Red Sox's black hole at shortstop; Scutaro latest to grab torch
Since Garciaparra was traded in '04, Boston hasn't had a reliable shortstop
The latest, former Toronto Blue Jay Marco Scutaro, doesn't inspire confidence
Theo Epstein has done wonders in Boston, but he hasn't solved the problem at SS
Normal business activity in Boston screeched to a halt last Friday when the Red Sox announced there were holding a press conference at Fenway regarding a "major announcement.''
I was pretty sure this meant owner John Henry was selling the team or that general manager Theo Epstein was throwing his hat in the ring for the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. Or maybe the Sox were bringing in a big bat like Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Gonzalez.
Actually, no. The Sox stopped the presses in Beantown to tell the world that Marco Scutaro was going to play shortstop at Fenway in 2010.
... And so the search continues.
The shortstop hole is the Black Hole at Fenway. Theo's Kryptonite.
The Red Sox GM has developed an All-Star closer, a couple of no-hit starters, a leadoff man who can steal 70 bases, and a flyweight second baseman who won an MVP Award. Theo signed David Ortiz back in the days when nobody wanted the Twins castoff. Epstein won two World Series and put the Sox in the playoffs six times in seven seasons.
But he cannot solve the shortstop position.
Nothing against Scutaro. The veteran Venezuelan is coming off his best offensive season, hitting .282 and scoring 100 runs for the Blue Jays. He also walked 90 times and compiled an on-base percentage of .379. This makes him a Bill James warrior. Nothing thrills the Kansas mad scientist like a healthy OBP or OPS.
But Scutaro is also 34 years old and a career .265 hitter who missed the final two weeks of the 2009 season with plantar fasciitis. In any baseball town, the signing of Marco Scutaro is not a major announcement and does not have the Yankees quaking in their boots.
Theo's Shortstop Problem started in 2004 when Nomar Garciaparra's game deteriorated. Once a New England sports god (almost) on a par with Tom Brady, Garciaparra's skills eroded dramatically in 2004 and his attitude was worse. Making the boldest move of his administration, young Theo traded Nomie at the deadline in 2004. The four-team blockbuster brought Orlando Cabrera to Boston, shored up the Sox infield, and delivered the city its first baseball championship since 1918.
But the end of the Curse of the Bambino was the beginning of the Curse of Fenway Shortstops. Cabrera turned out to be a short-timer, the first in a chorus line of tomato cans who have failed to bring stability to the crucial position.
Since Nomar left town, the torch has been passed from Cabrera to Edgar Renteria to Alex Gonzalez to Julio Lugo to Alex Cora to Jed Lowrie to Nick Green, back to Gonzalez and now to Scutaro. In the middle of all this, while Theo was on sabbatical, Hanley Ramirez was dealt to the Marlins for Josh Beckett. Ramirez has developed into a triple-crown threat, but nobody rips the Sox for a deal which brought Beckett to town.
So the search continues.
Last week Dustin Pedroia revealed that the Sox had asked him about the prospect of moving over to short in 2010. Pedroia, naturally, loved the idea, but it was quickly squashed with the "major announcement" that Scutaro is on board.
Why all the change?
Cabrera played well during his time in Boston, but the Sox never tried to keep him and floated rumors about "off field" issues.
That led to Renteria and a four-year contract worth $40 million -- one of Theo's worst transactions. We were warned that Renteria was soft and something of a National League fraud and it all proved true. He made 30 errors for the 2005 Red Sox. A lot of John Henry's money was eaten on that one.
In '06 Gonzalez came to Boston and played the kind of shortstop that brought fans out of their seats. He was let go because he can't hit, and won't walk, and that makes the silos explode in Kansas.
This led to the acquisition of Lugo for the nifty price of $36 million over four years. Henry fell in love with Julio's offensive potential, but it turned out Lugo couldn't hit, catch, or throw and so another contract had to be eaten while the Sox went with stopgaps Cora, Lowrie and Green.
Theo had hopes that Lowrie might be the answer, but he's been injury prone and looks like he can't hit from the left side.
Gonzalez was brought back for 44 games at the end of '09 and Sox fans showered him with love. He made all the plays, but still couldn't hit.
For a long stretch, Gonzo's batting average and OBP were the same number.
Figuring Gonzalez would still be available if they needed him, the Sox opted not to trigger his option. Subsequently, Gonzalez stunned them by signing with Toronto.
Which brings us to Scutaro. The Sox know he's not a longtime solution, but they're hoping he can bridge the gap until the arrival of 19-year-old Cuban prospect Jose Iglesias.
Iglesias is the flavor of the month in Red Sox Nation. He is projected as the Next One at short -- just like Juan Bustabad and Jackie Gutierrez before him. Meanwhile, it's Marco Scutaro at shortstop for the Red Sox.
Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Read more of his columns here.
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