Gonzalez Is Perfect Fit at Shortstop But For How Long?

by

So far, the results of the Alex Gonzalez experiment in Boston have been encouraging. Whether it keeps up is another story.

The 32-year-old shortstop, acquired in a waiver-wire deal with the
Cincinnati Reds on August 14, was brought in to Boston for his glove,
not necessarily for his bat. And yet Gonzalez, starting his second
stint in Boston after the disappointing 2006 season, has turned a few
heads with his pop at the plate.

Through 23 games over the past
month, Gonzalez is 24-for-85 for a .282 batting average. He's even
slugged four homers and six doubles, giving him a slugging percentage
of .494 — a figure comparable to that of Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew or Dustin Pedroia.

But any stat can be deceiving. Especially with small samples involved.

His
first month back in Boston notwithstanding, Gonzalez was brought aboard
for his glove. The Red Sox were perfectly well aware of his sub-par
.688 career OPS when they acquired him, and one month isn't enough to
change a career of results.

Long-term, this isn't the solution
the Red Sox want to their shortstop problem. This is the American
League — the best teams have sluggers at every position, and the Sox
have one glaring hole. They've got Victor Martinez behind the
plate and Dustin Pedroia at second — they're strong up the middle,
offensively and defensively. The one problem is shortstop.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, it looks doubtful that GM Theo Epstein
will be able to shore up that problem by spending this winter on the
free-agent market. To say the least, it's slim pickins. Gonzalez has a
three-year, $14 million contract originally signed with Cincinnati in
2006, which expires this winter. He has an option for 2010, but for a
small buyout price of $500,000, the Red Sox can turn Gonzo loose onto
the open market.

The shortstops he'll join there are not impressive. Adam Everett, Orlando Cabrera and Bobby Crosby are the cream of the crop this offseason — there's also Miguel Tejada, but for a 35-year-old whose career is declining and whose defense is gone, he's sure to be overpaid.

It's
not likely that the Red Sox will find a long-term fix at shortstop
anytime soon. The next Martinez or Pedroia isn't just on the market
waiting to be picked up. This is going to be a bit more complicated.

Who's the best shortstop available to the Red Sox for 2010? Truth be told, it's probably Jed Lowrie.

Lowrie
was a college star, being named the Pac-10 Player of the Year in 2004,
and he put up a .381 OBP on his way up the Red Sox' minor-league ranks.
His growth as a big-league shortstop has stalled with the onset of
injuries, and he's now reached the point where he's "treading water" in his quest to swim back to an everyday role in the Red Sox.

Assuming
a healthy roster in 2010, Lowrie is probably the best long-term
solution at shortstop. What this means for Gonzalez is a little bit
unclear.

Ideally, he'd be a good utility infielder for the Sox' bench. A better version of Alex Cora or Nick Green
— someone who could enter in the late innings and provide a boost to
the team defensively. But $6 million, the value of Gonzalez's option
for next season, is a huge price to pay for a utility guy, and even the
Red Sox probably aren't ready to spend like that.

Assuming
Lowrie's healthy, cutting Gonzalez loose is probably the best option
this winter. And if he comes crawling back for less money — great. If
not, the Sox move on.

Gonzalez has been a great success in Boston so far. As first months go, Boston couldn't have asked for much better.

But
at some point, the honeymoon has to come to an end. The Sox know what
they're getting with Alex Gonzalez — they've seen it before. They
should be careful with every dollar they spend this offseason.

Picked For You