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Baseball Notes

No shortage of options

If Sox don’t stick with Gonzalez, then . . .

By Nick Cafardo
September 6, 2009

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Alex Gonzalez has given the Red Sox stability at shortstop, which was the goal when they acquired him from the Reds Aug. 14. At least for the remainder of the season.

“I’ve enjoyed being back here,’’ Gonzalez said. “It’s great to be involved in a race where every game counts. I like it here and I hope to help this team win now and in the playoffs.’’

Gonzalez has lived up to his fielding reputation, smoothing out what had been a rough position for the Sox most of the season. He has also hit better than expected - even prompting Terry Francona to stick with him in a key situation last Wednesday against the Rays, bases loaded, one out in the eighth, trailing by a run.

Mike Lowell was on the bench, but Francona stayed with Gonzalez, explaining later that Gonzalez had been hitting very well lately and he thought he might do something big. While Gonzalez was at the plate, the tying run scored on a wild pitch, but Gonzalez struck out and the Sox went on to lose, 8-5.

Gonzalez’s contract has a $6 million mutual option for 2010, which means he or the Red Sox could decline, and at this stage, we have no idea which way that will go.

Which raises the question, will the Sox continue their revolving door at shortstop into 2010? At the very least, the subject will be a talking point with management this offseason. One factor in the decision will be how far the Sox get in the postseason. There are also big decisions looming on catcher Jason Varitek and left fielder Jason Bay.

The Sox must weigh whether they can afford to carry a light-hitting, great-fielding shortstop or sacrifice a bit of defense to aim for a more balanced lineup. In other words, it’s not unlike what they’ve gone through in the past when they opted for defense with Orlando Cabrera (over Nomar Garciaparra), then more offense with Edgar Renteria (over Cabrera), then more defense with Gonzalez (over Renteria), and then back to a more offensive shortstop in Julio Lugo (over Gonzalez).

They also must decide whether they still view Jed Lowrie as their long-term answer, or whether his recent spate of injuries taints their view of him as an everyday player. Or perhaps they view him more as a super-utility type.

Last winter, general manager Theo Epstein thought big and made a bid for Hanley Ramirez but was quickly rebuffed by the Marlins. And while there aren’t many options at shortstop, there are a few strategies worth discussing:

1. Sign free agent Marco Scutaro. The former utilityman, 33, has had an outstanding season, his first in a starting role with the Blue Jays. Scutaro is hitting .282 with 11 homers, 57 RBIs, a .381 on-base percentage, and only 7 errors.

2. Try again for Ramirez. He is on his way to winning a National League batting title. Whether he’s a long-term shortstop remains to be seen, but he’s one you’d live with defensively. He also is the face of the Marlins, so it would be difficult to pry him loose. His six-year, $70 million deal (without a no-trade clause) is very affordable.

3. Rent Miguel Tejada for a year. Tejada, 35, likely will have to move to third base unless there’s a team specifically seeking him as a shortstop. You could get by with him at short for another year. Tejada, hitting .298 with 10 homers, 37 doubles, and 69 RBIs entering last night, brings great energy to a team. He has played in 130 games at shortstop this season and has made 18 errors.

4. Trade for J.J. Hardy. It would take a leap of faith to think that his horrid season is an aberration. With Alcides Escobar already manning shortstop for the Brewers, it appears that Hardy is major trade bait, unless they are considering him as a third base candidate next season. Hardy, 27, hit 26 and 24 homers the two previous seasons, but his numbers this year - .230, 11 homers, 46 RBIs - were miserable enough to earn a demotion to Triple A.

5. Trade for Jose Reyes. He may need surgery for a torn tendon behind his right knee, which has sidelined him since May 20. But the talented Reyes is expected to fully recover. Can you imagine Reyes and Jacoby Ellsbury on the basepaths?

6. Long shot - Troy Tulowitzki. As they say in the movies, “Everybody has a price,’’ but it seems that Tulowitzki, who has had his share of ups and downs for the Rockies, is projecting upward with 24 homers, 74 RBIs, and a .283 average entering last night. The 24-year-old has only six errors, and his six-year, $31 million deal is extremely team-friendly. Fat chance the Rockies would move him, but it never hurts to ask.

7. Others. There are always guys like Adam Everett, John McDonald, and yes, Omar Vizquel. The Sox could try to pull a deal with Arizona and reunite the Brothers Drew. Or they could try to rescue Brandon Wood from the Angels.

Intruding into a delicate area

It was a serious matter when Seattle Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre sustained a contusion of his left testicle when Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox drilled a one-hopper at him Aug. 12. Beltre, who wound up on the disabled list, had never worn a cup, which is unusual for a third baseman.

“It’s not funny, obviously, but Adrian and I were talking about it before it happened to him,’’ said Red Sox infielder Chris Woodward, a former teammate of Beltre’s in Seattle who also does not like wearing a cup. “We were taking ground balls at third and he brought it up and talked about why he doesn’t wear it.

“Sure enough, about a week later, I hear what happened and I felt so bad. That has to be one of the worst things ever.

“I think he has to wear one now. It’s just like if you foul a ball off your leg and you break your leg, you’re always going to wear a shin guard.’’

But Woodward is not convinced yet he needs to.

“I don’t know if it’s because I don’t have wide hips, but the cup would always make my groin sore, so I only wore it for batting practice. It just feels so much better without it and my legs are so much freer.

“When you dive on turf, it’s like diving on concrete, and if you fall on your cup, sometimes it would be even worse than if you got hit not wearing one.

“I was playing third every day for a while, and that’s a different position. I think you have to wear one there. You get a lot of rockets hit right at you. So you have to smother it. At short, it’s different, because you can use your feet to position yourself to catch it.’’

Woodward said he’s been hit in the groin on bad hops in infield practice, but nothing as serious as Beltre endured.

“Every guy hears that story about Adrian and cringes,’’ he said. “More wear them than don’t wear them. A lot of outfielders don’t wear them but they wear them when they hit because they’re afraid of a ball coming up.’’

Beltre no longer thinks the issue is funny, but when he stepped to the plate at Safeco Field for the first time since the injury, the accompanying music was from “The Nutcracker Suite’’ - the brainchild of Ken Griffey Jr.

How much Moore can they stand in Kansas City?

“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.’’

We all know Lou Gehrig said it, but did Royals general manager Dayton Moore think it when owner David Glass gave him a four-year extension on his current five-year deal at about $1 million per year? Baseball folks were happy for Moore, who is generally considered a stand-up guy. But his record in Kansas City - 242-320 entering last night’s game - isn’t very good.

“Picking up the final year of his deal is one thing, but extending him four years was shocking,’’ said a baseball official. “I think it’s the only business where failure is rewarded.’’

While Moore has poured himself into scouting and player development - which are worthy ventures - his other moves have been mostly stinkers. He has a thing about moving bullpen pieces like Ramon Ramirez to Boston (for Coco Crisp), J.P. Howell to Tampa Bay, Jeremy Affeldt to San Francisco, Leo Nunez to Florida, Octavio Dotel to the White Sox, and Mike MacDougal to the White Sox.

You can’t win in the major leagues without a good bullpen, and at one time the Royals had a terrific one. The outstanding pitcher there now is Joakim Soria, a legitimate top-tier closer, but he has virtually no one leading up to him.

Crisp was an inconsistent player in Boston, then got hurt in Kansas City, not a huge surprise. Jose Guillen got a lot of money as a free agent and was a disappointment. Nunez was dealt for, gulp, Mike Jacobs. Moore also brought in Trey Hillman to manage, and, well, there isn’t much love for him in Kansas City.

Moore was able to sell Glass on the fact that the Royals are heading in the right direction and that the outlay for draft picks will pay off in the long run. And Glass bought it.

Glass is a tremendous businessman, one who made himself a fortune with Wal-Mart, but I wonder how many executives he had running his stores who have performed like Moore.

This is a franchise that has had one winning season in the last 16. That is certainly not all Moore’s fault, but if I owned the team, I might be getting a little itchy to do better as I look at attendance dwindling and the potential that I may have lost an entire generation of fans.

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Good seeing Mike Greenwell in St. Pete; 2. Catchphrase of the week, courtesy of Rays general manager Andrew Friedman: “Reallocation of resources,’’ when speaking of the trade that sent Scott Kazmir to the Angels; 3. Ben Zobrist, the next Cesar Tovar; 4. Joey Gathright has a black belt in tae kwon do; 5. Whatever happened to B.J. Upton?

Updates on nine
1. Ken Griffey Jr., DH, Mariners - His numbers say he’s been the worst DH in the league, but Griffey remains a popular figure in the Seattle community and the clubhouse. He would like to return for another season and probably can if his price is right. Griffey has been credited with, among other things, keeping Ichiro Suzuki, often a loner in the clubhouse, a part of the team. Griffey is credited with changing the culture of what was a bad clubhouse.

2. Jeff Suppan, RHP, Brewers - The veteran was placed on trade waivers late in the week. It will be interesting to see if any contending team still looking for an experienced starter puts in a claim or tries to make a deal for him. The Brewers also placed J.J. Hardy on trade waivers. If Hardy, who has had a dreadful season and was even demoted to Nashville, isn’t dealt now, he’s sure to go in the offseason.

3. Rick Porcello, RHP, Tigers - Porcello might be known in Boston as the guy who threw at Kevin Youkilis and got tackled for it, but the 20-year-old opened eyes by winning his 12th game last week. Rays catcher Gregg Zaun said, “The last time I saw stuff like that [from a pitcher so young] was Doc Gooden at 19. My buddy and I spent our allowance to go to Dodger Stadium to watch Gooden. It’s the only big-league game I’ve paid to attend.’’

4. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Red Sox - Some league officials aren’t pleased with Papelbon’s defiance of their pace-of-game rules. He’s been fined seven times for being too slow to deliver pitches. “He’s trying,’’ said Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

5. Brad Penny, RHP, Giants - Penny commended catcher Eli Whiteside for changing his pattern of pitching in his first start against the Phillies. Whiteside suggested throwing more breaking balls earlier in the count. Question: As a veteran pitcher, did Penny ever think about this on this own while he was getting drilled over his last 10 starts with Boston?

6. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners - I was recently asked by the Seattle Times and two Japanese newspapers if I thought Suzuki could be a Hall of Famer for his Seattle exploits alone. The answer is yes. Suzuki, 35, probably can play another five years, given the way he keeps himself in shape, and he may get to 3,000 hits as a major leaguer. But his impact as a great player in a short career is why he’ll be a Hall of Famer. In his ninth season, he’s a .333 career hitter.

7. Carlos Pena, 1B, Rays - Pena was pretty proud of the fact that he could become the first Boston-area native since Tony Conigliaro to win a home run crown. Pena led the AL with 39, seven ahead of Mark Teixeira, entering last night. Tony C hit 32 to lead the AL in 1965. “Don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but that would be an honor to be mentioned in the same way as Tony C,’’ said the Haverhill native. “He’s a Boston hero and I heard a lot about him growing up in the Boston area.’’

8. Mark Mulder, LHP, free agent - Mulder, sidelined by shoulder problems, decided not to come back this season despite making progress with his throwing program. Mulder will likely play winter ball and continue to work with pitching coach Rick Peterson. With minor league baseball just about over, there was no point in attempting to come back this season.

9. Tom Glavine, LHP, free agent - Agent Gregg Clifton says Glavine is unlikely to attempt a comeback next season. Clifton has begun fielding calls for broadcasting opportunities.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck Files: “In CC Sabathia’s first six games for the Brewers last season after being traded by the Indians, he went 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 48 innings. In Cliff Lee’s first six games for the Phillies this season after being traded by the Indians, he went 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 45 innings.’’ Also, “Jorge de la Rosa is having a very good season on the mound for the Rockies this season, but he’s no overnight sensation. He was originally signed by the Diamondbacks in 1998 and went to the Mexican League, and then the Red Sox organization purchased him from Monterrey and the Sox traded him back to the D-Backs in the Curt Schilling deal. From Arizona, he was traded to Milwaukee as part of a Richie Sexson trade in 2003. From the Brewers, he went to the Royals and then he landed in Colorado.’’ . . . Tomorrow, wish Joe Rudi (63) and Darren Bragg (40) a happy birthday.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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