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He’ll be a hit in Boston

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / December 5, 2009

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The last few days, baseball people were privately calling the thought of moving Dustin Pedroia to shortstop anything from insane to stupid. How on earth could you move an MVP second baseman, who might be the best second baseman in baseball, to a position that’s not only harder, but that he hadn’t played for four years?

It never made sense. The Red Sox, who are always careful about not putting their players in risky situations, actually discussed the possibility, and for a while I bit, until a Red Sox source informed me it was a last resort.

Fortunately the Red Sox front office came to their senses and signed veteran shortstop Marco Scutaro to a two-year deal that will bridge the gap to 2012, when Cuban shortstop Jose Iglesias might be ready to step into the major leagues. This is a far better solution to losing Alex Gonzalez than moving Pedroia to short. Scutaro is a better overall player than Gonzalez, who was a terrific defender, but in the American League, where offensive lineups are more important than in the National League, you’ve got to have a good all-around player at shortstop and Scutaro is just that.

“You’ll enjoy the heck out of the guy,’’ said Brewers manager Ken Macha, who managed Scutaro in Oakland, where Scutaro spent most of a year filling in for Mark Ellis at second base and most of a year filling in for an injured Bobby Crosby at shortstop. “He had a terrific year for me at second and he’s a very good shortstop. He had a heck of a year for Toronto last year. This is a great guy on a team. I can’t think of too many guys I wanted up in a key situation over Marco when I had him. He comes to play every day. Solid move on a solid player.’’

A National League talent evaluator said, “Love the move for Boston. He fits right into that lineup. The guy is a gamer.’’

Scutaro is 34, an age when shortstops begin to decline, though Derek Jeter had one of his best defensive years at age 35 and was third in MVP voting, and Cal Ripken was pretty good at 35 as well (.278, 26 HRs, 102 RBIs). Scutaro is also away from the turf at Rogers Centre, which will be better on his feet, though he’ll have to contend with the tough Sox infield, which has provoked the wrath of many infielders in the past. For most of his career, Scutaro was a utility player, so perhaps wear and tear isn’t a great concern. When Scutaro came in for his physical yesterday, the Sox’ medical staffers were amazed at how fit he is.

The Red Sox are looking at him as a two-year solution.

“Marco is somebody who grinds his at-bats, sees a ton of pitches, is a pest up there, does all the little things,’’ said general manager Theo Epstein, who signed Scutaro right out from underneath the A’s, who offered more money. “He’s someone you can hit and run with, someone you can trust in a big at-bat. He hits good pitching, hits the ball to all fields, his power is to the pull side [left field], which should play well at Fenway Park.’’

With Scutaro aboard, what becomes of Jed Lowrie?

Lowrie was Boston’s future shortstop. Wrist surgery ruined his 2009 season and his comeback hasn’t been easy. The Red Sox don’t want to give up on him just yet. They still believe he’ll be a very good major league hitter who will handle shortstop very well.

It appears the Red Sox will give him a chance to be a utility player and earn playing time by spelling Pedroia, Scutaro, and Kevin Youkilis. The Sox are approaching this as “there’s always at-bats for good players.’’ It’s too bad Lowrie wasn’t able to get on the field sooner last year and show the Sox he was able to do the job, but his wrist never felt good enough.

Who knows if Lowrie will become trade bait in a big deal for Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera? Who knows if he will become a valuable player if an injury should befall a Sox infielder in spring training or early in the season?

The Red Sox have addressed one of their needs. You can say they botched the Gonzalez situation, but Scutaro was the shortstop they were eyeing and with good reason - he’s more of the all-around player they were seeking at that position.

With the winter meetings beginning Monday, the Red Sox now have a big part of their team set. They added a player who can hit, and who should perform well at Fenway Park. Now they must begin putting together other important pieces, including Jason Bay, who they hope to re-sign for left field, and a starting pitcher, whether it be a top-of-the-heap guy such as John Lackey or a second-tier pitcher such as Rich Harden. They will likely go after their usual rehab projects, such as Erik Bedard or Ben Sheets or Justin Duchscherer, then address the bullpen by trying to find replacements for Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, each of whom signed with the Braves.

“We still have some moves to make to complete this team,’’ Epstein said. “This was a significant first step. We had a lot of balls in the air. It can be an unsettling feeling when you have so many different variables out there and none of them have reached a conclusion yet. This is significant. We have our shortstop on this club, we have another good piece that fits into the lineup and we’ll go forward and see if we can complete the rest of the club.’’

The Red Sox, along with the Mariners and Giants, have been the most active team in free agency in terms of making inquiries on a vast number of players. They have been linked to more than 20 players, although that number will drop now that they have signed a shortstop. But the winter meetings should continue to delve into those important areas where the Sox must make a significant deal.

While they hate to think they’re trying to keep up with the Yankees, that’s true now more than ever. The Yankees won the World Series, so the Sox have to make sure the Yankees don’t win another one and that will require significantly adding to their offense and making their starting rotation air tight.

For all the bad publicity they got losing Gonzalez and for all the eyebrow-raising over Pedroia possibly moving to shortstop, yesterday the Sox rebounded nicely.

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

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