The Situation: The Boston Red Sox have had an undistinguished record with shortstops since the departure of Nomar Garciaparra(notes). Orlando Cabrera(notes) and Alex Gonzalez filled in adequately — but not enough for the Red Sox to want to retain them the following season. The team also handed out multi-year contracts to Edgar Renteria(notes) and Julio Lugo(notes) and regretted them almost instantly. Finally, the injured and ineffective Jed Lowrie(notes) and career backup Nick Green(notes) were no better.
This offseason, the Red Sox handed out a two-year, $12 million contract to former Blue Jay Marco Scutaro(notes), a 34-year-old who was a backup until 2008. He's never had an OPS over .800 and he set career highs in nearly everything last year, well on the wrong side of 30.
The Question: Can Marco Scutaro finally solve the Sox's shortstop woes, or is he destined to be another expensive castoff?
The Analysis: Scutaro had an OPS+ of 111 last year, which was fourth-best among AL shortstops. He's never had much power and he set career highs with 12 homers and 35 doubles last year. Still, he slugged just .409 and it was only the first time he'd ever cleared .400. Instead, he drew walks like never before, walking more than he struck out for the first time and besting his career high in walks by more than half.
Scutaro basically evolved into a patient and pesky hitter overnight. His 90 walks were seventh in the American League, which is impressive considering his power numbers. (League leader Chone Figgins(notes) was the only other player in the top 10 with fewer than 15 homers.) Scutaro also saw more pitches than he ever had, seeing more than four pitches per plate appearance for the first time since his cup of coffee with the Mets in 2003.
Scutaro's worth last year wasn't merely confined to his bat, however. After years as a utility player, logging innings at second base, shortstop, third base and in the outfield, he played 143 games at shortstop in 2009 and saved 12 runs according to Plus/Minus, and 15 runs according to Total Zone. Considering that Julio Lugo was worth around -15 runs in 2009, according to UZR, Plus/Minus, and Total Zone, Marco Scutaro could leave his bat at home and still be valuable to the Red Sox. Measured by WAR, Scutaro was the fifth-most valuable shortstop in baseball last year.
While it's true that 2009 may wind up being his career year, Scutaro is still a good bet in 2010 to put up a decent on-base percentage while flashing an above-average glove. Which is really all the Sox need — especially considering they haven't been able to get both of those from anyone at that position since the Nomar era.
The Forecast for 2010: Unlike their takes on more volatile players — Jake Peavy, for instance — the major projection systems basically all agree on what Scooter will do in 2010. He probably won't draw 90 walks again; 60 seems more likely. He'll also probably take a slight step back on homers, since that's what 34-year olds tend to do. So, 60 walks and single-digit homers is likely to add up to a slash line around .270/.360/.370. His defense is harder to project, just because there was such a discrepancy between UZR on the one hand and Plus/Minus and Total Zone on the other, and because by all these measures he was a relatively indifferent fielder until 2008. Still, he's likely to remain above average, if not to repeat among the very best in baseball. All in all, as a shortstop with an above average bat and an above average glove, he'll remain among the handful of the most valuable starting shortstops in the game.
Scutaro is the sort of player whom it's easy to miss, because his bat would be forgettable at nearly any other position on the diamond and he was a backup for most of his career. But his first year as a starter was a gem, and the Red Sox were right to pick him up, especially for just a two-year contract. He might just be exactly what they're looking for.
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Other questions answered by Alex Remington
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• What kind of difference will Jake Peavy make with the White Sox?
• Can Jonathan Papelbon become the next Mariano Rivera?
• What can the Mariners expect from Ken Griffey Jr.?
• Will Mark Reynolds hit more than 40 home runs again?
- Marco Scutaro