Sox decline option on Gonzalez

Team swung, missed on acquiring Hardy

By Tony Massarotti
Globe Staff / November 9, 2009

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Alex Gonzalez still could be the starting shortstop for the Red Sox next season. But if he returns, it will be at their price, not his.

In the interim, the Sox are likely to continue exploring all options.

Two days after shortstop J.J. Hardy was traded from the Brewers to the Twins, multiple baseball sources revealed yesterday that the Sox have declined their $6 million option on Gonzalez for next season. The same sources indicated that the sides are expected to have discussions about a new contract once Gonzalez files for free agency, something that is likely to happen this week.

Gonzalez, 32, batted .284 and had a profound impact on the Boston defense after being acquired from the Reds in a late-season trade. Chances of the Sox picking up his option were remote from the start.

Prior to declining the option on Gonzalez, according to one of the aforementioned sources, the Sox failed in their attempt to acquire Hardy to address what has been an unstable position. The Sox and Brewers had engaged in discussions about Hardy as far back as the trading deadline but were unable to agree on compensation.

While Milwaukee ended up acquiring center fielder Carlos Gomez from the Twins, discussions between the Sox and Brewers focused on pitching. The Sox were unwilling to part with Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard, both of whom were targeted by the Brewers, and Milwaukee had little or no interest in Michael Bowden, whom the Sox seemed willing to move.

Hardy, 27, became expendable in Milwaukee following a season in which he batted .229 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs largely because the Brewers have budding prospect Alcides Escobar at the position. In 2007-08, Hardy batted a combined .280 while averaging 25 home runs and 77 RBIs. He is regarded as an above-average defender and a far more complete player than Gonzalez.

Hardy earned $4.65 million this year and is eligible for salary arbitration. He is not eligible for free agency until after the 2011 campaign.

With Gonzalez now eligible for free agency, the Sox do not appear to have an everyday shortstop on their roster. When the season ended, even general manager Theo Epstein all but acknowledged that Jed Lowrie’s injury history has cast doubt on his ability to handle the position on a daily basis.

Aside from their option on Gonzalez, the Sox hold options on two other players - pitcher Tim Wakefield (at $4 million) and catcher Jason Varitek ($5 million). Varitek can choose to return to the club at a lesser salary ($3 million) if the Sox decline their option, as they are expected to do.

There has been no indication that the Sox have made a formal decision on Varitek or Wakefield.

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