The Boston Red Sox need a shortstop.
It’s as simple as that.
It’s time for the club to forget about acquiring ace Roy Halladay or a slugging first baseman like Adrian Gonzalez or Miguel Cabrera.
The Red Sox number one priority needs to be acquiring a legitimate starting shortstop.
The club hasn’t had a reliable shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra left town in the infamous 2004 trade that aided the Sox in breaking an 86-year championship drought.
Since 2004, the Red Sox have run out 19—count ‘em 19—different shortstops, all with middling levels of success.
Here’s a quick look at the main players in the Red Sox shortstop rotation of the past half-decade.
After the club traded away Garciaparra, Orlando Cabrera manned the position admirably for the remainder of 2004. The club chose to let him walk via free agency and the black hole opened.
In 2005, the club trotted out Edgar Renteria and his newly minted four-year, $40 million contract. After one uninspiring season at the plate and thirty errors in the field, he was shipped to Atlanta.
In stepped Alex Gonzalez for the 2006 campaign. Gonzo played solid defense but, as is his trademark, couldn’t hit to save his life.
In 2007, the club finally got the shortstop they had coveted for years, Julio Lugo.
Lugo was signed to a very Renteria-like four-year deal, this one for $36 million. He was expected to bring defensive stability to the infield and a legitimate leadoff hitter to the lineup.
Instead, he struggled early on in his Boston tenure and never recovered. Injuries and ineffectiveness lead to Lugo losing playing time to prospect Jed Lowrie and journeyman Nick Green.
In 2009 things got so bad that the Sox cut Lugo, despite owing him more than $13 million that remained on his contract.
The Sox made a late season trade to bring back Gonzalez for a second tour of duty in Boston. Gonzalez responded by hitting well for the Sox. He hit .284/.316/.453 with five home runs down the stretch.
Gonzalez’s strong showing didn’t impress the club enough to warrant exercising his $6 million option for 2010, but the club was rumored to be interested in bringing him back at lesser salary.
The Red Sox, however, wanted to kick the tires on some other options before inking Gonzo to another deal.
The club reportedly showed interest in J.J. Hardy, but he was dealt from Milwaukee to Minnesota in a very busy opening weekend to the offseason.
The club also has reportedly made overtures to Arizona regarding shortstop Stephen Drew, all the while assuming that Gonzalez would still be waiting by the phone for Theo Epstein’s call.
Unfortunately for the Sox, that’s not exactly what happened.
Last Thursday morning, while Epstein was no doubt preparing for a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, new Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous was busy signing Gonzalez to a one-year, $2.75 million with a $2.5 million club option for 2011.
In doing so, the Red Sox options immediately became very limited.
The club has basically three free agent options.
Marco Scutaro, who will no doubt be overpaid wherever he lands, is the first and seemingly most popular option, especially among Red Sox Nation.
Miguel Tejada, who at this stage in his career is far more suited for a corner infield position, is the second option.
Former Red Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera is the popular third option.
The Red Sox have shown interest in Scutaro, but it is believed that Scutaro, 34, is looking for a multi-year deal coming off a career year.
If and/or when he regresses to his career averages, the Sox would be on the hook for yet another light-hitting shortstop with diminishing defensive skills.
Additionally, the Blue Jays are expected to offer Scutaro arbitration.
As a Type A, signing Scutaro to an ill-advised multi-year deal would cost a first-round draft pick, in addition to the money the Sox would undoubtedly be throwing down the drain.
Tejada will be 36-years old next season (in theory) and is a liability in the field, but would offer the offensive production the Sox could definitely stand to have inserted into the lineup.
It also isn’t known what type of contract Tejada is looking for, but anything longer than a one-year pact would be risky business for any club.
Orlando Cabrera, 35, has two Gold Gloves to his name and a history of helping clubs reach the postseason.
He also has a lot of miles racked up and is quickly becoming a shell of the player he was just a few short years ago.
He is a liability in the field and more suited for a shift to second or third base.
Offensively, he has gone from a table-setter and ideal number two hitter to a prototypical bottom of the order hitter.
Making Cabrera even more of a long-shot is that he’s currently looking for a two-year, $10 million deal.
Another free agent who hasn’t been mentioned much is Felipe Lopez.
Lopez, 29, makes a lot of sense if the Sox are willing to sacrifice a ton of defense, as he hasn’t played shortstop regularly since 2007 and hasn’t played it well since—ahem—ever.
He does, however, offer some serious offense.
Lopez posted a very solid .310/.383/.427 line in 2009, which is higher than his career norms, but not out of line with what could be expected if he spent a full-season hitting in a bandbox like Fenway Park.
Beyond the aforementioned free agent options, the Red Sox still have Jed Lowrie, but he’s only hit .235/.313/.372 in the big leagues and has missed considerable time with wrist injuries.
For now it seems that the Sox don’t appear sold on Lowrie as a legitimate answer at shortstop.
None of the other prospects in the Sox farm system are anywhere near ready to make the leap to the big leagues.
That leaves the trade market.
The Sox have already been linked to the aforementioned Stephen Drew and J.J. Hardy, but recent reports have the club interested—yet again—in their former top prospect, Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins.
Ramirez is exactly the player the club needs going forward. He’s young, athletic, speedy, powerful, and—here’s the best part—he’s rapidly improving at shortstop.
After posting abysmal numbers in his first two seasons, he’s quickly becoming a solid defender up the middle.
Undoubtedly, acquiring Ramirez would take a major coup for the Marlins.
The kind of coup that would make Marlins fans forget that an already notoriously stingy front-office just shipped off the club’s franchise player who was under a very reasonable long-term contract.
That kind of coup would probably equate to starter Clay Buchholz, shortstop/starter Casey Kelly, and reliever Daniel Bard.
The scary part is that it may even cost more than that, and rightfully so. The Marlins have absolute no incentive to move Ramirez unless they are absolutely blown away in a deal.
In the end, the Red Sox may be best served to sign a one-year stopgap.
In doing so, the club could hope for an extreme amount of growth by 19-year old prospect Jose Iglesias and/or hope that top-prospect Casey Kelly proves he can hit at the big league level and becomes a full-time shortstop.
If neither of those options pan out, the club can simply wait for next offseason when the crop of potential free agent shortstops includes more enticing options such as Jhonny Peralta, Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins, and Jose Reyes.
The options are currently very limited for Epstein and company to do much in the way of improving the situation without destroying the farm system or overpaying for diminishing veterans.
As such, I think we can all safely assume that Epstein is already scribbling out his offseason goals for 2010-2011 in one simple sentence.
The Boston Red Sox still need a shortstop.