Not since the departure of Nomar Garciaparra have the Red Sox had a long-term answer at shortstop. They've had a few guys last multiple seasons, but Julio Lugo could hardly be called an answer and with Scutaro having been traded before his third year it's hard to really call him "long-term".
The Sox are likely not exactly alone in this given the dearth of talent at the position this last decade or so. For once, however, there seems to be a chance to actually do something about the hole at short. While the free agent market is thin, there are multiple teams who could be interested in sending their shortstops in Boston's direction for the right price.
First up is Cleveland, where Asdrubal Cabrera is on the market. As Marc said yesterday, Cabrera would be quite the catch for the Red Sox. While he's never been one to really set the world on fire, only once wOBA over .350 and bringing a fairly weak glove to the table for the position according to all the defensive metrics (though some observers do disagree). However, for a shorstop having any semblance of a bat is a big deal, leaving Cabrera with seasons of 3.2, 3.8, and 2.9 in the past four years (the fourth is a 0.8 in 2010, coming back from a broken arm).
The thing is, that might make Cabrera a more perfect target for the Red Sox than MVP-type figures. Cabrera is signed to a reasonable contract right now, and if he keeps up those performances could potentially even be re-signed for a similarly reasonable amount. At 26 he's not about to decline anytime soon, but unless Fenway proves a major boon to his bat it seems unlikely that he's going to really break the bank on the open market. That leaves him as a good candidate for an extension, if the Sox choose to go that way. If they do so, they may be settling for someone short of superstar, but at a position like short just having someone solid locked in can make all the difference.
In terms of cost, Cabrera seems the most likely option for the Sox. The Indians have good reason to go looking for prospects, and while the Sox shouldn't offer up any of the three Bs, as Marc said he's not the sort of guy you really hesitate to surrender a Brentz or Cecchini for. The Sox' system is thick enough at the top that they can easily give up a good prospect or two without surrendering a key piece for their own future. So long as no general managers are going to go nuts and pay for web gems, the Sox can be competitive in this market.
Heading out a bit further west (and a lot further south), the Texas Rangers are in the unusual situation of shopping a strong major leaguer as a team that's certainly planning to contend for a World Series in 2013. The problem with Elvis Andrus is only that he is not baseball's top prospect, as 19-year-old Jurickson Profar is. Now, most 19-year-old prospects don't exactly force a starter off a team like the Rangers, but Profar is one of those guys who rockets through the system and might just be wasting time at this point in the minors.
Oh, sure, Profar could start the season at Triple-A (he hasn't even faced that level yet), but he's going to need a place in the majors before long. And if we move this whole act forward a year, what do the Rangers get out of it but another year off Andrus' contract and, as a result, his trade value? All the while potentially wasting the production that Profar could well be capable of in 2013 over and above Andrus'.
No surprise, then, that Andrus is one of baseball's most talked about trade chips, and one the Red Sox should be very interested in. While his bat is not as good as Cabrera's, Andrus does a decent job of getting on base, which is a pretty valuable thing to have at the back end of a lineup. Whatever he lacks offensively, though, Andrus more than makes up for with one of the best gloves in the game, flashing the leather with regularity. Put him in an infield with Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks, and it's going to be impossible to get anything through. That could even help the Red Sox with their pitching problems some. A trade candidate like Justin Masterson could look a lot more attractive with that group behind him.
The biggest issue for the Sox will be matching up with the Rangers. Given Texas' interest in major league talent and the decent amount of team control left in Andrus, it's almost going to be like a deal between two sellers. For a Red Sox team that wants to contend, that means finding a third party to make this work out, which is always a hairy proposition. Add in the fact that the Rangers might be interested in a Justin Upton trade, and that makes Boston's ability to inject itself into any Andrus trade that much more questionable.
On the other hand, if the Sox are interested in the extravagant route, Pete Abraham dropped this little nugget into a set of notes from the GM meetings:
• Heard this: Troy Tulowitzki is open to a trade from the Rockies.
Well now. When this sort of thing comes out in this sort of setting, it maybe deserves a bit more weight than otherwise. Where else would an agent with a disgruntled client go to get teams calling if not the GM meetings? If Abraham heard this, he's definitely not alone, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if we heard more about this in the coming weeks.
Troy doesn't need much talking about, though, because the situation with him is simple. He's an absolutely tremendous player, held back by some injury concerns. And he's signed through 2020 at about $18 million a year on average. While it's tempting to pick up a huge superstar like Tulo, even if he were healthy this would be going right back to the sort of risky move that the Sox just got done cleaning up. Throw in the fact that the Rockies' asking price would probably be pretty high, and it's just not a winning combination for the team. I know we'd all love to see Tulo suit up for the Red Sox come Opening Day, but when there are more reasonable options out there I think it's hard to justify going all-in on a star in his situation.
The irony of all this is that the Red Sox' best chance to get a reliable option at shortstop comes right as it looks like they're ready to develop their own. While a few years ago we may have imagined that would mean Jose Iglesias was ready to make the jump, Xander Bogaerts is obviously the man in the spotlight now, even if he doesn't end up at short for his whole career.
Still, Xander is a year away, and if there's questions about whether he's a long-term shortstop, then maybe it's best to pull the trigger on getting a definite answer at short now and switch Xander to the outfield where both his bat and arm should play quite well. It will, as ever, all come down to asking prices and how the teams perceive the players' talents. For all we know, Texas thinks Andrus' is as valuable as Tulo's bat and the Cleveland front office has started a cult dedicated to Asdrubal the Great. But with so many options presenting themselves after such a long drought it would be very, very surprising if the Red Sox weren't active in every possibility that presents itself.