Alex Gonzalez‘s decision to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays for one year was somewhat surprising but far from shocking. After all, turnover at the shortstop position has become an annual event every winter in Boston. Filling the hole at Fenway has been a frenzy ever since Nomar Garciaparra was traded away in July of 2004. Orlando Cabrera won a championship and looked like he’d hold down the spot for the rest of the decade before the Red Sox let him walk. In came Edgar Renteria, who was so atrocious that the Red Sox paid for him to play elsewhere.
Lugo came in with a price tag three times as high as Gonzalez’s, yet his production could never compare. The Red Sox won another World Series, but Lugo was batting eighth — just ahead of sluggers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester — in Colorado that October. Lugo was then unseated by Jed Lowrie in 2008, but injuries sidelined the 25-year-old for most of 2009, opening the door for Nick Green and then later the return of Gonzalez.
When Gonzalez came back to Boston, a collective sigh of relief was let out by Red Sox fans. He’s no power hitter, but his defense and steady bat were more than enough to satisfy those who had seen player after player pass through each year, none able to leave a mark and solidify the position.
Now, it’s back to square one. Lowrie looked to be a capable starter through much of 2008, yet since a wrist injury started bothering him at the end of the season, he’s been unable to re-establish his offensive game. If Lowrie was completely healthy, Theo Epstein and Terry Francona probably wouldn’t mind penciling him in to the opening day lineup. But he’s not, so the Red Sox are in desperate need of some help.
Nationally, baseball folks are having trouble understanding why Red Sox fans are upset for losing a guy in Gonzalez who owns a career batting average of .247 and OPS of .689. Those who follow the Red Sox day in and day out know that Gonzalez brought more than numbers to the team.
Still, there is a chance that everyone in Boston could have an inflated opinion of Gonzalez, or maybe that view is just indicative of how desperate the situation really is.
For the Red Sox’ part, it seemed as though their intention was to keep the 32-year-old around, with Epstein saying, “I think we’d all be comfortable having him back here under the right circumstances,” shortly after the Red Sox were bounced from the postseason. Those circumstances must not have meant $6 million for one year.
Francona had plenty of compliments for Gonzalez, yet the manager seemed non-committal when he answered a fan’s question on NESN.com.
“Alex’s option wasn’t picked up, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be back,” Francona wrote. “Theo and his guys will mull over a lot of interesting possibilities, and I am confident when we leave for Fort Myers, we will be happy with who is playing shortstop for us.”
All eyes are now focused on Marco Scutaro, who expressed his interest to play for the Red Sox on Saturday. Scutaro is coming off his best offensive season in which he batted .282 with 12 homers, 60 RBIs and a .379 on-base percentage. Yet Scutaro is 34 years old, and his career numbers don’t stack up with those of last season. There’s a chance that he could come in and fill the hole in 2010 — and possibly even 2011 — but he is not the long-term solution.
So whether it’s Scutaro or someone else, the weight of holding the future of the shortstop position rests on the 19-year-old shoulders of Jose Iglesias. The Cuban’s defense is supposedly top-notch, yet his offensive game still has some work to be done. In very limited action in the Arizona Fall League, Iglesias batted .275 with two home runs and 12 RBIs in 18 games.
He’s not expected to be ready for the majors for at least two more seasons, and no prospect is a sure thing. For Red Sox fans to be truly happy, Iglesias would have to be some impossible combination of Ozzie Smith‘s defense, Miguel Tejada‘s offense and Cal Ripken Jr.‘s longevity. Until then, they’ll have nothing else to look at but the spinning carousel of shortstops. It could be a long two years.