Earlier this winter, Jed Lowrie was sent to Houston. Now Marco Scutaro, who was believed to be first in line for Lowrie's spot in the Red Sox infield, has been shipped off to Colorado in exchange for Clayton Mortensen. This move leaves Jose Iglesias, Mike Aviles, and Nick Punto as possible shortstop candidates for next season. With Iglesias hardly Major League ready and Punto a backup at best, it would seem that the Red Sox likely have plans to make a move, soon, unless, that is, they are confident in the unpredictable Aviles.
First, a brief analysis of the trade:
The Rockies acquire:
Marco Scutaro: Scutaro was a career backup--nevertheless beloved in Oakland--until injuries and questionable alternative options forced him into the Blue Jays' lineup in 2008. 2009 was his breakout year when he scored 100 runs while putting up a .282 batting average. As a bonus, he hit 12 home runs and drove in 60 runs. In the offseason, he signed with the Red Sox. He put up similar numbers in 2010. Last season, he was affected by injuries and competition. With three middle infielders in the Majors (and Dustin Pedroia an intangible), he duked it out with Jed Lowrie for the starting role (when one of them was not injured, that is). In the 395 At Bats that he got, he batted .299 with 7 home runs and 54 RBI (only two fewer than the previous season, when he had 632 At Bats). He has always been a solid fielder and has career fielding percentages of .974 at shortstop and .992 at second base. With Troy Tulowitzki at short, Scutaro will only be able to crack the lineup as a second baseman or backup. Tommy Field has been successful in the Minors and average in his short Major League stint. The same can be said for Hector Gomez. These two young shortstops will certainly be competition if the Rockies are willing to move them to second base. But with DJ Lemahieu and Chris Nelson, who have both put up good numbers at second base in the minors, this may not be the team's favourite option. Jonathan Herrera and Eric Young, both of whom have three partial seasons of Major League experience at second base cannot be forgotten, although they have been less than impressive of yet. This is the competition which faces Marco Scutaro, causing one to wonder why the Rockies wanted him. This says to me one of two things: Scutaro is a proven veteran and the Rockies have found their full-time second baseman for next season (and it is possible that one or more of the middle infield prospects will be traded soon) or Scutaro is there to create competition for the younger players and also to teach them. I am leaning toward the former.
The Red Sox acquire:
Clayton Mortensen: Mortensen has pitched in the Majors in parts of the last three seasons. Last year, he spent time as both a starter and a reliever (16 appearances, 6 starts). He posted a 2-4 record with a 3.86 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. At a glance, his Minor League stats look ugly, but he did pitch in the PCL for four seasons, a league known for being tough on pitchers. With that in mind, his 29-28 record and 5.26 ERA at the triple-A level does not seem quite as bad. The worst year he had there occurred last season when, in 15 starts, he went 2-8 with a 9.42 ERA. Other than that, he has not had a triple-A ERA over 5.51, and that was in 2008. His ERAs in 2009 and 2010 were 4.39 and 4.25 respectively. This is an odd pickup for the Red Sox (unless they plan to flip him off in another, previously planned deal, although he seems to be an unlikely prospect to be targeted by another team). The Sox could do with another starter, as they would probably prefer Daniel Bard as a set-up man. There have been rumours that they are targeting Roy Oswalt, but there is nothing certain on the front. Mortensen does not seem ready to be a full time starter in the Majors, so this is not his most likely destination. As for the bullpen, with Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon, Alfredo Aceves, Bobby Jenks, and Matt Albers as the top five (and Bard as the possible sixth), Mortensen enters a race with Andrew Miller, Michael Bowden, Felix Dubront, and Scott Atchison, all of whom have Major League experience. None of these four has been particularly in their respective careers, Atchison's performance last season possibly being the best of the four's careers. Albers can also be pushed out of his spot, but he has a better chance of making the team than the others. Mortensen does not have an assured spot here, at all. Expect him to begin the year in the Minors, where he will finally get out of the PCL and get a chance to prove himself to the team.
So what of the Red Sox dilemma at short? Jose Iglesias batted .333 in his 6 plate appearances last season. He also scored three runs. The 22-year old has played only two seasons in the Minors, jumping from low-A to the Majors in that short amount of time. In 171 Minor League games he batted .261 with 1 home run and 51 RBI to complement his .971 fielding percentage at shortstop. Despite his solid performance to date, he is young and far from Major League ready.
Mike Aviles has had some experience at short, and is another possibility. In four Major League seasons he has a .973 fielding percentage at shortstop and has played that position more than any other. Aviles's career has been a roller-coaster. In 2008 and 2010 he batted over .300, hitting 10 and 8 home runs respectively. In 2009, however, he batted .183 in 120 At Bats. Last season was a culmination of both Mike Aviles-es at the plate-- his .255 BA was subpar, but he also hit 7 home runs with 39 RBI in 286 At Bats. In 101 At Bats after being traded to the Sox by Kansas City, he hit .317. Aviles is far from a sure thing, but when he is good, he is very good. The Red Sox may be willing to take a risk that he will be the good-Aviles next year.
Nick Punto is a backup without doubt. He is a career .249 hitter who has never hit more than 4 home runs in a season. As a shortstop, he has a career .974 fielding percentage. He is versatile in the field, having played significant time at all of the infield positions except for first base. He has also had a few games in each outfield position. He is, however, just a backup.
If the Red Sox do not intend to make a trade, Aviles is a possible starter, but if he has another down year, the Sox may be regretting their decision to trade away both of their Major League ready starting shortstops. The Red Sox need more pitching and Clayton Mortensen is not the answer. The Red Sox are not in a great position for next season.
The Rockies, on the other hand, now have an abundance of middle infielders. With a plethora of pitchers both in the Majors and in the system, the Rockies traded from a strength to upgrade an area which could have been a strength or a weakness depending on the uncertain performances of the various players the team already had. The Rockies are, by far, the winners of this deal, which feels more like a salary dump for the Red Sox than anything else--even though Scutaro will only be making $6-million next year. The Rockies will be happy with Scutaro as both a starting second baseman and a teacher. The Red Sox have taken a chance which may or may not pan out. The Red Sox and their fans will only be happy with this trade if the team is able to use that six million dollars to sign Roy Oswalt, their primary target at the moment. I feel as though the Red Sox could have gotten more for Scutaro, however. This feels like a hasty move that the Red Sox will soon regret.