Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798)
These days, Theo Epstein might feel like he's carrying an albatross around his neck - a carcass composed of his abortive efforts to fill the shortstop position. The Scutaro signing, which Randy has optimistically analyzed over here, is an attempt to chuck the bird off his chest, but it seems likely to backfire, just as the Lugo and Renteria acquisitions did.
I've already detailed why I think Marco Scutaro is a bad signing. How his career numbers, on both offense and defense, were worse than Julio Lugo's when Theo signed him. But worst of all, it doesn't seem to fit the modern Red Sox strategy. [CLICK CONTINUE READING FOR MORE.]
Normally, Theo's moves seem to adhere to an overarching plan. If I had to give a name to that plan, it would be the "$100 million player development machine," which are Theo's words. The farm system feeds the team, providing inexpensive, talented players like Youkilis, Lester, Pedroia, and Ellsbury; some prospects are traded to bring additional talent in (see Victor Martinez, Josh Beckett deals). The Red Sox use their superior financial resources to sign their draft picks, to pursue international talent (Matsuzaka, Tazawa, maybe Chapman?), to resign their home-grown players (extensions for Youk, Pedey, Lester), and to fill occasional needs with good free agents (Drew). Additional money is spent on short-term, low-risk, high-reward moves, in the model of the Smoltz, Penny and Saito signings last year. Unlike the Yankees, who these days build around free agents, the Sox build around their farm.
Where does Scutaro fit in this model? Considering that the Front Office is signing him off a career year, as a Type A free agent, he's definitely not a value acquisition. He's not an underrated player like J D Drew that deserves a long-term commitment. Furthermore, by signing Scutaro, the Sox are giving up a first round draft pick, which could conceivably have produced the next Clay Buchholz or Casey Kelly (or the next unimpressive player like Jason Place).
There are two conclusions we can draw from this signing. First, the Front Office doesn't have much confidence in Lowrie. Even if he's only making $6 million (I think it'll be higher, at $7 or $8 million) Scutaro will block Lowrie. Considering that Lowrie, in limited play, seems better defensively (9.7 UZR in 549.2 innings at SS, good for a 27.0 UZR / 150 games) than Scutaro, this is probably a bad thing. Second, Theo must be feeling some pressure to make a move at SS; otherwise he would not sign a player coming off a career year who costs a 1st round draft pick. This pressure might be from people within the organization (Henry, Luchhino), or without (fans anxious for a big move). It might be so that Theo feels he'll have some stability at the position, even if he's paying through the nose for it.
In closing, I hate this move. It reeks of panic and desperation, and is completely out of keeping with both the Red Sox organizational philosophy, and the wisdom of economics and baseball. That said, good luck, Mr. Scutaro, and feel free to prove me wrong. Go (get Holliday) Sox.