Nick Punto, now of the Boston Red Sox, celebrates with family after defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2 to win Game Seven of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Wondering who was going to replace the now traded Jed Lowrie as insurance at shortstop, given Mike Aviles is already pulling double-duty as a backup outfielder as well as in the rest of the infield? The answer to your hours-old question is Nick Punto, whom the Red Sox today locked up for two years at just $3 million, plus $500,000 in incentives, according to Jon Heyman.
Considering some of the contracts handed out for bench and utility infielders this off-season, a two-year deal for so little money looks like a steal for Boston. Mark Ellis got two years and $8.75 million from the Dodgers. Jerry Hairston, two years and $6 million. The Brewers signed Alex Gonzalez to a $4 million one-year deal with a vesting option from the Brewers after hitting .241/.270/.372 for Atlanta in 2011. Throw in that Lowrie was expected to get a raise in arbitration, one that likely would have approached Punto's salary, and this signing even makes the trade from earlier even from a dollars perspective.
Punto has turned into something of an Ecksteinian "grit" meme, but, like Eckstein, there are things he does well (even if the jokes are funny), and he's even more valuable in the proper context. The Red Sox will use him to backup their infielders, and, while he doesn't have Lowrie's bat, he is the best defensive player on the bench now.
He has been worth about five wins above replacement total since 2008, in essentially two seasons and change time (1,271 plate appearances, 375 games). That's not amazing, but it's plenty of positive production from a bench piece. His bat isn't his defining feature, but he did hit .278/.388/.421 for the Cardinals last year. That being said, his career OPS+ suggests a defense-first bench player more than it does a two-way player.
The second year might raise some eyebrows -- even if he is useful, he is Nick Punto -- but with Scutaro's deal over after this year, already knowing that at least part of the shortstop questions are answered is a good thing. The costs are also low enough that his contract can be eaten if he is a disaster.
Is there going to be a shorter double play combination than the one the Red Sox will field the days Punto and Pedroia are at short and second?