Life After Nomar: How Bad Has SS Been For Boston? A Look Back

Jim Rogash

Let's just say that "job security" isn't the first thing you think of when you hear those words. . . .

Call it the curse of Nomar Garciaparra. Call it a failure of drafting and wheeling and dealing GMs. Call it bad luck. Call it whatever you like, but at the present point in time, who in their right mind would really want to consider being a shortstop for the Red Sox?

Since Nomar's departure, the Red Sox's shortstop situation has become a disastrous revolving door. The more I think about it, the more I want to break down in tears just thinking about how they continually botch the position over and over again. With the departure of yet another Sox shortstop via trade—this time, Mike Aviles as compensation to the Jays to get John Farrell back as manager—is it time, perhaps, to revisit the horror, the rogue's gallery, that is the Sox' attempts to field the shortstop position since Nomar's departure?

Brace yourselves, folks: this is going to get ugly.

2004: Orlando Cabrera takes over for Nomar after the trade. While he's considered an excellent fielder, rumors of off-the-field issues hasten his exit following the 2004 championship season.

2005: Edgar Renteria takes over as shortstop. While he was considered overrated by many, his .721 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) wasn't egregious, and he did manage to provide about 2 wins above replacement (WAR) for $8 million. So he wasn't totally useless. However, he didn't quite seem to be comfortable in the bright lights of the Boston media market, and got traded to Atlanta, where he proceeded to post OPS's of .797 and .860 and WAR of 4.6 and 4.5. Chalk this up as one of the good ones that got away. There was also some guy named Hanley Ramirez who played a couple of games at SS in relief, and had a few batting appearances. What happened to him again? (OK, that trade might have been worth it for the 2007 Lowell and Beckett. Maybe. I can be convinced of this. I think. Yeah, it's okay. Just breathe in and out, real slowly, okay? Please?)

2006: The Wheel of Shortstops lands on two Alexes: Alex Gonzalez and Alex Cora. The Sox effectively splurge on two shortstop-only players to cover one post, with Cora never feeling comfortable as anything but a backup/defensive specialist. Alex Gonzalez's .695 OPS is nothing that will set the world on fire—unless of course you compare it to Alex Cora's absolutely scintillating .609. (Yeah, there was a reason Cora's a backup.)

2007: The Julio Lugo Era Error begins. This remains, to this day, the most befuddling move of Theo Epstein's career. Signing Carl Crawford as a free agent, as awful as his contract was, doesn't hold a candle to this brilliant decision. (At least Crawford was reasonably decent for Tampa Bay.) Four years and $36 million for a player who can't hit, can't field, can't even stay healthy? Alex Cora was actually the better hitter, posting a .684 versus Lugo's .643. That's right, no-hit Cora outhit Lugo. There were stories of a parasite being to blame (a Google search for "Julio Lugo parasite" turns up over 5,000 hits) for his early woes, but I chalk it up to his general suckitude.

2008: Now this is where fate starts to play cruel tricks on us. After Julio Lugo managed to land himself on the disabled list, we were greeted with the arrival of one Jed Lowrie, who quickly proved to be a better player than Lugo, eclipsing in a matter of weeks batting totals that Lugo took all season to build, while proving reasonably effective as a defender, chalking up just two errors in the 81 games he started for the Sox. He was also a comparable bargain, coming in at the pro-rated rookie salary of $400,000, so he was about 40 times cheaper than Lugo for about a bazillion times more production. The only problem with Lowrie was that he had about as much luck as Hans Moleman. Injuries and illnesses were (and remain) the bane of Lowrie's existence. They also plagued him as the season wore on, as he proceeded to hit and field with a wrist that was almost completely fractured. His splits show the clear decline in power—but only on one side of the plate.) He was also somewhat the victim of bad advice: a right-handed hitter who became a switch hitter. (Who did this, and why?) Alex Cora once again served as backup. While there was promise from Lowrie, Lugo and Cora were a giant bag of meh.

2009: The Year of a Thousand Shortstops. Okay, maybe not, but it certainly seemed like that. Lowrie lasted about a week as the starting shortstop before going down with a recurrence of the injury that sapped him in 2008. Julio Lugo was also injured at the start of the season, so the Red Sox were forced to entrust the shortstop duties to journeyman Nick Green, who seemed to play every possible position for just about every MLB system (okay, only eight so far, but still). Julio Lugo's inauspicious return earned my ire, but I freely admit to irrationality where considering Lugo is concerned. However, Red Sox Nation's prayers were answered a few months later when Jed Lowrie returned from the DL, and the Julio Lugo error came to its ineluctably awful end. And there was much rejoicing. (And I resent the fact that his Google page has Lugo wearing a Sox cap.)

Now Nick Green wasn't much more than a journeyman, but that doesn't meant he wasn't entertaining to watch, and capable of some pretty sweet plays. He was even willing to pitch-in wherever needed—literally. His two innings of relief work against the White Sox was one of the most comical moments of the 2009 season. (Although that was almost topped by the ridiculous game in which Lowrie, Green, and Cora batted in succession—perhaps the last time in MLB history that three shortstops would be allowed to bat in succession?)

2010: Stability finally seemed to arrive at the shortstop position, as Jed Lowrie once again found himself sidelined, and Marco Scutaro assumed the starter's duties. Scutaro was reliable—not flashy, but solid. He was also a prime antagonist in the Beltre headrubbing saga. But once more Lowrie showed he was not quite dead yet—he made a late season return that tantalizingly teased us that not only could he really be the "Shortstop of the Future," but that he could make a decent fielder anywhere along the diamond. (Okay, maybe not quite so much at first base. But close.)

2011: Lowrie started the season off with a flash of brilliance that earned him temporarily the nickname "Jed Williams," in honor of the great hitter of Red Sox yore and lore. His statistics were mind-blowingly ridiculous: a .962 OPS in April! (No, that's not a typo.) He even let us share in that brilliant moment when we had the "Lowrie Leadoff Experience." Unfortunately, Carl Crawford, angry at the usurper of his leadoff spot, collided with Lowrie, leading to another trip to the DL for Lowrie, and one from which he would never really recover (at least with the Red Sox). And that opened the door for Scutaro to finish out the season, with Mike Aviles as a backup (as well as the shell of Jed Lowrie).

2012: Following Theo's departure for Chicago, his replacement, Ben Cherington, lost his mind and essentially decided to trade every shortstop in the system not named Jose Iglesias—who can't hit for beans. (Seriously: his OBP was at the Mendoza line, and his slugging percentage was lower still.) Jed Lowrie? Sent to the Houston Astros. Marco Scutaro? Send to the Rockies. Nick Punto? Thankfully, mercifully, relievingly sent to the Dodgers as part of the megatrade of doom. Mike Aviles? Well, he played the whole season, but got shipped to Toronto to get John Farrell back as manager.

2013: Currently: the Sox's depth chart, going into 2013, reads Iglesias and Ivan De Jesus. I don't care if Jose Iglesias is five Dustin Pedroias as a defender, with that bat, he's going to be a bigger black hole than Jason Varitek. On the other hand, at least he won't be as immobile as Derek "Captain Intangibles" Jeter. One of the top offseason priorities is going to be a new shortstop. But the problem is, what shortstop is going to want the job. Competent ones don't last in Boston (see Scutaro, Renteria, Lowrie), and bad ones stick around way too long and get too much money. And then there are the scrubs (Cora, Green, Punto).

It's a tragedy. Too bad we don't have a time machine where we can go pluck Garciaparra out of about 1998 or so and bring him to be the starting shortstop for 2013. Just try not to cry too much about it.

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