There has been an enormous amount of speculation surrounding the Red Sox's plans on how to best address the void at the shortstop position in recent days, a void that has been plaguing them since the dramatic downfall of the once iconic Red Sox, Nomar Garciaparra.
Early this off-season, much of the rumors pointed towards the seemingly inevitable signing of free agent shortstop Marco Scutaro to take over the middle infield duties alongside Dustin Pedroia. With such a shallow pool of available shortstops at the moment via free agency, Scutaro, who is coming off a career season with the Blue Jays (.282/.379/.409), has quickly become regarded as the most highly sought after player at his position this off-season. I, myself, am not buying into Scutaro being the answer that the Red Sox are searching for, and apparently I'm not alone in this thinking. Forget the fact that Scutaro, prior to 2009, was a career sub .260 hitter with a fielding percentage of .977 at the shortstop position. The fact of the matter is that the former Blue Jays shortstop, recently turning 34 years of age, had posted mediocre numbers in the seasons prior to last and appears to be yet another beneficiary of a career season entering free agency. Scutaro's 2009 numbers, in comparison to his career totals, look eerily similar to those of Julio Lugo circa 2006 in the same regard. A 2006 season that prompted the Red Sox to sign Lugo to a lucrative deal that benefited only Julio's bank statement.
Assuming that the thought of signing another Lugo-type shortstop caused Boston's front office to collectively shiver in disgust, Theo and Co. seem to be attempting to get creative in the way that they go about attacking this whole shortstop epidemic.
Enter Dustin Pedroia.
Recently, reports have surfaced suggesting that the Red Sox brass has approached the diminutive second baseman with the idea of moving him back to his collegiate position, that being shortstop. Casual baseball observers may not be familiar with the prowess displayed by Pedroia during his time manning shortstop for the Arizona State Sun Devils. After beating out Ian Kinsler for the starting spot at ASU, ultimately forcing the future Rangers' star to transfer to Missouri, Pedroia went on to accrue All-American honors at the position. After being drafted, Pedroia turned in 42 errorless games at shortstop in the minor leagues before being moved to second base to make room for Hanley Ramirez. The former rookie of the year even still takes ground balls at shortstop during the season. Pedroia himself is not only welcome to the position swap, he has actually done a bit of lobbying for the change through the media. Pedroia was quoted as telling ESPN's Peter Gammons:
"They've asked me if I think I could play shortstop, they've put it out there, and I've told them I'm all for it. I can do it. I can't wait for [Terry Francona] to call me and ask, 'Can you do it?' I can do it. I really want to do it."
Reading that particular quote is interesting to say the least. It seems as though Pedroia begins his verbal thought process restraining his eagerness to attempt the transition. However, by the end of it, Pedroia comes off sort of giddy, almost as though he wanted to end the interview on the spot and force Gammons to accompany him to the nearest baseball diamond for infield practice. The fact remains that Pedroia can accomplish such a transition, and as you just read, he'll be the first to inform you of that.
However, the benefits of a move such as this go beyond simply filling the hole at shortstop. By doing so internally with an already proven commodity (without having to reach into their pockets), this allows the Red Sox to then shift their focus on nabbing one of the available free agent second baseman, a market significantly deeper than that of the its shortstop counterpart. What this does is create more, potentially cheaper, options for the Red Sox.
Rather than being presented with a 34 year-old Marco Scutaro as the most attractive middle infield acquisition option, the Red Sox now have the choice between Orlando Hudson and Placido Polanco. Not to mention reports that the Marlins and Reds have made Dan Uggla and Brandon Phillips, respectively, available to potential suitors. For the sake of comparison, let's single out Brandon Phillips from that bunch (I choose him because to me, he is the most appealing option from the previously mentioned group of second baseman). As stated earlier, Scutaro, six years older than Phillips, experienced a career season in 2009. Phillips on the other hand, had by his standards, just a solid season a year ago. While most of Scutaro's numbers were career highs, Phillips had a season pretty consistent to that of his 2006, 2007, and 2008 campaigns. That being said, here are the statistics:
2009 Season BA OBP SLG R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB FPCT
Brandon Phillips .276 .329 .447 78 161 30 5 20 98 25 .988
Marco Scutaro .282 .379 . 409 100 162 35 1 12 60 14 .984
At first glance, you wouldn't be wrong in pointing out that these are relatively similar numbers. However, aside from having a slight edge in OBP and runs scored, Phillips is the smart play here. Not only has the younger Phillips shown more consistency the past four seasons and offers a significant advantage in the power game, he also represents a threat on the base paths, a characteristic that the Red Sox have come to hold in high regard in recent years.
The question then becomes whether the Red Sox would be better off signing Marco Scutaro or putting together a deal to acquire Brandon Phillips. Both come with their own aspects of negativity. In signing Scutaro, a Type-A free agent, the Red Sox would be forced to surrender compensatory draft selections to Toronto. While on the other hand, assuming that the Reds are shopping Phillips in an effort to cut down on salary commitments, the Red Sox will likely have to surrender a package of prospects to Cincinnatti in order to pry Phillips from the Reds.
In my opinion, the Red Sox's most intelligent move would be to, in fact, shift Pedroia to shortstop and make a move on Brandon Phillips. Phillips, assuming no restructuring would be done to his contract prior to arrival, would be under contract through 2011 commanding around $19 million during that span. If not Phillips, I'd say it's hard to argue against the general idea of at least moving Pedroia over to shortstop in an effort to expand Boston's free agent options, regardless of who they would eventually sign from that group.
If Pedroia is more than willing, and judging by his comments I think it's safe to say that he is, to make the move then I don't see any reason not to explore this option more in depth. Not only does it create more options for Boston via free agency, but it will also finally put a stop to the seemingly neverending search for a reliable and impactful starting shortstop from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. I think I speak for all Red Sox fans when I say that this would be a welcome change from what we've reluctantly grown accustomed to.