Adding the two lefties to a roster already including star-caliber players such as Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon has Red Sox Nation excited for the 2011 season, and has led some to name Boston as the best team in baseball on paper.
What has been lost in the offseason whirlwind that has surrounded the Sox for much of the past few weeks, are the fates of two of Boston’s big acquisitions last season — Marco Scutaro and Mike Cameron. Both are candidates to lose their gigs as starters, and both have been mentioned in trade rumors as well.
But while shedding their salaries and making room for younger players may seem like an attractive option to both the front office and fans alike, the Red Sox would be better off holding on to Scutaro and Cameron, at least to begin the 2010 season.
While he admittedly fell short of performing spectacularly, Scutaro did something few players have been able to do for the Red Sox over the better part of the last decade — provide a stabilizing presence at shortstop.
Yes, his offensive production was less than eye-popping. Scutaro hit just .275, managed just 11 home runs, and stole only five bases. His .333 on-base percentage was a disappointment, and his .388 slugging percentage was weak even for a middle infielder.
And it’s true that Scutaro’s defense was unspectacular as well — both conventional (18 errors, .965 fielding percentage) and advanced (-2.8 UZR) stats make that obvious.
But while it’s easy to focus on the negative with Scutaro, he proved to be of immense importance to the Sox in 2010. With Jacoby Ellsbury sidelined for nearly the entire season, Scutaro spent the majority of the year leading off for Boston, and was a consistent presence in the lineup. Sure, it would be nice to start Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez every game, but there are very few star-caliber shortstops in today’s Major League Baseball.
Consider that players such as Yuniesky Betancourt, Jack Wilson, Ronny Cedeno, Cesar Izturis, Tommy Manzella and Everth Cabrera were all considered starting shortstops at one point in 2010, and Scutaro starts to look like a pretty attractive option.
But if the Red Sox do keep Scutaro, his true value may lie in his versatility. Many view Jed Lowrie — who has a higher ceiling than Scutaro but a history of poor health — as the favorite to start at shortstop for the Sox in 2010, and that very well may be the case.
If Lowrie does assume starting duties, it wouldn’t be hard to make the case that Scutaro would become one of the best utility infielders in baseball. Scutaro has had extensive experience at second and third base during his career, and has previous experience as a bench player as well. Scutaro provides the Sox with excellent depth up the middle — something they’ve lacked in recent years — and can serve as an insurance policy at three different positions.
Whereas Scutaro was in many ways the ironman of the Red Sox in 2010, Cameron was hampered by injuries for nearly the entire season. The slugging outfielder received just 162 at-bats and played in just 48 games, and his absence — coupled with the loss of Ellsbury for much of the year — meant plenty of playing time for unproven players such as Darnell McDonald, Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish.
But while Kalish excited the fan base with his up-tempo style of play and sprawling catches, the Red Sox’ projected starting outfield consists of three left-handed hitters in Crawford, Ellsbury and J.D. Drew. Adding Kalish to that mix would leave the Red Sox extremely vulnerable to some of the AL East’s tough lefties — think C.C. Sabathia, Brian Matusz and Ricky Romero — and Kalish profiles better in a corner outfield spot than in center field as well.
Cameron has the potential to pay massive dividends for the Red Sox in 2011 thanks to his defensive versatility and right-handed power. Cameron can spell Drew or David Ortiz against tough lefties, and provide power from the seventh or eighth spot in the Red Sox’ stacked lineup. Drew and Ellsbury have both proven to be injury-prone during their careers, and Cameron is more than capable of filling it at both center and in right.
Sure, Cameron is expensive for a part-time player, but he’d likely be the best fourth outfielder in baseball, and can help add balance to the Sox’ bench and lineup.
Scutaro and Cameron should both be considered as trade pieces in mid-season. There’s a good chance that shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias and Kalish will be ready for significant major league roles by that point, and both are likely long-term options the club is looking at for 2012 and beyond.
Plus, Scutaro and Cameron will be very attractive options for teams who find themselves in need of a shortstop or center fielder for a postseason run, and the Red Sox may be able to get a pretty solid return for both of them.
But while Gonzalez and Crawford have made it hard for Boston fans to feel anything but enthusiasm headed into 2011, it should be noted that the nine players who start Game 1 are rarely the same nine who start Game 162. Scutaro and Crawford provide the Red Sox with depth, experience and versatility, and could be a major part of what should be the best bench in baseball.
If all goes well, the Red Sox might not need them much. But if they do, they’ll be in capable hands.
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