If Theo Epstein has a failing, it would be the shortstop position. Ever since the Nomar trade, the Sox have struggled to balance offense and defense at the position. 2005 saw Edgar Renteria and his 32 errors, 2006 saw Alex Gonzalez, who batted poorly and missed a fourth of the season to injury, and 2007 inaugurated the Julio Lugo era, which ended with his mid-season trade last year. Turning to the farm system, Theo tried Jed Lowrie out in 2008, and he impressed in his debut season, driving in runs and playing solid defense, all while playing through a wrist injury. Unfortunately, Lowrie was not healthy this season, only appearing in 32 games.
Throughout the past season, shortstop was anchored by the fill-ins Nick Green and Alex Gonzalez, who both played impressive defense. But Gonzalez is gone, and Green's status is uncertain.
All of which brings us, and seemingly every baseball commentator, to Marco Scutaro, the top free agent shortstop on the market. This past season was his best ever offensively, with an impressive .379 on-base percentage, and he played league average defense (0.9 UZR); if anything, he seems like the natural choice to fill Boston's SS gap. He even wants to play in Boston.
So why isn't he the right man for the job? Read on for the reasons why Scutaro is not the answer to Theo's shortstop dilemma.
1. What goes up must come down.
Scutaro's 2009 was so much better than his career numbers that there is absolutely no reason to think he won't come crashing down. From 2002 to 2008, he produced a .261 / .325 / .377 line. His highest OBP was .350, and his OPS+ never topped 100, which above-average hitters top routinely.
2. Scutaro's defense at SS is not good enough.
A look at his Fangraphs page shows a wild fielding career, with many different positions. Scutaro doesn't have a very long career at SS, but the seasons he does have aren't terribly promising. Starting from '05, the first year he spent substantial time at the position:
Year UZR/150 Games
2005 -4.6 81
2006 -28.1 69
2007 2.6 43
2008 20.3 56
2009 1.0 143
3. Scutaro is 34 years old.
If he were a defensive whiz like Omar Vizquel, this might not matter, but given Scutaro's inconsistent fielding, serious regression seems quite possible, even likely. In addition, age is another reason for why he's likely to crash offensively; offensive renaissances are unlikely at age 34, and even more likely to continue at age 35.
4. Scutaro will want, and should get, a decent contract from someone.
Even in a down market, Scutaro is a hot-ticket item. And after the best season of his career, acquiring him would be exhibit A in the Buying High category. After hitting as well as he did, I think enough GMs will be starstruck for one to offer him $8-9 million a year, for 2-3 years.
5. Julio Lugo was a better player, in every way, than Scutaro, when we signed him.
Past isn't necessarily prologue, but Lugo was a better hitter (higher career OBP, OPS), a better fielder (no negative years at SS by UZR), and a younger player when we signed him than Scutaro is now. People forget that at times Lugo provided us with good fielding (4.3 UZR / 150 in '07) and good hitting (.355 OBP in '08). Scutaro could easily be worse.
6. Scutaro will cost a first-round draft choice.
This should be the dealbreaker for Theo, who loves draft picks. Toronto will offer arbitration, and some unlucky team will bite at Scutaro. [Aside: How did he become a Type A? Seriously?]
Signing Scutaro wouldn't be the end of the world, but it would almost certainly be a poor use of the money. I'd rather see a combination of
Mr. Walking Wounded Jed Lowrie, Nick Green and/or Adam Everett than Scutaro. If all we need is a placeholder until Iglesias arrives, then why spend so much and give up a draft pick to get one?