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A shortstop solution

Posted by David Lefort, Boston.com Staff  December 20, 2005 10:32 AM

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Might the answer to the Red Sox' shortstop quandary be right in front of their faces?

Miguel Tejada, Julio Lugo, and Alex Gonzalez have all been discussed as possibilities to replace Edgar Renteria, but another option has suddenly presented itself -- one that doesn’t require the Red Sox to look beyond their own roster.

Tony Graffanino surprisingly accepted the Red Sox’ arbitration offer on Monday, meaning he is essentially signed for 2006 (though the Sox could trade or release him during spring training). His return creates a logjam at second base, with the newly acquired Mark Loretta already penciled in as the starter.

Where does that leave Graffanino? One option is to make him a utilityman, though Alex Cora seems a better fit in that role. Another possibility the Sox should consider is to move either Loretta or Graffanino to shortstop, a position both have played at some point during their careers.

On the surface, moving someone across the infield to play such an important position doesn’t seem like a good idea; but consider the facts ...

  • Defense: Graffanino and Loretta have made a combined 421 appearances at shortstop, with Loretta owning the lion’s share with 328. Graffanino made 13 errors in 339 chances (.962 fielding percentage, which is eight points better than Renteria’s 2005 percentage), and Loretta had 21 errors in 1,213 chances. Only two shortstops in major league baseball last season had a better fielding percentage than Loretta’s career .983 mark at short. Let that sink in for a minute.

    What about zone rating and range factor? Both Graffanino and Loretta have similar numbers in those categories (at the shortstop position) as Gonzalez, who is considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League.

  • Offense: Graffanino showed in the second half of the season why he deserves a spot in the everyday Red Sox lineup. After coming over from Kansas City in a trade, he batted .319 with 39 runs scored in 51 games for the Red Sox, and .309 overall. Compare those numbers to those of Gonzalez, who at this point appears to be the most likely free-agent option for the Sox. For the Marlins last season, Gonzalez hit .264 in 130 games, with just five homers and 45 runs scored. In fairness to Gonzalez, he missed some time due to injury, and he hit 23 homers in 2004 (albeit with a .232 batting average and a horrid .270 on-base percentage).

  • Cost analysis: What’s the cost for someone like Gonzalez? He made $3.5 million in 2005, and at 28 years old and in the prime of his career, he’s likely going to command a multi-year deal worth somewhere north of his current salary. Would the Red Sox want to commit for that many years and that much money? They’d probably prefer not to. What about acquiring someone like Julio Lugo? He would cost the Sox prospect Andy Marte in all likelihood. Meanwhile, Loretta and Graffanino are already under Red Sox control for 2006. Graffanino will probably make somewhere around $2 million in arbitration, meaning a savings one way or another for the Red Sox, who could use that extra cash to fill other roster holes. In other words, this move makes financial sense for the Red Sox.

    Unless the Sox can go out and get Tejada, which looks unlikely at this point, moving either Loretta or Graffanino to shortstop makes sense for 2006. Both have shown they can handle the workload defensively, and both of their bats belong in the everyday lineup. Plus, penciling them in brings the Red Sox one step closer to completing construction of the 2006 team, and frees up time to continue the pursuit of Johnny Damon and bullpen reinforcements.

    Besides, they don’t have a very tough act to follow.

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