A rumor emerged yesterday indicating the Red Sox had reached an agreement that would send Marco Scutaro to Colorado. It was unclear what the Rockies would send back, but the common thinking goes that the Red Sox need to clear salary for a Roy Oswalt (yay), Edwin Jackson (eh…) or someone else to fill that 4th starter role. The deal never materialized but the idea that there were talks seemed legitimate enough that it’s safe to conclude that Boston feels ok about parting with Scutaro. That notion carries with it some interesting implications.
First, it’s important to identify what the Red Sox have in Scutaro. As far as Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement goes, Scutaro has been baseball’s fifth best shortstop since 2008. He’s been better than Jeter, better than Rollins. He’s 36 this season, so a precipitous performance drop-off is possible, but he stands to make just $6 million. That figures to be a terrific deal for Boston. And since it’s a terrific deal for Boston, it means Scutaro has value on the open market. Teams should be interested in him. He’s productive, steady, and affordable on just a one-year commitment.
If the Red Sox are open to parting with Scutaro for the purpose of clearing salary, it means a number of things. One, some sort of commitment is likely coming to a pitcher that’s not inexpensive. Two, since the deal would be financially driven, the “other shoe” will likely not come in the form of a blockbuster deal for a replacement shortstop like Florida’s Hanley Ramirez. Three, the Red Sox would be right to command a healthy return for Scutaro. Finally, and perhaps most controversially, it means the Red Sox are likely comfortable heading into 2012 with some combination of Mike Aviles and Nick Punto holding down shortstop.
Can you imagine a championship aspirant club having a go with Aviles and Punto playing such a crucial position? You can almost hear the BP 1.0 crowd licking their chops. Rany can expand on his Bill Smith/Ben Cherington comparisons, Joe can fire up his Twitter account and/or newsletter (anyone ever read one of those?) and spew condescension, KG can remind us Ryan Sweeney isn’t an all-star again. Did you guys know that Jose Iglesias isn’t much of a hitter, by the way? You get the point. Get ready for it if Boston deals Scutaro.
What’s more interesting is an examination of what Red Sox fans might be able to expect from Aviles and Punto. First, Punto. He’s become a punch line in SABR circles but take a look at his numbers. There’s no questioning that he’s been incredibly awful at times. In 2009 playing for Minnesota he hit .228/.337/.284 in 440 plate appearances. He’s also shown flashes of productivity. He had a 3.2 bWAR season in 2006, 2.1 in 2008 and last season he hit .278/.388/.421 in limited action for the reigning champion St. Louis Cardinals. Whatever he brings off the field aside, Punto has two strengths. He tends to log good at bats (he walked five times in 19 plate appearances in the World Series), and he has a very good glove. At his best, Punto can probably come close to replicating Marco Scutaro. At his worst, playing every day, it’s likely his defectiveness would sink any team’s ambitions.
Fortunately if Scutaro goes, Aviles can carry some of the load at shortstop, too. Aviles is sort of the opposite of Punto. He’s a career .288/.318/.419 hitter who hasn’t stuck at shortstop probably because it’s a bit of a stretch for him in the field. But who knows? He was a Royal, an organization not exactly known for its deft handling of players, and maybe he would have made for a perfectly fine shortstop. While Punto sees pitches and fields well, Aviles, through a more free-swinging approach, offers better output with the bat thanks to his solid slugging numbers but would likely be something of a liability on defense.
Sticking with Baseball-Reference, here is how the three stack up in terms of WAR/600 PA over the course of their respective careers:
Scutaro is significantly better than Punto and Aviles, or whatever combo that duo could likely produce. The calculation the Red Sox would be making, though, is that the available upgrade at 4th starter plus the return Scutaro could net would be well worth the win or so they would lose out on at shortstop. It makes some sense to me. Hopefully it does to you, too. It will make another chapter in the Offseason of Red Sox Flogging all the more tolerable.