It’s a good thing the Super Bowl is still some 12 days away. Because it might take Red Sox fans that long to realize Marco Scutaro is no longer the team’s shortstop.
Under the cover of Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal attempt on Sunday, the Red Sox traded their best shortstop to Colorado for Clayton Mortensen, a pitcher whose career team total (four) now equals his career victory total (4-8, with a 5.12 ERA) and who by the age of 26 has already achieved status as journeyman.
This means, apparently, the Red Sox’s shortstop position will be manned in 2012 by a platoon of Mike Aviles and Nick Punto. Trying to reach the World Series with that ankle brace is a little like trying to get to the Super Bowl with a flawed defense. There are better ways to pay tribute to the Pats.
That the Red Sox sprung the deal on Sunday is presumably no accident. If they were looking for maximum exposure to share the good news of Mortensen’s acquisition, is there any chance they would do it on a day the Patriots reached the Super Bowl?
Of course, who can blame them. The Yankees arm their pitching staff with Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda; the Red Sox arm theirs with Clayton Mortensen. If the Sox are bringing a knife to a gunfight, it’s a butter knife. And a small one at that.
Dealing Scutaro wasn’t about getting Mortensen, but saving money, which would make sense if the Sox were the Rays. But here we are in January, and the Rays are taking on costs — adding Luke Scott and Carlos Pena — and the Sox are deleting them. It must be reassuring for Sox fans to see their 2012 team assembled with the help of Groupon.
Trading Scutaro might make more sense if the Sox had a younger shortstop waiting his turn. But the oft-injured Jed Lowrie is already gone, and the oft-hyped Jose Iglesias may never arrive as promised (Iglesias is a 22-year-old Cuban defector whose glove may remind scouts of Ozzie Smith, but whose bat and career .624 OPS more closely resembles Rey Ordonez).
The Sox’s story line is that they needed to save Scutaro’s $6 million salary to sign outfielder Cody Ross today — is a right field platoon of Ross and Ryan Sweeney any more palatable than an infield one of Aviles/Punto — and maybe to sign a starting pitcher (Roy Oswalt?) or trade for one (Matt Garza?).
Plus, Scutaro is 36, perhaps brittle and unlikely to repeat 2011’s .781 OPS — which begs the question then of why the Sox signed him for three years. Aviles hit lefties (.924 OPS in 2011) and Punto righties (.814 OPS ) better than Scutaro did either last year, which works in theory (forgetting that Punto’s career OPS vs. righties is 162 points less than 2011’s, and he’d be getting the majority of the playing time in that platoon). But what happens when opponents change pitchers? Darnell McDonald? Aviles, Punto and Iglesias just about add up to one shortstop; so did Scutaro, and he took less roster space.
The Sox’s roster, as of now, is like an incomplete gin rummy hand: two of a kind here, two in a row there, lots of potential but not enough substance. No one will be winning the AL East by drawing to an inside run, as the Sox seem to be trying to.
Last year the Sox built up expectations and disappointed fans. This year, perhaps, they’re doing things in reverse. Sox fans can only hope the eventual buildup is as great as last year’s letdown.