veritable “who’s who” of players who some would refer to as underachievers but others would probably just call bums.
There was Edgar Renteria in 2005, Nick Green in 2009 and who could possibly forget the Julio Lugo experience (four years – $36 million) that kicked off in 2007 and was only mercifully brought to a halt when he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals after three seasons in which he amassed substantially more errors (42) than he did home runs (10).
As fun as it would be to skewer him, the sub-par succession of shortstops isn’t a Lugo problem; it’s a Red Sox problem.
Although it would have been unrealistic to expect anyone to come in and replace franchise player Garciaparra, it’s been nearly 10 years since the Red Sox have had anyone slightly above serviceable playing shortstop. The player who may have come closest to equaling Garciaparra’s production was his immediate replacement Cabrera (.294 BA, 31 RBI, 6 HR, 58 games) but the OC left in free agency following the 2004 season. Part of the reason for that decision was that top prospect Hanley Ramirez was waiting in the wings, but he ended up being traded as part of the deal that brought Josh Beckett to town.
The mess at the position started under Epstein and some might have hoped that it would clear itself up when he also left the Red Sox organization for the Cubs. Based on this year and the leadership of second-year GM Ben Cherington thus far, it would appear that although Epstein is gone, Garciaparra’s Revenge remains.
Cherington should be granted a pass for last year for a number of reasons (the fact that he was forced to deal with Bobby Valentine being chief among them) but he certainly deserves much of the blame for the poor play from the shortstop position in 2013 considering that he signed Stephen Drew to a one-year deal for $9.5 million.
As of May 29, Drew had appeared in 39 games for Boston and compiled a .227 BA with 20 RBI and 3 HR. That anemic average put Drew 25th out of the 30 shortstops across the league who have made at least 100 plate appearances. More than 80 average points ahead of him on the list was former Red Sox Jed Lowrie, a player whom Cherington traded for reliever Mark Melancon in late 2011. Melancon is no longer on the team.
Even with such a gaping hole in their lineup, the Red Sox are still a top three team in runs scored, RBI and on-base percentage. Although those numbers are probably somewhat inflated due to the team’s hot start, one has to wonder how much better the offense would be if the Sox were just getting average production from Drew.
Boston is 22-17 when Drew starts and the club has played only slightly above .500 ball at 6-5 when his injury replacement, Pedro Ciriaco, has started games this season. Ciriaco turned some heads last year with some big offensive games against the Yankees but has definitely struggled to find his groove (.244 BA, 4 RBI, 1 HR) at the plate in 2013. It’s clear that the team needs to do something to fix their shortstop problem and it seems to many that they have the answer but for some reason are just reluctant to accept it.
Jose Iglesias, who was recently recalled from Pawtucket, played the first six games of the season in the majors. The team went 5-1 and he was sent back down accommodate Drew’s return from injury after collecting nine hits in 20 at-bats. Iglesias wasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball at Triple-A (.209 BA) but since being recalled last week he has a .400 BA and the team has gone 4-1. Iglesias has been playing out of position with Will Middlebrooks out of the lineup, but once he’s back, Iglesias should get a chance to play shortstop on a daily basis; the team has only lost twice when he plays.
It seems as if every year the Red Sox tout him as a top prospect and the heir apparent to the shortstop job and every year they bring in someone else (Mike Aviles, Marco Scutaro, Drew) to play the position.
Enough is enough.
Drew is having a bad year and will probably just wind up being on and off the disabled list for the rest of the season. (There’s a family history there.) Ciriaco could be OK, but based on what he has shown so far this year, he’s definitely not ready for a full-time gig. True, the sample size with Iglesias this season is minuscule and he has always been lauded for his defensive ability rather than his skills at the plate, but why not give him a shot? What do they have to lose? If the Sox don’t make a switch, more games is the answer. Reverse the curse. Bring back Iglesias. Garciaparra’s Revenge has gone on long enough.