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Questions remain for Red Sox at shortstop

Posted by Matt Pepin, Boston.com Staff  March 5, 2012 09:38 AM

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Jose Iglesias, Mike Aviles, and Nick Punto (from left) are the Red Sox' options at shortstop right now. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

When all was said and done, the decision to trade shortstop Marco Scutaro saved the Red Sox pennies, at least with regard to the luxury tax. The question now concerns how the Red Sox intend to replace him, something for which some of us are willing to give the Sox almost an entire season to answer.

After all, if Jose Iglesias is the starter by, say, Aug. 1, then all of this may make a good deal more sense.

At the moment, the chance of that happening seems incredibly slim, if for no other reason than the wretched .235 batting average and .554 OPS that Iglesias registered in 101 games last season at Triple-A Pawtucket. Of Iglesias's 84 hits, 74 were singles. Iglesias walked just 21 times in 387 plate appearances, the kind of atrocious ratio that is entirely acceptable if you're someone like Vladimir Guerrero or Ivan Rodriguez in his prime.

The only real variable here is Bobby Valentine, who sounds like the most hardcore traditionalist the Red Sox have had in the manager's office since Jimy Williams. For all of the blather about Valentine's ego, it certainly seems as if he is intent on stressing fundamentals and basics, one of the most baseline of which is defense up the middle.

This is a man, remember, who had Rey Ordonez as his starting shortstop while with the New York Mets. During a nine-year career - the large majority of which was played in New York - Ordonez batted .246 and had an on-base percentage of .289, the latter of which is essentially the number Iglesias had last year at Pawtucket (.285).

If Iglesias can do what Ordonez did defensively - and that is a big if considering Ordonez won three Gold Gloves - he can play in the big leagues.

And he can certainly play for Bobby V, who admitted over the weekend that he "wouldn't be embarrassed" to play Iglesias now.

Still, the best plan of attack for the Red Sox this season might be to start the year with Mike Aviles, who has produced some decent offensive numbers during his career when afforded the chance to play. In four years as a utility man, Aviles has a career .288 batting average and .737 OPS, the latter of which would have placed him in the middle of the pack last season among all AL shortstops with at least 450 plate appearances at the position.

This isn't the late 1990s we're talking about here, and elite offensive shortstops have become scarce. Someone like Erick Aybar of the Angels is among the better hitting shortstops, so defense is once again the obvious priority at the position.

All of this makes Aviles interesting, if nothing else, at least in the short term. Based solely on the numbers, Aviles projects to be something roughly equivalent to Scutaro both offensively and defensively. The problem is that Aviles has never played a full season, which makes it impossible to project his numbers over a full season.

To this point in his career, Aviles looks like the perfect utility man, someone who never has totaled more than 448 plate appearances in a season. That makes him look like the ideal four-month player, which takes the Red Sox to - you guessed it - Aug. 1. (Interestingly, Scutaro had the same knock against him before Toronto made him their full-time shortstop in 2008.)

So is that what the Red Sox are banking on here, that the drop from Scutaro to Aviles will be no drop at all?

Or is the plan something far more long-ranging, with the idea that Iglesias will replace Scutaro this season ... or at the start of next?

For the Sox, the obvious problem here comes if Aviles is an out-and-out failure - and that Nick Punto similarly is not equipped to be the everyday shortstop. Then what? In real dollars, Scutaro would have cost the Sox $6 million this year. Combined, Aviles and Punto make about $3 million. Factoring all of that out, the Sox saved somewhere between $3 million and $4.5 million by moving Scutaro, which seems like chump change when talking about an organization worth in excess of a $1 billion and with a payroll currently in the neighborhood of $185 million.

All of that brings us back to Iglesias, who was tabbed the Sox' shortstop of the future when the club signed him to a four-year deal worth $8.25 million in September 2009. At the time, Sox officials alleged that Iglesias was ready to play defense in the major leagues immediately. Now the Sox are three years into an investment with a player who just turned 22 (albeit in Caribbean years), and the time is rapidly approaching for Iglesias to be handed the baton at one of the more critical positions on the diamond.

When the Sox signed Scutaro prior to the 2010 season, after all, he was supposed to a stopgap. Now that job belongs to Aviles, which is fine so long as Jose Iglesias earns his way here sooner rather than later.

Particularly if Aviles doesn't turn out the way Sox officials hope he will.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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