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Who's at short? Valentine, Red Sox ponder options

February 24, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla.—When the Red Sox picked up Marco Scutaro's option in October, it appeared they would be set at shortstop for 2012.

Until a deal popped up that they couldn't refuse.

In an unusual salary dump for Boston, the Red Sox traded Scutaro in January to Colorado for right-hander Clayton Mortensen.

All of a sudden, there was an uncharacteristic hole in the infield.

As a result, new manager Bobby Valentine must decide between Nick Punto, Mike Aviles, and Jose Iglesias for the position. Neither Punto, who joined the team as a free agent in December, nor Aviles, who was acquired at the trade deadline last season, has played a full season at shortstop. And Iglesias just turned 22 years old.

Indeed, this race will be one of the more interesting over the next few weeks.

Punto played a career-high 61 games at short in 2008. Aviles, who also played his career-high 91 games there in 2008, was sent to Puerto Rico this offseason to become more familiar with playing right field. And Iglesias, who is entering his third season in the United Sates after defecting from Cuba, is considered a defensive whiz. But his offense is well behind. While he made his big league debut last season, he also appeared at Triple A, where he started the season and hit just .235 with one home run and 31 RBIs in 101 games.

So, there's work ahead, folks.

Especially when you consider the steady, sure hands of Scutaro, who was consistent while being quiet. With little fanfare, he performed admirably for two seasons, batting a combined .284, with a .343 on-base percentage and a .401 slugging percentage. He also posted a .969 fielding percentage while often playing through injuries.

And so it's back to grind for Boston at a position that has become the organization's albatross for almost a decade. Since 2003, when Nomar Garciaparra took the field, the Red Sox have had seven different Opening Day shortstops. In addition to Scutaro, the Red Sox also traded away backup Jed Lowrie to Houston.

So, what's Valentine to do? Well, he'll work these three out, and if a new option presents itself soon, he'll give that a look.

"At shortstop, we feel like we have a couple of very capable guys in Aviles and Punto," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. "Iglesias is on the roster, and we feel he has a chance to be a really good major league shortstop down the road. So, we feel good about the mix that we have, and we'll certainly keep our eyes open if there are ways to improve that.

"But right now we're focused on the guys we have."

Punto, who is entering his 12th big league season, joins the Red Sox after winning a World Series with the Cardinals last season. He is looking forward to the challenge.

"It's exciting. (I'm) here to compete, here to do the best I can, and get ready for the 2012 season," he said. "I prepare the same way in the offseason. I prepare to play baseball. You don't prepare to sit on the bench. If that's the case, I know that that was going to be my role coming in here, and that's OK. I'll embrace it if that's what it is.

"But I'm here to try to play baseball every day."

As is Aviles.

"I come into camp as I do every year," he said. "I prepare to play every day and then pretty much fall in accordingly. If it turns out to be every day at short, then that's the case. If not, and it's more of a super-utility role, that's fine also. I prepare myself to play 162 and beyond."

Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who will be turning double plays with one of them, or perhaps all of them at some point, is unconcerned about the uncertainty.

"It's going to be fine," Pedroia said. "Scoot did a great job, but we have Mike and Nick step up and play good ball for us. We'll be fine."

Third baseman Kevin Youkilis concurs.

"With Nick and Mike, I think both of them are very qualified," he said. "And they're going to not just play short. They're going to fill in for Dustin, myself some days, and play all over. And that's what's so great, is we have guys that are versatile shortstops, second and third basemen. They played everywhere.

"So, if there is one day when one of them has to play somewhere else, they can play a different position."

On Wednesday morning, Valentine spent some time hitting groundballs to a group of infielders that included Iglesias.

"My first impression is that he can catch it," Valentine said. "I bet you he can throw it after he catches it, too."

Asked if his lineup could afford little to no production from the shortstop position, Valentine replied:

"Probably not. My fast brain says probably not."

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