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From Nomar to Xander: The Red Sox’s wait between All-Star shortstops

During the last 25 years, the Red Sox have been lucky enough to have two of the franchise’s best shortstops. In between is a different story.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was a renaissance of sorts at shortstop around baseball. The rise of stars like Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada changed what we expected from the position. Although there were plenty of similar shortstops before, like Cal Ripken Jr. and Ernie Banks, there seemed to be a greater concentration of shortstops who could flat out mash at that point in history.

The Red Sox had one of the best of the best in Garciaparra. The 1997 Rookie of the Year was an otherworldly batter. Famous for his aggressive approach, he hit for astronomical batting averages and combined that with power and speed. While he was in Boston, Garciaparra racked up two batting titles, five All-Star appearances and plenty of MVP votes, even if he never actually captured the trophy. The only unfortunate aspect of Garciaparra’s career with the Red Sox is that it ended just before the magical 2004 World Series run.

Coincidentally, the Red Sox’s next great shortstop won a World Series in his first season in Boston. That would be Xander Bogaerts, of course. The 27-year-old shortstop is right in the middle of his prime and is a member of the most recent fraternity of do-it-all superstars at the position. He’s really turned it on of late, including his masterful 2019 campaign when he made his second All-Star game, won a silver slugger and finished fifth in AL MVP voting.

There were plenty of other great shortstops in baseball between when Garciaparra left the team before the 2004 trade deadline and when Bogaerts made his MLB debut with the Red Sox in 2013. However, during that time, Boston was a revolving door at shortstop. What we’re here to do today is look back at that nearly 10-year run when the Red Sox were searching for their next great shortstop. We’ll be looking at the primary options and not just guys who played a smattering of games at short.

When Garciaparra was sent to the Chicago Cubs in 2004, it was a sad day. No matter how it was characterized then or now, Garciaparra was an important member of the Red Sox and letting him go was tough to watch. Fortunately for the Red Sox, Orlando Cabrera was not tough to watch. The former shortstop for the Montreal Expos came to Boston as part of the Garciaparra trade and homered in his first at-bat with the team and off of Johan Santana no less. He went on to slash .294/.320/.465 and accumulate 1.8 bWAR across 248 plate appearances. Plus, he will be enshrined in the hearts of Red Sox fans forever as a member of that 2004 title-winning team.

Unfortunately, Cabrera didn’t return for the title defense in 2005 and neither did Pokey Reese, who appeared in 71 games at short in 2004 and assisted on the final out of game seven of the ALCS.

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

It’s coincidental that I would mention final outs because the man chosen to take over at short in 2005 was Édgar Rentería, who has the distinct honor of grounding into the final out of the 2004 World Series. Rentería seemed like a great addition. He was entering his age 28 season and was already a four-time All-Star, even if some of his underlying numbers the year before were a bit troubling. Unfortunately, Rentería struggled in Boston, posting an OPS+ of just 89 and accumulating just 1.4 bWAR before the Red Sox opted to move on the next winter.

With Rentería gone as well as touted prospect Hanley Ramírez, who made his MLB debut in 2005 but was sent to the Marlins in the offseason in a deal that brought back Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota, the Red Sox had to find someone else. They settled on Álex González with a little help from Alex Cora, who joined the team in July 2005.

González was pretty solid in the field, but he wasn’t much of a hitter. In fact, during his 16-year career, he posted an OPS+ of more than 100 across a full season just once. It wasn’t during his first run with the Red Sox in 2006 or during his second in 2009. González had an OPS+ of 75 in 2006 and although he was better after coming over from Cincinnati during the 2009 season, he still fell below 100.

As for Cora, he played multiple positions during his time with Boston (2005-2008), including shortstop, but was never really a long-time answer as much as a utility option.

In 2007, the Red Sox had a super team of sorts and stormed their way to another World Series crown. Although there were a glut of stars on the team, that kind of power was lacking at shortstop. Julio Lugo was signed in the preceding offseason and was a serviceable option, but the then 31-year-old was worth just 0.7 bWAR and posted a 65 OPS+ in 147 games for Boston, even though he did steal 33 bases. Lugo stuck around for parts of the next two seasons, but he shared the position a bit more after 2007, with a youngster named Jed Lowrie and Cora filling in some of the gaps.

Lowrie had a chance to be the shortstop of the future, but he never really found his place in Boston. He went on to have more success during his time in Houston Oakland, but with the Red Sox, he slashed .252/.324/.408 with a 92 OPS+ across 920 plate appearances, which were spread over four years. In addition, he never played more than 49 games at short.

Boston Red Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Tim Umphrey/Getty Images

During the first couples seasons of Lowrie’s four-year stretch with the team, he mainly shared the position with Lugo, Gonzalez and Nick Green before Marco Scutaro took over the primary starting role in 2010. Scutaro joined the team in December of 2009 and spent two relatively solid seasons in Boston, amassing more than two bWAR each year. However, considering he was in his mid 30s at the time, the Red Sox were not looking at him as a long-term answer. You could say the same for Mike Aviles. He had a decent campaign as the primary starter at shortstop in 2012, with his defense helping him post 2.5 bWAR before he left in the offseason. That meant Scutaro and Aviles were holding the place for someone and for a little bit, that someone was José Iglesias.

Heralded for his glove work, the Red Sox hoped Iglesias could develop into a decent hitter and become a regular in the lineup. He made his MLB debut in 2011 at age 21 but only played in a handful of games that season. The 2012 season didn’t yield much optimism for his bat, as Iglesias hit just .118 in 77 plate appearances. Perhaps that’s why the organization opted to bring in Stephen Drew before the 2013 season.

Whether the Drew acquisition served as motivation or he just found a rhythm, Iglesias really began to hit in 2013. He slashed .330/.376/.409 and posted 1.7 bWAR in 63 games. The Red Sox capitalized on the hot start and when they were in need of a starting pitcher for the 2013 stretch run, they were able swap Iglesias as part of a deal for Jake Peavy.

Even as Iglesias showed improvement, Drew still held down the starting post at short. Depending on the metric you use, you could argue that Drew’s 2013 season was the best by a Red Sox shortstop since Garciaparra. He posted 2.7 bWAR, which inched past marks from Aviles and Scutaro for the top full-season total by a starting Red Sox shortstop since 2003. Drew joined Cabrera and Lugo as shortstops who were major pieces of a World Series winning team. However, Bogaerts would contribute to that run as well and by the next season, as Drew slumped heavily and was eventually shipped out, Bogaerts would take the job over permanently, ending the Red Sox’s search for their next great shortstop.