BOSTON, MA: Pedro Ciriaco #77 of the Boston Red Sox is congratulated by teammate Mike Aviles #3 in the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the New York Yankees during the game at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Right now, the Boston Red Sox have three shortstops on the roster: Mike Aviles, Jose Iglesias, and Pedro Ciriaco. All three are as different as can be, but at the same time, are also similar enough that a future with all three on the major-league roster doesn't make much sense. With September's expanded rosters in play, it's not a 2012 concern, but, come April of next year, Boston will be back to 25-man rosters, and likely just two of these three in the majors.
None of this group is the perfect solution at short. Aviles has hit .250/.283/.384 in 134 games in 2012, a line that looks terrible on the surface, but is (somewhat depressingly) just a little below-average at shortstop: Mike Aviles is sporting a .245 True Average, and your league-average shortstop is at .249. Prefer OPS+? Using it's split-adjusted form -- where the split in question is being a shortstop -- Aviles is at 93, where 100 is average.
His defense has helped to make up for this to a degree, with Baseball Reference valuing Aviles at two wins on the year, Baseball Prospectus at 1.2 wins over replacement, and Fangraphs two wins as well. That's fine and good, but also replaceable. Given he's a shortstop, and shortstops produce poorly almost as a rule, there's less incentive to upgrade there if the rest of the roster is excellent. Since the Red Sox will also likely be missing a quality first baseman in 2013, though, and don't technically have a starting left fielder they can rely on at present, shortstop might be in line for a change from Aviles' season of good enough to get by.
Can Iglesias or Ciriaco be that guy? It's tough to say with Iglesias, as the 22-year-old has made progress at Triple-A, with multiple month-long bouts where he actually hit. And not hit for Jose Iglesias, either, but legitimately made quality, consistent contact that resulted in a 790 May OPS and an 800 even OPS for August, prior to his call-up to Boston. He also struggled at the plate plenty, though, hence his finishing the second half at .276/.335/.317, and has had difficulty adjusting to life in the majors to this point. After a three-hit performance that included his first major-league homer on Thursday, Iglesias is hitting .128/.261/.231. The four walks in 48 plate appearances are encouraging, and while he's striking out too much, it's not embarrassing. There's a lot of work to be done here, though.
The Red Sox have to decide if that work will come with yet another stint in Triple-A -- remember, Iglesias will be all of 23 next season, or, two years younger than Ryan Kalish -- or if the lessons that he needs to learn can only come against big-league hurlers. Boston has promoted Iglesias aggressively in the past, so a strong finish to 2012, combined with a spring that shows he has a better handle on hitting than in the past, could mean he is the Red Sox' 2013 starting shortstop.
As for Ciriaco, Boston seems to be attempting to put him in the race to be a potential utility player. He's a second baseman by trade, one that can play shortstop very well -- and has the bat for it, he says in the most backhanded complimentary way he can -- but he's filled in at third for the injured Will Middlebrooks, and started in center field against the Rays on Thursday. Were Jose Iglesias to win the shortstop job for 2013, then it would likely come down to Aviles or Ciriaco for the utility man spot, as Aviles has been down this prepare for the outfield road before, and has past experience at all of the positions Ciriaco does.
Ciriaco is an odd fit in Boston as a bench player, though. He's fine defensively, but the three positions he can flash leather at happen to be where three of the Red Sox' best defenders are: Middlebrooks at third, Aviles or Iglesias at short, and Dustin Pedroia at second. Boston does not lack for outfielders, either, so even if Ciriaco can learn to man a spot or spots out there, it doesn't mean he would be the best fit. Versatility for the sake of versatility is different than versatility that comes with utility.
The Red Sox acquired Aviles to play him full-time in part because they knew he had been a better player when he had a starting job than he had been when he was a part-timer. Because of this, he might not be a great fit as a bench player, either, assuming Boston thinks he'll return to being ineffective in a reduced role. At least with Aviles, they have an infielder who can hit southpaws well. With Ciriaco, it's hard to rely on him to hit much of anything.
Because of these oddities that might keep the Sox from having a useful bench player in either, we might see a trade and a demotion. If Boston wants Iglesias to man short, then maybe Mike Aviles is packaged in a deal that brings Boston a young pitcher. Oakland inquired on Aviles before acquiring Stephen Drew, and while Boston's asking price was overly steep (Dan Straily or Brett Anderson), that's the kind of situation that might be talked down into Boston pulling in someone like A.J. Griffin. Assuming the A's are serious about Aviles as a starting shortstop, anyway -- they might have lost interest by now. But, whether it's someone like Griffin, or a lesser young arm (much more likely), there will be a trade market for a shortstop who can be average, should Boston care to explore it.
You can default Ciriaco to the utility role by moving Aviles, or the Sox could lean on the recently acquired Ivan De Jesus for that role, sending Ciriaco back to Pawtucket. There are a lot of options here, and Iglesias doesn't need to win the shortstop gig for things to work like this, either. Boston has a lot of decisions to make in regards to these two roles, and a whole winter to make them.
Your preference for Boston's 2013 shortstop?
Mike Aviles (46 votes)
Jose Iglesias (159 votes)
Pedro Ciriaco (96 votes)
301 total votes