With Gonzalez Gone, What’s Next For Red Sox?

Who Will Fill The Void Left By Alex Gonzalez?

Theo Epstein’s Achilles heel during his tenure as general manager for the Boston Red Sox has been the shortstop position.  Epstein has overseen and assembled two championship teams in Boston but in his time in the front office at Fenway Park, he has never been able to find an answer to the riddle of shortstop.

With the midseason acquisition of Alex Gonzalez last season, all the problems seemed to be solved, at least temporarily, as the Red Sox shored up their defense and had a steady .300 hitter in two months at Fenway.  The Sox proceeded to be eliminated from the playoffs in three games and the time for decision making had snuck up on Epstein and the Red Sox for 2010.  

Step one.  The Red Sox declined Gonzalez’s $6 million option for 2010.  A no-brainer.  But when Epstein and company pretty much stated that they were looking for better options, Gonzalez did the smart thing and secured himself a one-year, $2.75 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays with a $2.5 million team option in 2011.  

So now the Boston Red Sox are in a little bit of  a predicament with their ever-revolving door at shortstop.  With no “backup” option available anymore, what lies in the cards for Boston?  Well, hot shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias is merely 19-years-old and is not slated to be playing in the big leagues until 2011 or 2012.  So whose the stop-gap for Iglesias?  Who will stop the bleeding?

For many Sox fans, Gonzalez was their guy.  He provided stability at the position with sure hands, a calm demeanor, and an inconsistent bat.  But many fans were willing to overlook the shaky offense in lieu of a superb-defensive shortstop.  

Theo Epstein thought otherwise, or at least we think.

Maybe the Blue Jays deal snuck up on Epstein like the snatch on a mouse in a trap.  Yes, the cheese may not have been that good, but we were use to the smell, the texture and the consistency.  At least Gonzalez was our bread and cheddar.  So why wouldn’t the Red Sox bring back Gonzalez at the $3 million a year?  Who knows.  But now we are left with a few viable options.

Marco Scutaro.  A 34-year-old coming off of a career year in Toronto, will demand a multi-year contract from the Red Sox.  Boston will be careful in offering Scutaro a deal for only one reason.  He will cost the Sox two draft picks.  Scutaro is a Type A free agent which means if the Blue Jays offer him arbitration, which they will, the team that signs him will have to forfeit two picks called “sandwich picks” to the Blue Jays in exchange.  Epstein values his draft picks more than any other general manager which could stop this signing from happening.  

But the wildcard in this situation is whether or not the Sox offer Billy Wagner, a Type A free agent as well, arbitration.  If they do, the Sox may not feel as bad about giving up two picks since they will receive two others if Wagner signs elsewhere, assuming someone will sign him and he doesn’t accept arbitration with the Red Sox.

One thing is for certain though, Epstein is looking to upgrade his offense and Scutaro would be an improvement offensively over the likes of Gonzalez, Nick Green, and Julio Lugo.  In 2009, he hit .282 with 12 home runs, 60 RBIs, 90 walks, 100 runs scored and a .379 on-base percentage as Toronto’s shortstop.  But buyer beware, as the 34-year-old had the best season of his career and his career averages are well, quite average.

Another option that looms as a possibility for Boston is signing Khalil Greene, a power hitting shortstop who spent the beginning of his career with the San Diego Padres before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals last year.  They could also sign Miguel Tejada for his bat but rumors have it that Tejada is no longer viewed as a shortstop in the MLB and could be moving to third base next season.

The Sox will not be in market for Adam Everett or Bobby Crosby as they are looking to improve and not get worse at the position in 2010, they would rather go ahead with an uncertain Jed Lowrie than sign any of the middle-of-the-bag players available.  

So with Scutaro and Greene as the only two plausible free agent shortstop replacements, Boston’s only other option would be to trade for one.  There are rumors that the Cincinnati Reds might be involved in a fire-sale this offseason, unloading talent and money to anyone willing to take on a hefty contract.  This could bring second-basemen Brandon Phillips to Boston and move Dustin Pedroia over to his natural position of shortstop.  Also, their is talk that the Sox are interested in acquiring Dan Uggla from the Marlins and either plugging him at third or second, and if the latter is true, it would move Pedroia over to the shortstop void.

Although it may seem like their is a laundry-list full of options for Theo Epstein and the Red Sox at shortstop, there simply just isn’t.  The free agent market is thin all the way around and the market for shortstop is even thinner.  With Alex Gonzalez now off the board, the Sox best bet may be offering Billy Wagner arbitration and signing Marco Scutaro.  

Hit or miss, bust or not, Scutaro could be the stability the Sox need until the shortstop of the future, Jose Iglesias, is ready to kick in with the big boys.  Until then, stop the bleeding, sign someone to a two-year deal and focus on other needs of the ball club.   

But then again, this is your weakest link Mr. Epstein, you should have something up your sleeve if you want management and the fans to know your serious about winning in 2010.  But as always, after two championships in a span of five years, in Theo we trust.  

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