The Red Sox exercised their option on Marco Scutaro on Sunday, the shortstop's 36th birthday, in a move that likely won't generate too many headlines or too much discussion. Nevertheless, it was a crucial decision for Ben Cherington to make.
It was also a good one.
In the midst of a chaotic tailspin that saw the Red Sox lose their division lead to the Yankees and their nine-game wild-card lead to the Rays, Scutaro was quietly excellent.
The veteran shortstop was third in the majors (among batters with 75 or more plate appearances) with a .387 average in the month, trailing only Miguel Cabrera and Mike Napoli. He drove in 21 runs (eighth in MLB) and posted a 1.019 OPS.
On the season, Scutaro posted a career-high .299 batting average, tying him for tops among AL shortstops. Defensively, he had a respectable .972 fielding percentage, if you're into the old metrics, and he had a not-so-bad 1.0 UZR/150 for the new-school folks.
All of that could have been overlooked because he mostly batted ninth in the batting order. He wasn't spectacular, but he was one of few bright spots for a team that needs more of them, and his inclusion on the 2012 roster is one that will help stabilize the team.
That's in part due to Scutaro's own play and in part due to the lack of MLB-ready shortstops within Boston's system. The future is bright for Jose Iglesias, but he stepped to the plate just six times in the majors last year and batted just .235 in Triple-A Pawtucket.
And while Scutaro's 2011 season was impressive statistically, his 2010 campaign showed his guts. He suffered from a serious shoulder injury, one that eventually moved him to second base, but managed to play in 150 games. That Red Sox club was absolutely devastated by injuries, could barely field a team of nine players and was essentially out of the playoff race by the middle of August, but Scutaro displayed some incredible toughness to make it onto the field every day.
He did need some time off in '11 after suffering an oblique problem early in the year. He came back refreshed, though, hitting .312 from June 1 until the end of the year.
When Scutaro initally signed with Boston back in December of 2009, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. The surehanded Alex Gonzalez had filled in nicely in the '09 season and looked to be a viable candidate to fill the big league roster spot until Iglesias was ready. Instead, Gonzalez signed with the Blue Jays, and the Red Sox found Scutaro.
It wasn't a major splash then, and it still isn't now, but it's the right move for a team in need of some stability heading into a busy winter.