The Marco Scutaro trade was a headscratcher when it first happened. To me, to you, to essentially everyone who didn't work in Boston's front office. With a little time, though -- as in, a couple of days -- it started to become more clear why it was that the Red Sox had moved Scutaro. Then, when the season began, and the player Boston received in return did well, it became an acceptable trade even for those who might have been against it initially. That's why it's a little disappointing to see much of that forgotten just because Scutaro is the NLCS MVP:
Not to pick on Joe, who later retweeted Peter Abraham in regards to where the money actually went (Cody Ross), but this kind of thinking simplifies the reasoning behind the deal too much, and isn't just a thought expressed by Sheehan. And, heading into a completely different off-season, the Scutaro deal is a reminder of just how far Boston is removed from the events of a year ago.
The 2012 Red Sox had a strapped budget. They started the off-season essentially straddling the luxury tax threshold, and Marco Scutaro's deal in particular, if moved, could give Boston some room to maneuver. Here was the setup: the Red Sox needed outfield help, as well as pitching. They had three players on the roster who could conceivably play shortstop, and this was after Jed Lowrie had already been dealt away. The most expensive of those players was Scutaro, who, because of luxury tax shenanigans in the past, cost more against the luxury tax threshold than his stated salary for 2012.
When the Sox exercised the shortstop's $6 million option for 2012, it transformed his deal into a three-year, $17 million contract. That, in turn, meant that for the coming season, he would have counted for not just his $6 million salary for luxury tax purposes, but instead $7.67 million (the difference between the $17 million he'd make and the $9.33 million for which he'd counted in 2010 and 2011).
In dealing Scutaro to the Rockies, the Red Sox shed $7.67 million in CBT payroll for the coming year.
By moving him, Boston cleared his salary, saved against the tax, and freed up money to spend on another position of need. It could have been someone like Oswalt, as Sheehan tweeted, but it ended up being Ross, who filled another position of need. They also received Mortensen, a former first-round pick who, to that point, had been all stuff and no results. That, as we've come to see for Boston, is the kind of pitcher they like to acquire, and it worked with Mortensen thanks to a mechanical change that brought out the life (and accuracy) of his pitches.
Mike Aviles and Nick Punto took over at shortstop at that point, and while they were a downgrade from Scutaro, it was expected they would be able to approximate his production. In concert with what Ross would bring to the team, it was solid plan for the Red Sox, especially since they still had some money left over from the Scutaro deal to work within the tight framework they had. While they weren't exactly what Scutaro was prior to 2012 -- and Punto was dealt -- Aviles was basically average at short in 2012, matching up with what Scutaro did outside of Boston in the same season.
Process-wise, it was a win, even if it was tough to believe a scenario where the Red Sox were up against a budget. But every team has one -- even the Yankees, who are keen to get below the luxury-tax threshold for the same collective bargaining agreement-related reasons Boston wanted under. When Mortensen ended up contributing in the majors, and Ross panned out like Boston hoped, it was a win in the results column, too. It's tough to be upset with that, even after (or especially after) Scutaro wins an MVP for a seven-game series.
One other point that doesn't receive enough consideration: Scutaro was very good with Boston, but also injured very often. In 2010, this didn't hurt his games played total, but it did in 2011, and there were plenty of reasons to think a 36-year-old shortstop coming off of two tough injury years would be worth moving. (Example: Scutaro was a season removed from having to play second because his arm wouldn't allow for throws from short.) By itself, maybe not, but in conjunction with the luxury tax issue and the fact Boston had other options at short, it made for a convincing argument to move Scutaro. He appeared at just 27 games at short in 2012, spending most of his time at defensive positions that are less strenuous. Boston didn't need a second baseman, nor a third baseman, and the keystone is where Scutaro spent most of his season. Presumably, it's where he will spend most of the rest of his career, as well.
Now we come to the winter of 2012-2013, where the Red Sox have an entire payroll's worth of room between their guaranteed payouts and the luxury tax threshold. There will be no Scutaro-esque deals that send a player off to free up a few million in order to invest elsewhere. The August trade that sent a quarter-of-a-billion in future contracts to the Dodgers in exchange for prospects helped assure us of that. But, considering the context of last winter, the Red Sox didn't do too bad for themselves in the prior situation. This upcoming one, though, that's your preference, even if it doesn't get as many points for creativity.