The Red Sox' trade of Marco Scutaro to the Rockies this weekend was surprising. It caught me off guard because I had Scutaro as the Sox starting shortstop this season cemented in my mind.
This idea was founded upon a few different indicators. First there was the trade of fellow shortstop Jed Lowrie to Houston. Boston did sign Nick Punto, but over the past eleven seasons only about a third of his innings have come at shortstop so he wasn't vied as a threat to Scutaro's job. The Sox also have Mike Aviles but he's been playing the outfield over the winter, so he wasn't a threat either. Further, the Sox had the opportunity to let Scutaro pick up his $3 million player option or become a free agent (with a $1.5 million buy-out), but they decided to pick up his $6 million option first instead. That all sounds like a commitment to the a player to me.
It's true the Sox now have a AAA pitcher in Clayton Mortensen whom they didn't have before, so that's almost something, but it's the shock that I want to focus on. I have my head buried in this stuff day after day and I didn't see this deal coming. Maybe more astute observers did, and if so I tip my hat to you, but I was expecting to see Scutaro at shortstop on Opening Day and I'm betting you were too. It's surprising to realize, after essentially an entire off season of expecting something, that it won't happen.
There's a very good reason that it won't happen, however. And no, it isn't that the Red Sox are cheap, stupid, or name your insult here. It's that Scutaro wasn't Marco Scutaro. He was (and is) a 36 year old middle infielder with a salary of $6 million and a luxury tax hit of $7.67 million (WEEI.com's Alex Speier explains the numerical machinations). He has a trade value associated with that age and salary as well, and as such the Red Sox saw him as the replaceable asset that he is. That is no knock on Scutaro. In fact, it's true of all players. Every single player in Major League Baseball is replaceable to some extent based on their on their field value, age, salary, etc.
Some, like Scutaro or more appropriately a back end bullpen arm, are easier to replace. Some, like a Jose Reyes, Felix Hernandez, or Brian McCann are vastly more difficult. But higher value doesn't mean irreplaceability (did I just make up a word?). Even they can be replaced through the right moves.
David Cameron of Fan Graphs does a series each year running down the players with the highest trade value. Note he doesn't do a list of players who are untradeable. This is because all players have value. That value can be a moving target, but it's there nonetheless. A player's value may move from year to year or even month to month, thus the annual nature of Mr. Cameron's series. If you start from the presumption that there is, in fact, a truth, i.e. at a particular point in time a player is worth a certain amount, you can start to see how this kind of thing might work. Once you get off the paper and onto the field or front offices, a subjective nature is added to the process, as scouts and executives apply their expertise to each player.
The point is each player has a value. Nailing a player's actual value down is another matter, but for our purposes here just accept that it exists. If you then look at each team, not as a collection of players, but as a cumulative total value, you can see that each and every component of that sum should be removable, as long as its replacement is of equal or greater value. This is getting very theoretical, and of course there is far more that goes into running a major league front office than a single sum of player value, but the point is each player is replaceable given the proper circumstances.
So Marco Scutaro, starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox or not, was replaceable because, as it turned out, his defense was replicable from other already on hand assets, and any offensive value over and above those assets could be applied elsewhere to the ball club in a magnified manner, all with money left over.
Yesterday's addition of Cody Ross is likely only a partial example of that. Ross' 2012 salary will cost the team less than half of what Scutaro's luxury tax hit was and almost exactly half of what his real world cost was. If and when the Red Sox are able to bring in another starting pitcher, we'll have a better idea of how the front office reapplied Scutaro's potential value to other areas of the roster, but whether Gavin Floyd or Roy Oswalt come walking through that door or not, the point remains and applies to Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and even Adrian Gonzolez as well. All players are replaceable.