The Red Sox have wanted John Farrell back in Boston since the moment he left, and while the compensation price was astronomical last off-season, they finally got their wish thanks to sending Mike Aviles north this weekend. The Blue Jays wanted a player they could use immediately, so that they would have something to show for letting Farrell go besides just a name. Aviles, as Boston's starting shortstop for much of 2012, fit the bill.
Of course, this leaves Boston without their primary shortstop from 2012, but that might not be as big of a problem as it sounds like. Aviles had already lost playing time down the stretch, and it was assumed he would be moved in one deal or another this off-season. The fact that it was in exchange for a manager, rather than another player, means little.
Let's jump back to when it was first clear Aviles was Boston's shortstop for 2012, to get a better sense of just what the Red Sox are losing by moving him:
Put together, the Red Sox should be able to squeeze two or three wins out of the shortstop position, less, but not a whole lot less than they have the last few years when Scutaro and Lowrie took turns being productive or injured. Punto and Aviles, who have their own history of health issues, are likely to continue that particular Red Sox shortstop trend as well, but as both are nearly capable of holding this spot on their own, a short-term injury shouldn't be a season-changing issue.
Aviles did essentially what was expected of him, according to the wins above replacement (WAR) models for both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference. His bat was a bit below-average for shortstop, but it was well above replacement level, and both his defense and baserunning were positives that helped him along towards a two-win season. Baseball Prospectus was a little less enthused with their own win model, and rated Aviles as closer to a single win. Better than replacement, but utterly replaceable.
The answer is likely somewhere in between, as the value of defense in a single season is rarely consistent from year to year: Aviles has rated anywhere from two wins to zero defensively by Baseball Reference in his six seasons, while Fangraphs has the range between a 10 runs and negative six runs. If he hits like he did in 2012 again, and has a poorer defensive campaign, then he's edging closer to a replacement-level campaign than an average one. That makes Aviles a useful piece when he's on his game, but one that can be replaced or upgraded upon easily.
Finding a shortstop is tough work, though, hence Aviles having utility in the first place despite a sub-.300 on-base percentage. That's just the nature of the position, one that you only need to either hit or be able to field well at in order to be tolerable. Both is great, but the list of shortstops in the majors right now who can do both... well, list is probably too strong of a descriptor for something with so few names on it. Boston has three options at their disposal right now, though, and a fourth waiting in the wings. Like Aviles, it's no guarantee any of these players work. But shortstop -- the position with so little to offer most of the time -- is where it's okay to gamble like this.
Jose Iglesias: The Red Sox shortstop prospect closest to the majors, Iglesias could have a tough road ahead of him if Boston makes him the starter in 2013. He had moments at Pawtucket where it appeared as if he had figured out how to hit a bit, but in the majors, he was not very good, limping to a .118/.200/.191 in 25 games and 77 plate appearances. His defense, though, is spectacular, and he would be able to contribute immediately in that regard. He would have to be able to hit around as well as Aviles did in order to be tolerable at the position, though, and while that's not normally much of a hurdle, we are talking about a player with a 624 OPS at Triple-A that represented a huge improvement over his previous season's work.
If Iglesias could put up something around a 650 OPS -- say, a .330 or so on-base percentage and slugging -- then he would be close to Aviles' 663 mark. This in turn means that, if he can field as well as Aviles did in 2012, that Boston could maybe have yet another average-ish shortstop that helps more than he hurts. A 650 OPS is no small thing for Iglesias, though, so don't take that to mean case closed, this one's in the bag. That's just where the line for being useful has been drawn.
Pedro Ciriaco: Ciriaco outhit Aviles already, but did so in just 76 games. He can field well, too, so there wouldn't be many concerns about his defense at short. There are reasons to not want him as the shortstop, though: for one, there's a legitimate chance that Jose Iglesias could put up the better on-base percentage of the two over the course of a full season. Yes, the player that was just said to maybe have a hard time reaching a 650 OPS. Ciriaco's approach will likely make him more vulnerable to being exploited by pitchers the more they see of him, which might explain why in the last month of the year, he hit .233/.269/.291. Considering Iglesias' glove, if you're going to see a shortstop hit terribly, it might as well be him rather than Ciriaco.
Ivan De Jesus: Boston acquired De Jesus in the Adrian Gonzalez deal back in August. De Jesus has the best offensive numbers of the trio in the minors, but less experience in the majors than Ciriaco. He's done well at Triple-A on multiple occasions, though, and now that he's out of options, will likely be on Boston's Opening Day roster -- it could very well be as the team's shortstop, if neither of the other two candidates put up much of a fight in spring training.
Like Ciriaco and Iglesias, there isn't much power to go on here, and what little there has been in the high minors is at least partially a product of the high-offense environment of the Pacific Coast League. However, De Jesus is the best opportunity the Red Sox have on their roster to get some walks and a bit of on-base percentage out of shortstop. De Jesus might not have the glove of the other two, but he's the best chance to generate something akin to consistent offense at shortstop.
Last up is a bit of a wild card, a player who isn't likely to be in the Opening Day discussion. That's Xander Bogaerts, who finished up his age-19 season at Double-A, and hit .326/.351/.598 there. Defensively, he's not guaranteed to stick at the position forever, but he's not considered a terrible shortstop by any means. And there's honestly a chance that Bogaerts, with all of 23 games at Double-A to his credit, could outhit all of Boston's other shortstop options. That's not exactly a credit to him so much as it's a knock on the other three, so don't go thinking this means he'll replicate his minor-league numbers in the majors.
If none of Iglesias, Ciriaco, or De Jesus can handle the job, and Boston doesn't seek shortstop help from outside the organization, then Bogaerts is a potential mid-season call-up, assuming he's continuing to hit. The Red Sox tend to like their prospects to get time at Triple-A as well, but we've seen them promote aggressively from there when the situation merits it. This, like with Iglesias, is very hypothetical in nature. But having Bogaerts hit his way to the majors sometime during 2013 would likely be a blessing, assuming one of the other three doesn't make the job their own with a hold less tenuous than default.