Residents of New England relish their surroundings during the changing of the seasons. They do not love the fact that their baseball team has a position that seems to change every season. That position, of course, is shortstop, and before winter formally turns to spring in 2011, there could be another alteration at one of the most important spots on the field.
Marco Scutaro was signed before the 2010 season to a two-year contract (with options for 2012) and with the intent that he would put an end, at least temporarily, to the revolving door that has seen 13 men start at least 20 times in a season at the position since 2005.
Scutaro did everything asked of him, batting .275 while doing an admirable job of filling the leadoff role in the wake of Jacoby Ellsbury‘s season-long injury woes. He did it all while battling shoulder and neck injuries of his own, never once going on the disabled list and leading the team in runs scored (92) and at-bats (632). Two cortisone shots helped in the cause.
However, Boston’s oldest starting shortstop since Luis Aparicio in 1973 was unable to finish the season at the ever-changing position. The 35-year-old was first moved to second base to cut down on the severity of his throws due to the lingering shoulder issues and was shut down entirely for the final weekend of the season against New York.
Had Jed Lowrie, the starting shortstop in 19 games in September and October, not performed so well in that role it might be easy to write a “6” next to Scutaro in the lineup come April and then hope that youngster Jose Iglesias is ready for the majors in 2012. Lowrie, of course, performed very well. While playing his usual steady, if not spectacular, defense at the position (you may recall his 49-game errorless streak there as a rookie in 2008), the 26-year-old hit .324 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 23 games as a shortstop.
Lowrie, who missed the first half of the season while recovering from mononucleosis, finished the year with a .287 mark overall and was third on the team (behind Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Beltre and ahead of David Ortiz) with a .907 OPS.
Football coaches often say it is healthy to have a good old-fashioned quarterback controversy in training camp, something to fuel both players. The Red Sox could have a similar situation at shortstop between the aging and rehabbing incumbent and the upstart and hungry youngster.
One big “if” remains.
So much of what happens with Lowrie, Scutaro and anyone else brought in to fight for playing time at shortstop depends upon what occurs 50 feet to the right, at third base. Beltre is prepared to test free agency, and if and when he signs elsewhere, there will be a massive void on the left side of the infield.
That is a void that cannot be completely filled. Nothing at the Red Sox’ disposal will replace Beltre’s .321/28/102 line. One option, however, is Lowrie. The market for third basemen after Beltre is like a desert. You want Miguel Tejada? Melvin Mora? Pedro Feliz? Didn’t think so.
Lowrie, whom manager Terry Francona insists looked very comfortable when playing 45 games at the hot corner in 2008, is a much more attractive option than anything on the market aside from Beltre, who may simply require too many years and too many dollars to satisfy the Red Sox’ front office.
Additionally, the one issue plaguing Lowrie as a glove man — his lack of range — would be less of a concern at third base. He won’t have the cat-like quickness of Beltre, but who does? Given the alternatives at the position, Lowrie would represent a pretty good fallback plan.
Scutaro’s offseason throwing program, akin to that of a pitcher’s, is expected to have him enter spring training in good health. Provided he doesn’t kiss any girls in the dorms, Lowrie should be good to go as well.
So, to answer the question at shortstop, the Sox must first figure out their third base situation.
Depending on how things go there, we could have a good old-fashioned shortstop controversy on our hands.
Each day of November, we will explore a different issue facing the Red Sox this offseason.
Nov. 3: Will this be Jonathan Papelbon’s final season in a Red Sox uniform?
Nov. 5: Has Darnell McDonald won a job as the Red Sox’ fourth outfielder?