It may seem like ancient history now with the Yankees basking in championship glory and the Red Sox reflecting on an early exit from the playoffs, but six months ago all eyes were on the Toronto Blue Jays as the team to beat in the AL East.
A quarter of the way through the 2009 season, the AL pennant was Toronto's to lose. On May 18, the Jays were 27-14, riding high atop the East standings and threatening to run away with the crown. No one saw it coming, but the Jays were suddenly a force to be reckoned with in the Junior Circuit.
Their shortstop, Marco Scutaro, was a big reason why. And now Scutaro could be skipping town.
How good was Scutaro at the beginning of 2009, a pivotal contract year at this point in his career? He had a .927 OPS and five homers in April, quickly establishing himself as the most productive offensive shortstop in the American League. He also hit .322 in May to go with 12 doubles. For two months, the Blue Jays were on top of the world and Scutaro was carrying them up there.
Scutaro's production didn't last and neither did the unexpected success of his over-matched team. The 33-year-old shortstop finished the season with a solid .379 on-base percentage and 35 doubles — certainly an impressive year for the former utility man, but not the MVP candidate-type numbers he was putting up early in the season.
There will be a lot of teams actively looking for a free-agent shortstop this winter including the Tigers, Astros and Padres. Along with Toronto and Boston, the Cardinals could also be shopping for one, unless they have faith in Julio Lugo.
All of these teams should take a look at Scutaro, but they should also ask themselves one important question: How much can you really value a two-month breakout at the outset of a contract year?
Scutaro has a career .265 batting average and comes with occasional power to the gaps. He doesn't steal bases, he doesn't walk much, he can't hit the ball out of the ballpark and his defense is adequate. Simply put, there are a lot of Marco Scutaros out there. Supply is high and the Red Sox need to be careful to keep their demand under control.
The recently-turned 34-year-old is sure to enter a decline phase. This rules him out as the ideal answer for the Red Sox infield. There's no guarantee that he'd be any better for the Sox infield than Alex Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie or even Cuban defector Jose Iglesias.
Scutaro just got out of a two-year, $2.65 million contract, a deal signed after the 2007 season with the Blue Jays. He's never demanded the big bucks because he's never really earned them.
If the market for Scutaro stays lukewarm this winter, the Red Sox could still go after him as an affordable utility infielder for the bench. But there's a good chance that some GM, looking for a dependable starting shortstop, will take one look at Scutaro's early 2009 numbers and take a big chance on the vet.
If Scutaro wants to make big bucks next season, the Red Sox should pass. Boston should be looking to pick up a cheap, younger option and should be done gambling on unreliable, aged veterans.
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